Kobe Bryant doesn’t need a nickname. We all know this. With one of the most iconic and striking names in the business — the best in the whole league, in one writer’s opinion — and a style and resume that more than speaks for itself, a nickname for Kobe would never be anything but superfluous.
Still, these are unquestionably nicknamey times for Kobe — his play in the Lakers’ recent surge has been of such superlative quality that you can’t help but reach for absurd appellations when talking about him bringing his team back from 17 down in the fourth quarter, or hitting three absurd treys in the final minutes to send a game to overtime, then winning it with a dunk. At times like these, you just need to call him something other than Kobe Bean Bryant from time to time, if for no other reason than because you’re shouting his name so often in surprise, excitement and general awe (or possibly just frustration and fury) that you need some variety.
Kobe, as always, is prepared for this. He recently unleashed his proposal for his own new nickname on the world: “Vino,” with the unspoken implication being that like a fine wine, he just gets better with age. (The foreign translation is apparently needed, just because nicknaming someone “fine wine” or just “wine” would be untenable in its silliness.) Since then, he has pushed the nickname on his fanbase like Gretchen Wieners trying to make “Fetch” happen, with a series of postgame tweets hashtagging his new nickname in celebration (as in “#VinoUncorked,” “E=mc2 = #Vino,” and in a confusing hybrid, “#mambadrunkoffthatvino“) It’s all part of the brave new world of Oversharey Kobe, and we should probably just get used to it.
But is the nickname an acceptable one? Can we abide by his repeated self-promotional usage of it? Let’s stick our nose in the glass on this one and analyze its many tones.
Source of Inspiration. Just about any nickname can be sold to friends and family if there’s a good story behind its origin, one that reveals as much about the person and their character as the nickname itself does. With Kobe and “Vino,” however, all we have to go on is this:
Omg . My man just gave me a new nickname and I love it! Ha #vino
Accuracy. Well, going on the presumption that the primary purpose of the nickname is as an analogue for Kobe’s aging process, and not a callback to the time in he got smashed on Manischewitz at a Lower Merion bar mitzvah, it’s not super-inaccurate. Kobe may not actually be getting better with age — Kobe’s career has gone through so many ups and downs, on so many different levels, that to imply a bar graph of his career would go straight in any one direction is patently absurd.
But there’s no doubt that he’s experienced an uptick of sorts in 2012-13, having not only his best on-court season in years as he posts his highest FG%, 3PT%, assists per game, offensive rating and Win Shares per 48 all since at least ’08-’09, but also the kind of season rarely enjoyed by a 34-year-old, let alone one in the midst of his 17th season. There are probably some wines out there that also go through rocky evolutions, but enjoy late peaks. Probably.
Approval Rating: 4/5
Originality. Despite being based on the second-most-widely overused spots talk cliché when discussing an older athlete performing well — behind only the phrase “turn-back-the-clock game” — “Vino” is, to my knowledge, a Kobe Bean Bryant original. (Disambiguating the phrase on Wiki reveals the only other athlete using the nickname to be Russian cyclist Alexander Vinokourov, who I’m guessing acquired the nickname for less metaphorical reasons.) Nonetheless, the simile is such an overused one that to hear it explained should still elicit groans from anyone who’s watched one too many Mark Jackson-announced NBA games over the years. Half-credit.
Approval Rating: 3/5
Catchiness. Can you actually see this nickname catching on? Well, it might be a little too corny to ever become interchangable with his name proper, but Kobe’s employment of the hashtag as a key process in the name helps. Just about anything is acceptable by hashtagging standards, and adding the ol’ “#vino” to the end of a Kobe-related tweet is a lot more palatable than actually referring to him as “Vino” in conversation. (“Did you see Vino dropping 42 on the Hornets?” vs. “Woah, Kobe just dropped 42 on the Hornets!! #Vino” — both are at least slightly ridiculous, but I’d say it’s obvious which one is more embarrassing.) Kobe’s dalliance into social media has mostly been a regrettable one, but that’s not to say that the man still doesn’t know what he’s doing.
There’s another factor at play here — the fact that “Vino” also kinda sounds like “Bean,” meaning that “Kobe Vino Bryant” kinda rolls off the tongue with the familiarity we all have by calling Kobe by his full three names. Insidious, truly.
Approval Rating: 3/5
Potential for Permanence: This is the category where “Vino” really takes a beating. If a nickname is to have any enduring impact, it has to work equally well over the course of a long timespan, and probably should also be retroactively applicable to the person you were beforehand. “Vino” obviously does not pass this test, as calling him this at age 24 (and in all likelihood, at age 44) would be nonsensical and preposterous. Really, this nickname only works for this season alone, and maybe one or two more, tops. Can you see Derek Fisher, introducing Kobe at his Hall of Fame induction 7-10 years from now, including “Vino” in his roll call of Kobe nicknames?
That said, perhaps he plans to go into the vineyard game after his retirement, and all of this is just Kobe playing the long game. Until then, though, we’re unconvinced.
Approval Rating: 1/5
Comparison to Past Nicknames: Kobe’s prior sobriquet “Black Mamba” has come to be a source of much debate in NBA circles, with the following generally being used as the argument against:
1. He gave it to himself
2. He assumed it way too late in his career
3. Nobody really calls him that
All fair and true, though No. 3 I believe has gotten less true as the years have gone on. But all that said, if you were to refer to Kobe in the abstract by a nickname — say, to someone not intimately familiar with NBA culture — can you see yourself ever opting for “Vino” over “Black Mamba?” Forget all the context, “Black Mamba” just sounds way more like a nickname that should belong to Kobe Bryant than “Vino,” regardless of how or when he acquired either.
It’s that kind of blink test that’s arguably the most important when deciding a nickname’s worthiness, and in that one, “Mamba” obviously triumphs over “Vino.” (That said, Kobe’s efforts at combining the two are a little too advanced for our still-rudimentary scoring system. Check back in a few years.)
Approval rating: 1/5
TOTAL RATING: 13/30
Sorry Kobe, don’t think we can give it to you on this one. The Black Mamba will have to suffice for now, until you and your men can reconvene and come up with a more mutually agreeable nickname for this year and the remainder of your NBA years. Until then, kindly lay off the hashtagging.