When ranking the proper names of every player in the NBA, it occurred to me how reliant certain players are on their nicknames — so much so that without them, their real names just seem vacant, almost totally blank. Who is this Richard Hamilton? Wasn’t Chris Andersen a TV show host? Glen Davis … like the guy who played for the Astros in the ’80s? In a league as personality-driven as the NBA — and no league in professional sports has as many characters, at least not in this continent — sometimes the regular names of these guys just aren’t good enough to embody all that we know and love about them. We need something more.
Naturally, I decided the only fair thing was to give these noms de hoops a ranked list of their own. Not all of them have become as pervasive as “Rip” or “Birdman,” but they’ve all come to at least partially color our perception of a player, and in some cases, even if they don’t replace their own parentally-given names, they at least compound and add depth to them. As with my real name list, I worked off the active players in ESPN’s Top 500 list, and used every nickname I could think of (or found and could corroborate were in fact legit, in-use nicknames). I also pared them down using the following criteria:
1. I didn’t use any nicknames that were just abbreviations of the players’ names (KG, Melo, J-Rich) unless they somehow adapted the original name (Iggy, CP3, Bassy).
2. I didn’t use any nicknames that were only really associated with a player when they were on a previous team (Mo Gotti, CB4) or that they’ve since asked to be retired (Flash).
3. I didn’t use any nicknames that were too recent or locker-room-specific to have really gained any long-term traction (Gatsby, J-Teeth), or could really only be traced back to one non-league personality in particular (Trick-or-Treat Tony, SANDERS!)
Ultimately, I was left with just 81 nicknames. You’d think there would be more, but you’d be surprised some of the big-name players — Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Jason Kidd — that we never seemed to come up with acceptable nickname for, besides boring abbreviations. And then of course, someone like Donald Sloan or Greg Smith might secretly be nicknamed “White Zinfandel” for no particular reason, but we probably wouldn’t know unless they or their teammates made a big deal out of it.
Anyway, using those 81 names, I ranked using these guiding principles:
1. How iconic is your nickname? Are even casual fans familiar with your nickname? Can your name not be mentioned multiple times without your nickname coming into play at least once? If someone refers to you by your nickname alone, is there any doubt who they’re talking about?
2. How accurate is your nickname? If George Hill was nicknamed “Bonecrusher,” that wouldn’t be nearly as good of a nickname as if Ivan Johnson was. It might still not be that great, but point is, technical accuracy goes a long way.
3. How was your nickname acquired? Did it come about in an organic or semi-organic way, devised by your fans or teammates/peers? Have you had it since childhood? Or did you just decide to give it to yourself one day? The first two are almost always cooler than the third.
4. How does your nickname relate to your real name? Does it complement it? Has it totally supplanted it? Or is it sort of unnecessary, considering how already perfect and iconic your real name is?
All that in mind, here we go. Again, too many names to explain each, but will answer specific questions in the comments or on Twitter. (And yes, this will be my final name-related list. No middle names or wife names or derogatory Skip Bayless nicknames to follow.)
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