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

Aside from demonstrating what a general horrorshow it’s been since Kobe joined the Twitterverse (“Omg?”), this explanation gives precious little life to “Vino.” For a man whose game is all based on studied detail and nuance, he doesn’t do a whole lot of showing or telling here, giving us just the vague notion of his “man” (was it Chris Duhon? It was Chris Duhon, wasn’t it?) birthing the nickname out of thin air, and passing it along to Kobe for approval. Disappointing.Approval Rating: 1/5

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


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.

Comments (14)

  1. Everybody seems to be overlooking a detail.

    Wine doesn’t actually get better with age. There’s a peak period where it’s best, but after that it declines in quality. So a 70 year old wine is definitely not better than a 20 year old one in its prime period.

    • …which means that wine in fact DOES get better with age, only to get worse with even more age, which in turn means that at this point in kobe’s career, ‘vino’ actually makes some kind of sense. so, yeah people overlook that lacking inclusion of a squared age term to account for the non-linear correlation between age and quality, but it’s only a metaphore and people get it so who cares.
      (also, vino is still a pretty terrible nickname. andrew just proved that. SCIENCE!)

    • You tried to be a smart-ass-know-it-all but ended up validating the nickname…which is still wacksauce, but thanks to you it makes sense

  2. Maybe Vino refers to usage of “advanced medicine”, as also heralded by his namesake and London gold medaillist Alex Vinokurov….

  3. I think kobe was actually referring to https://twitter.com/AaronRodgers12/status/310266991682412544
    that’s why he said my man gave me a new nickname.

  4. Corny article. Not even funny. Every Kobe Bryant article has thinly veiled “kobe hate” stuff behind it, and while when Trey does it it’s funny; when Andrew Unterberger does it, its not funny and its just lame.

    I mean, the article itself carried a few positive nods to Kobe, all with dismissive tones and phrases before or after to diminish any accomplishment by Bryant. Words such as “of sorts” and phrases after the accomplishment like “rocky evolutions” try to create Kobe as some middle of the road player. Javale Mcgee is having a rocky evolution, Matt Barnes’ evolution has been rocky, to be sure; Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller, Raymond Felton, Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings… i.e. any somewhat solid contributor that once didn’t perform up to their standards and didn’t get the PT one would assume they would get could be termed in having a Rocky Evolution as a main storyline to their career. But, in every one of Kobe’s articles, to find a way to downplay him in a similar fashion, only shows the authors poor grasp of being a sportswriter. I mean, I love Bill Simmons, and he HATES the Lakers, but his writing is even, it’s fair (at least most of the time).

    This, though, this reads in an unsatisfactory manner. It’s a shame the author can’t be more fair, in any of his pieces, to the player that defined an entire decade of the NBA.

  5. this is pointless

  6. A few points:
    1. Kobe’s game may not have gotten better with age, but it has certainly evolved. And considering his age, it’s better than those of some young turks out there. I hope they’re learning from him.
    2. The nickname “Vino” has already caught on, all over the place.
    3. The nickname has not replaced “Black Mamba”. He will always be that, and yes, people really do call him that.
    4. Kobe is the best thing going on Twitter, bar none.

    • Unfortunately, all this is true, at least in Los Angeles. I am not sure if people actually call him any of his nicknames outside of LA, but the Laker fans call him “Black Mamba” and “Vino” all the time.

      • It’s no more unfortunate than people, including people outside Cleveland and now Miami, calling LeBron “King James”, a name he also gave himself. It is what it is.

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