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Nicknames . . . why some work, and others are just wrong

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Sports, like real life, are communal experiences where team work and camaraderie work in concert to produce both victory and lasting memories. Furthermore, sports - like real life - allow for the creation and use of nicknames. It's a great thing that we, thankfully, don't see in other parts of our lives (politics? trips to the grocery store? etc) too too often.

There is specific a science to it -- some names are apt, while some appear to be products of 'trying too hard'. Usually nicknames that are overly name based rub me the wrong way, but sometimes they are just too perfect to look past.

Read on to find out more about my feelings on nickname nomenclature - and which ones suck.

#1: Earn it

First of all, nicknames should be EARNED, not given away freely. Guys in the 60's, 70s and 80s had the best nicknames -- because back then they were (more or less) genuine. Somehow in the late 90's and 2000's nicknames were mass-produced. Today nicknames are outright forced onto people. These earned nicknames are products of a players play style, or heritage - rather than some media campaign. Also, while some of these nicknames were media created -- they were not contests, like how some people get the community involved in naming a new arena (before the era of corporate sponsorship). Dimemag seems to be the greatest offender in this case - giving nicknames to players that already exist as nicknames to other professional athletes and, alternatively, holding CONTESTS for the fans to rename certain players. It's this type of convention that would have renamed Dr.J. as "Afroman" or "J-Erv".

#2: Using your real name as the base for your nickname

That brings me to the whole issue of nicknames and just shortening a name. This is not the same thing as a nickname. This should never be.

First letter. Hyphen. Short form of last name.

This is un-original, and giving it to every player in the league (including right out of draft night) is something communist China would find both logical and appealing. Don't make Dr. J play in communist China, fellas.

The only players who should be allowed to have this type of name are guys from that specific period in time when this type of name was both a) unique and b) cool. This should only be for the C-Webbs and J-Kidds out there in the world. They entered the league in 1993 and 1994. Wearing your pants backwards and cell phones the sizes of bricks were cool back then. Continuing to use it in 2008 for Derrick Rose is both lazy and unoriginal. Something more apt would be 'the Stonefaced killah' or something dumb like that. (But not *as* dumb as using information based off of his census form like his first and last name) It's pretty awful that a lot of players in the league appear to have nicknames BASED entirely off of this C-Webb / J-Kidd naming convention. Especially players who have games that are worth defining and the opportunity for much better nicknames.

By this convention Magic Johnson would have been E-John, and Larry 'Legend' (a name he was ONLY given after winning a number of games and championships with clutch play, late in his career) would have been L-Bird. If you think these nicknames are better than the ones that they currently have you can stop reading right now.

Names as a root for nicknames is anecessary evil in some cases - and the products can be amazing. 'Sir Charles" rolled off the tongue a little bit better than 'The Round Mound of Rebound' ever did. Calling Hornacek "Horny" only makes sense. (Especially when you see how many kids he has) When Kevin Garnett joined the league as a skinny high school player he was "The Kid". That doesn't work anymore now that he's the old man of the mountain. His gradual movement from "The Kid" to just KG (just his initials, not K-Garn) has been great. (Yes, my brother reminds me about 'The Big Ticket', and that's just as cool) Andrei Kirilenko probably has some cool nicknames in Europe that we're not aware of. One of his team mates (who was not great at basketball, but a very smart human being used to call him Malishka when he was a rookie and young player) Which is an endearing term, similar to just calling him "The Kid". But another "not great basketball player teammate" gave him AK-47 -- which is awesome because those are made in Andrei's hometown. [Btw, Meech, as a vet, got #13 over AK, a Rookie -- if he wasn't on the team, this awesome nickname would never have existed. Then Mark Jackson joined the team, and took #13 -- then Memo arrived when both of them were off the team, and AK was comfortable with #47 by then.]

#3: You don't give yourself your own Nickname

A third no-no would be giving yourself nicknames. You can name your moves (Kevin McHale and Darryl Dawkins did), and that's fine. You can't give yourself a nickname every time you play on a different team, or learn about something else and want to incorporate it into your wheelhouse. Shaq is probably the best known example of this. This is flat out wrong, even if they are funny sometimes. Greater players than Shaq had to deal with names that they hated. Wilt, for one, hated being called "The Stilt". For him a name based on his physical size was derivative - not unlike calling a guy a name based on his real name. This was something he could not change, and would rather have been called "The Big Dipper" -- a notable constellationin the sky that incorporated the brightest star, and also was evocative of his hook shot, which he likened to the big dipper. Wilt did not get his way back then, Shaq should not get a pass now.

#4 Local media gets it wrong more than they get it right

I'm a Utah Jazz fan. I've had to deal with Bolerjack calling Milt Palacio 'Cap'n Crunch' for like 2 seasons because he once made a good play with less than 1:00 remaining on the clock. Early on Hot Rod (great name, btw) was announcing Deron Williams as "Slick Willy". These two nicknames are better names for porn stars than basketball players. I can imagine that local media for other teams do this as well, and with similar levels of success.

#5: Sometimes fans make nicknames just as bad as media members / the players themselves

The Durantuala name is amazing. I don't know who made it, but it's original use stems from the blogosphere/twittersphere. You only need to look around to fan blogs of certain teams to get how bad the nicknames are from some fans (myself included). Basically, they all aren't as good as Durantula, or 'Quick Draw Beaubois'. I'm not going to make fun of anyone in this section, so let's just move on.

#6: Anchoring a nickname to a region is limiting, and maybe racist

Toni Kukoc was the European Magic Johnson before he came to the NBA. Think about that. Somewhere deep in the hearts of a pre-Globalization of the game sports writer this nickname came out. Was Magic not good enough for Europeans that they needed their own? Or were Europeans not good enough to have Magic, so they needed a lesser version to represent them? In more than one way this nickname *is* regionalist, if not racist. Toni was not really known by this name after joining the NBA. Thankfully. Of course, Hedo is the Turkish Michael Jordan (according to ESPN and many other media outlets). Maybe it's apt to call Fesenko the Ukrainian Ostertag - but I really don't know which group is more offended in that exchange.

Other examples of this exist, but I'm not going to go too deep into it. (Yao Ming - Great Wall of China . . . ) If there's ever a South Asian who plays in the NBA are they just going to call him "Bollywood", even if he can't dance? regionalism is a big part of professional wrestling, but has no place in the NBA. Wilt used to call Jerry West "Zeke from Cabin Creek" because Wilt felt like Jerry West was a hillbilly. He proposed this as a nickname. This is offensive now, and it was offensive back in the 1970's too. Today we know West as 'The Logo'. Wilt was advocating for calling him something right out of the movie "Deliverance". Names like "Black Jesus" and "White Chocolate" also fit in here.

#7 Sometimes we all just try too hard

I'm guilty as anyone else with this. Perhaps I'm *more* guilty than others because I've blogged about NBA Nicknames before: here, here, and here. A great example would be my campaign to give Kosta Koufos (an NBA player who has played less impressive minutes in his short NBA career than Chicago Bulls rookie point guard and Duke Alum Jason Williams) a nickname. My nickname for him breaks almost all the rules here. He doesn't deserve one. It's somewhat based on his name. It's regional. And it's really trying too hard. I propose calling him "The Kolussus", after one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. (a huge Greek statue of the God Helios, just changing the "C" to a "K" because it's Kosta Koufos) People here just call him "The Koof". Which is a name based nickname that I think is limiting - but you can't fight CIty Hall.

#8 Obscure nicknames don't have mass appeal

I know that this is going to sound really strange to all the 15 year old girls here who want to call Wesley Matthews something from The Princess Bride . . . but there's a "better" (opinion alert!) name for him already! The Maestro Fresh Wes! (A mix video of him dunking on people while Fresh Wes says 'Drop it' would be awesome) Of course, I prove point #8 with this suggestion. Replacing calling a basketball player a nickname from a movie targeted for little girls with a nickname off of a Canadian rapper from the 80's and 90's is equally obscure. (At least MINE is the right race and more hip-hop-y, muhahaha) People who don't know Maestro Fresh Wes will find this name as stupid as people who aren't fans of The Princess Bride find the current fan given nickname. Hmmm, maybe if Wesley was from Canada . . . no, then that would fall under the "Trying too hard" category!

#9 Only few have nicknames that superseed their real names

Pistol Pete. Air Jordan. Walt "Clyde" Frazier. Very few nicknames have the lasting power and appeal to be bigger than the actual name. Magic fits in here too. These names, probably the best nicknames, are reserved for the best players. No one (save for rockets fans) are going to remember that Larry Smith is actually called "Mr. Mean". But everyone knows The Dream.

#10 Some people just let their game do the talking

John Stockton played in more than 1500 regular season games over a 19 year career with career averages of 13 ppg and 10 apg while shooting 52 fg%. He has also played in nearly 200 playoff games with the same career averages of 13 and 10. John has 2 gold medals, owns two all-time NBA records and went to the finals twice. As an original Dream Team member he's actually in the Hall of Fame twice as well. Furthermore, he has been an All-NBA Team, All-NBA Defensive Team and All-Star Team member more times than many people who have really cool nicknames. He does not have a nickname. He did not need a nickname because he was not one of those demonstrative show-offs. He let his game do his talking for him. And his Hall of Fame career says quite a bit.  NBA fans should just be thankful that he came when he did, because if he was drafted today he'd be called J-Stock. (Which sounds like some sort of online ranking of J-Date profiles) And that nickname would just be horrible.

What are some of your favorite nicknames? What are your some of your most hated nicknames? Tell us! Get involved! It's Sunday afternoon!