NBA Player Nicknames: The 20 Best of All Time

Aristotle KikisContributor IIIMarch 10, 2012

NBA Player Nicknames: The 20 Best of All Time

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    Do you ever wonder where people get their nicknames from? Most of the time, people are given nicknames because of something they did, said, or because of who they are.

    I am not one of those fortunate ones to have grown up with a nickname. But till this day, I have friends and relatives that are still referred to by their nicknames. I have a relative referred to as "Big T", a friend we call "Tank" and a brother-in-law who's almost and is still known as "Cookie."

    If you sit back and think about it, you too probably have a childhood friend with a distinct nickname. You must have played catch with a "Bubba," "AJ" or even a "Spider." Although I'm not a betting man, one thing I would put my money on is that the one childhood friend you never called by his real name is still referred to by his nickname.

    The nickname phenomenon is not only limited to our own personal group of friends, but even seeps into the realms of pop culture.  Hearing the word "Slash" probably doesn't immediately conjure up images of a knife wielding its terror, but will more likely bring up an image of the Guns N' Roses guitarist who goes by the same name. Or think about the feelings one gets when hearing about "The Fonz" or about "The  Beav." Surely, there are smiles on some faces as they reminisce about their childhood favorites.

    In it's 66-year history, many players have walked onto the courts of NBA arenas. They've won, lost and played their hearts out; that we know for sure. You know the great players by name and have probably forgotten the ones that didn't leave a lasting impression. However, you will never forget the players with the recognizable nicknames.

    These are 20 players that you have never forgotten and never will forget. Some of the better nicknames that will forever live on.

Thunder Dan

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    I still remember Thunder Dan playing for the Miami Heat and torching the New York Knicks for three-pointer after three-pointer in the 1997 playoffs. Although he was a three-point specialist later in his career, fans nicknamed him "Thunder Dan" for his thunderous dunks when he played for the Phoenix Suns.

The Mayor

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    Fred Hoiberg earned his nickname while playing college ball at Iowa State. In the Ames, Iowa 1993 Election, "The Mayor" received some write-in votes from locals.

The Birdman

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    If I give anyone on this list credit, it is this man right here. They call him The Birdman and he has the tattooed feathers to prove it. Do you want to know what's even better? One side of his neck reads "free" and the other side reads "bird". If anyone has lived up to his nickname, it's Chris Anderson of the Denver Nuggets.


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    To this day, Nate Archibald is the only player to lead the league in both scoring and assists in a single season. "Tiny" had a great vision for the court and had prolific play-making ability to go along with his knack for scoring. His was nicknamed after his father, "Big Tiny."

The Dream

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    Hakeem Olajuwon is considered one of the greatest centers to play the position. He is a former No. 1-overall pick that lived up to all his expectations. An offensive and defensive threat, "The Dream" became the only player to win NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in a single season, when he did so in 1993-1994.

Plastic Man

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    Stacey Augmon, known as "Plastic Man," was given his nickname because he had extreme athletic ability. It was as if his body was made of plastic, helping him go in the directions he did.


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    Before there was "Linsanity," there was "Vinsanity.

    When Vince Carter stormed the NBA in the fall of 1998, fans were wowed with his repertoire of slam dunks. He was the first dunker I saw that left me with my mouth wide open time and time again. His creativity and explosiveness was like no other, and I would constantly say “did he just do that?"


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    Standing at 5'7", Anthony "Spud" Webb is the shortest player to ever win the Slam Dunk Contest, as he did so in 1986. His tremendous hops for someone shorter than most NBA players made him widely known.

    He is the third shortest player to ever play in the NBA. "Spud" is shortened from "Sputnik," a nickname given to him by his grandmother when he was a baby.


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    Standing at 5'3", "Muggsy" Bogues is the shortest player in NBA history. He averaged 7.7 points per game and 7.6 assists per game during his career, and even once blocked a Patrick Ewing shot.

    Did you even know his real name is Tyrone?

The Worm

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    A bad boy in every city and team he played for, Dennis Rodman was known for his shenanigans on and off the court. Some document “The Worm” as the greatest rebounder to ever play the game, while others say he was the craziest and most controversial to dawn an NBA uniform.

    If you're waiting for any exciting story on how he gained his nickname, don't! Apparently, his mother gave him his nickname as a child because he was wiggling around while playing pinball.

Skip to My Lou

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    Rafer Alston, aka "Skip to My Lou," gained notoriety while playing street ball in NYC when he would skip while dribbling. If this nickname isn't top-10 worthy, something would be really wrong.

The Iceman

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    When you hear the name Iceman, two things immediately come to mind; Top Gun, and the one and only George Gervin. "The Iceman" was a four-time scoring champion that lit up San Antonio crowds for 10-plus years with his famous finger roll and sweet shooting.

Rolls Royce Backcourt

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    This is a two for one special that goes hand in hand.

    Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Walt "Clyde" Frazier formed the "Rolls Royce Backcourt," which helped lead the 1973 New York Knicks to an NBA championship. The flamboyant duo, as they were so often called, were smooth dribblers, passers, playmakers and scorers. Both Monroe and Frazier are NBA Hall of Famers and 50th Anniversary Team members.

    Monroe's nickname came in college, where a writer wrote a column and listed the scores of each game with a caption saying, “These are Earl’s pearls".

    Frazier was the epitome of 1970’s style, and wore a hat similar to Warren Beatty in the movie "Bonnie and Clyde." A trainer on the Knicks called him "Clyde" and the rest is history.

Big Game James

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    James Worthy is yet another player on this list named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. His performance in the finals of the 1988 NBA Championship is when he gained his nickname, "Big Game James."

The Mailman

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    "The Mailman," Karl Malone is second on the NBA all-time scoring list with 36,928 career points.

    This is why it is safe to say that "The Mailman" always delivered when his team needed him. Malone finished his illustrious career as one of the best power forwards ever.

Pistol Pete

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    "Pistol" Pete Maravich is a basketball Hall-of-Famer that was also listed as one of the greatest 50 to ever play the game.

    Maravich only played for 10 seasons due to injuries, but was still able to average 24.2 points per game during his short-lived career.

    His nicknamed hailed from his high school days. They say he had a habit of shooting the ball from his side, almost like shooting a revolver. That is when people started calling him "Pistol Pete."


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    Earvin "Magic" Johnson received his moniker as a 15-year-old high school sophomore after he recorded a triple double. A local sports writer dubbed him Magic, and it stuck like glue.

Dr. J

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    On his high school basketball court, Julius Erving called his friend "The Professor" and his friend referred to him as "The Doctor."

    It came into complete fruition in the ABA when his cohorts got wind of it. "The Doctor" soon became "Dr. J."

Larry Legend

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    Larry Bird was a phenomenal talent that led the Boston Cetics to three NBA titles in the 1980s. Bird also has three NBA MVPs, 12 All-Star Game appearances and two NBA Finals MVPs under his belt. His No. 33 hangs atop the TD Garden, as he will forever be known as "Larry Legend".


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    Michael "Air" Jordan.

    Enough said.