05 Jun Playing Name Games: NBA Nicknames
“Once you gain a nickname in this league, that’s the ultimate respect” -Paul Pierce
The player who is given a nickname is one who has left a lasting impression. That impression is translated to a description of the player, which is expressed through a nickname. And so a name is born in the NBA. Player nicknames have long been a part of the NBA’s rich history. And while most were coined for a reason, there are also those that were just created for fun and entertainment. Regardless of the reason, it’s through these bynames that players are more remembered for. But what’s in a name, really?
Let’s find out:
The Name Game
In my readings, I discovered that the word BIG was the most used adjective in NBA nicknames. Here are some of them:
Big Country Bryant Reeves, Big Dog Glen Robinson, Big Nasty Corliss Williamson, Big Shot Robert Horry, Mr. Big Shot Chauncey Billups, Big Baby Glen Davis, Big Ticket Kevin Garnett, Big Smooth Sam Perkins, Big Game James Worthy, Big O Oscar Robertson, Big Dipper Wilt Chamberlain, Big Ben Wallace and Big Fundamental Tim Duncan. Not all these player were seven footers or literally big, but big here also stands for their quality of play.
Another player who used the word BIG had various BIG nicknames. Shaquille O’Neal was both the Big Diesel and the Big Aristotle. But he was also known as Big Agave, Big Cactus, Big Shaqtus, Big Galactus, Big Shamrock, Big Maravich, Big Leprechaun and Big Barishnykov. Aside from his BIG nicknames O’Neal was also fondly called as Shaq, Big Daddy, Superman, Shaq fu, Shaqovic, Shaq Daddy, Hobo Master and Wilt Chamberneezy. In my count, Shaquille O’Neal had the most nicknames ever n NBA history with at least 30 of them.
Aside from BIG, the word MAN is also popular in NBA nicknames. Samples of these are the Reign Man Shawn Kemp, the Rifle Man Chuck Person, the Bird Man Chris Andersen, Plastic Man Stacey Augmon, X Man Xavier McDaniel , Kandi Man Michael Olowakandi and the legendary Ice Man George Gervin.
The next popular nicknames were those referring to titles or positions. Among those in this category are the Admiral David Robinson, the Mayor Fred Hoiberg, Captain Kirk Hinrich, Sir Charles Barkley, Dr. J Julius Erving, the Chief Robert Parish, Captain Jack Stephen Jackson and yes, King James LeBron James.
Some nicknames were sweet, like Chocolate Thunder for Daryl Dawkins, White Chocolate for Jason Williams, Spanish chocolate for Sergio Rodriguez, Sugar for Ray Allen and Vanilla Gorilla for Joe Przbylla. Other players were likened to animals like the Cuttino “Cat” Mobley or the Goat Earl Manigault while Keneth Faried is known as the Manimal and Mark Madsen was Mad Dog. Other creatures are Kobe Bryant‘s Black Mamba and Kevin Durant‘s Durantula. Dennis Rodman was dubbed asthe Worm while his Detroit teammate John Salley was the Spider.
There were scary nicknames like Psycho T for Tyler Hansborough and the Boston Strangler for Andrew Toney. Guns are also part of NBA names as in AK47 for Andrei Kirilenko and Tommy Gun for Tom Heinsohn. The generic title of The Jet was bestowed upon two players: Kenny Smith and Jason Terry. As to who deserved it more, we’ll leave that for another discussion.
There were also those known for their homeplace like the Brazilian blur Leandro Barbosa and Turkish Thunder Ersan Illyasova . Trajan Langdon was known as the Alaksan Assassin while Dan Gadzuric was the Flying Dutchman. Al Horford is the Dominican stallion, Rik Smits was the Dunking Dutchman and Vitali Potapenko was the Ukraine train.
Other notable nicknames include the Answer for Allen Iverson, Truth for Paul Pierce, Glove for Gary Payton, Penny for Anfernee Hardaway and Microwave for Vinnie Johnson.
The Forgettable Names
There are also nicknames that players might not want to be remembered for.
Here are the worst ones in the history of the NBA:
Bad Porn- Corey Maggette
Dimemag.com on 12.22.08 tells us how the nickname came about:
As if the five-year, $50 million deal that the Warriors gave Corey Maggette wasn’t bad enough, apparently fans on Warriors message boards have come up with a new nickname for him: “Bad Porn.” Their justification? “Sure, there’s penetration and scoring, but are you really happy with what you’re seeing?” Wow, that’s amazing.
Penetration of course meant going to the basket, which was one of Corey Maggette‘s strong suits. But despite being a near 20 points per game scorer, the Warriors missed the playoffs in his two seasons at Golden State. That was tough for the fans, but Bad Porn? This has got to be the worst nickname ever.
We’ve always wondered why he wasn’t just called the Hand or the Arm because he shot .407 from the three point territory throughout his seven year career, but boobie? Until now, there has been no explanation for this name except that his mother gave it to him when he was a young boy. But because this sounds more like some private body part, this should be the second worst nickname ever.
Crib Midget- Jameer Nelson
Now doesn’t this one sound offensive? Jameer Nelson is obviously small by NBA standards at 6-0 and 190 pounds, but you just don’t have to tell it to his face via this weird nickname:
Dwight Howard called Jameer Nelson his "crib midget", the term Matt Barnes uses to describe his twin sons, Isaiah and Carter.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 19, 2010
Dwight Howard christened him crib midget when they were teammates at the Orlando Magic. Dwight said it was his term of endearment for his prized point guard who fed him the ball in the low post. But Howard has been always a mess with words during interviews, this one wasn’t any different.
Vernell Coles is not ditsy or blond, but he is a Bimbo. The Miami Heat’s all-time franchise leader in assists, with 1,946, received his moniker from a cousin who enjoyed Faron Young’s country song, Bimbo. Bimbo’s cousin liked the song enough to give Vernell the nickname Bimbo.
Unfortunately, not all of us know the song by Faron Young. But we all know what a male bimbo is, and it’s not basketball related.
When Craig Ehlo was with the Houton Rockets, he would play one on one against teammate John Lucas for breakfast. According to the story, Ehlo often lost to Lucas causing the latter to start calling him eggs. But why didn’t just Lucas call him smoked bacon or hot pancake? Ehlo would go on to play in Cleveland as a hot outside shooter. And he is best remembered for being smoked by Michael Jordan’s Game 5 Shot in 1989.
Great men with Great Names and Great Games
Magic- Earvin Johnson
If more people know you by your nickname than your real name, then it must be a very good one. That was the case of Earvin Johnson, the 6-9 point guard who ran the show called Showtime in Los Angeles during the 1980’s. Johnson’s flare for the no-look and behind the back passes earned him the nickname Magic. Johnson weaved his magic for the Lakers and led them to five NBA titles in the 1980’s.
Air/ Air Jordan- Michael Jordan
When Michael Jordan took off for a lay up or a dunk, it looked as if he stayed on air longer than any other mortal. Thus, Air Jordan was born and it took flight together with the Nike Shoe named after it. Then as the shoe became a brand, the man became a legend. Jordan took his breath taking dunks and dazzling moves to another level when he led the Bulls to an incredible run of 6 NBA titles in the 1990’s. Indeed to Air is not human because MJ‘s hangtime was divine.
Like your neighborhood postman, Karl Malone always delivered the wins for the Utah Jazz. That’s the reason why they called him the Mailman. Regarded as one of the best power forwards of All-time, Malone and point guard John Stockton were the best duo of their generation. They led Utah to two NBA Finals appearances but lost both times to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls.
Known as pistol for picking up the ball and shooting it from his side, the nickname was also fit for Pete Maravich‘s amazing shooting skills. As the greatest collegiate basketball player of all-time, Maravich averaged an incredible 44.2 points per game in four seasons at LSU during the time when the three point shot wasn’t there yet. Aside from being a super scorer, Maravich was also a flamboyant passer and playmaker who played 10 seasons in the NBA.
The Dream-Hakeem Olajuwon
Known as the Dream for his graceful post moves and elite defense, Olajuwon pioneered the move called the Dream Shake where he would make a series of fakes and pivots to lose his defender and score in the post. Olajuwon was one half of the original Texas Twin Towers with Ralph Sampson in the 1980’s but he made a name for himself when he led the Houston Rockets to back to back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.
Nicknames don’t define NBA careers but they are forever linked to these players. Some are worth forgetting while others are worth remembering.
Now which NBA nickname is your all time favorite?