NBA: Countdown of the Best Nicknames Throughout League History

Mike AikinsContributor IINovember 22, 2010

NBA: Countdown of the Best Nicknames Throughout League History

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    Some of the best NBA Players to ever wear a basketball uniform already had a nickname when they entered the league.  Many of them were already crowned as a "star" simply because they had a nice nickname. 

    These days, with the Internet, social media and increased media exposure, a nickname goes a long way in allowing a player’s reputation to actually precede and outlive his career.  This usually helps secure his legacy even when his sports career is over. 

    Some of the best nicknames ever created were vivid descriptions of an athlete's character as well as his athletic ability.  Most of the time a nickname has nothing to do with the sport and everything to do with the person, and that's what's special about nicknames.

    The Fact of the matter is—nicknames make the game fun. 

    Fair weather sports fans from all over might not know very much about sports in general or what sport a certain player might participate in, but most of the time and usually with a smile on their face, they’ll be able to recall the nickname of some of the greatest athletes of all time.  

    With that being said, let's breakdown some of the best nicknames ever created for basketball players in the NBA starting with Michael "Air" Jordan. 

    Michael "Air" Jordan is a nickname that's synonymous with success on the basketball court as well as generating marketing revenue.  The "Air" Jordan brand is still one of the most popular brands out there.   

Dr. J

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    Julius "Dr. J" Erving's nickname gained more exposure when he signed a six-million dollar contract with the Philadelphia 76ers after a merger between the NBA and ABA.  Dr. J also wore jersey No. 6 to symbolize the contract that he signed. 

    Dr. J was known to have some of the "largest" hands to ever play the game. His patented dunk where he went up really high in the air and floated to the rim with the basketball palmed in one hand—was his signature move. 

    Dr. J already had a incredible reputation for slam dunking the basketball and his nickname started catch phrases like "The Doctor makes a house call", "A Doctor a day, keeps the Celtics away."

    It was obvious that this was one of the best nicknames every created in basketball, and Dr. J backed it up with his spectacular play on the court. 

    Dr. J would go on the be honored as one of the NBA's 50 Best Players and will be forever remembered for having the nickname that most kids tried to impersonate on playgrounds all around the world.   

The Ice Man

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    George the "Ice Man" Gervin comes up third on this list for having one of the "coolest" nicknames ever created in basketball.  George's cool demeanor out on the on the basketball created a perception that was synonymous with the nickname "The Ice Man." 

    No one will ever forget the way that "The Ice Man" could put points on the board in a hurry.  His patented signature move "the finger roll" was one of the sweetest moves in basketball.   

    If anyone can produce an original poster showing George Gervin "The Ice Man" sitting on a block of ice, holding a basketball in each hand, they would be holding one of the best nicknames, posters and catch-phrase marketing tools ever created in sports. 

The Mailman

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Karl "The Mailman" Malone came out of Louisiana Tech and was the 13th pick of the Utah Jazz in the infamous draft of 1985 when Patrick Ewing went No. 1 to the Knicks.  The Mailman later retired as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and is No. 4 on my list of the best nicknames in basketball. 

    "The Mailman" made a reputation for coming-up big and always "delivering" in "big" games, thus the nickname stuck with him throughout his illustrious career.

    "The Mailman" was known for his "workaholic" like efforts out on the basketball court, and also worked really hard at sculpting his body and becoming one of the most "prototypical" power forwards to ever play the game. 

    The Mailman nickname became synonymous with the catch-phrase "the Mailman always delivers" and this became his motivation to put up double-figure numbers in both points and rebounds over a career that spanned 18 years in the NBA from 1985-2003. 

    The Mailman was also known as one of the greatest "enforcers" to ever play the game and was also acknowledged as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. 

World B. Free

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    Lloyd Free was an amazing athlete that started his career playing a backup role on a Philadelphia 76ers team already loaded with plenty of talent.  Since "Dr. J" was already a household name, Lloyd B. Free went a step further and officially changed his name from Lloyd B. Free to "World B. Free."

    Contrary to popular belief, Chad Ocho Cinco, who recently did this, was not the first one to officially change his given name to a nickname.  World B. Free was a spectacular high-flying guard that was in great physical shape, and most people say could have started for any other team in the league. 

    His game was indeed "All-World" as he would rank as high as 44th on the NBA all-time scoring list.

    He played with Kobe Bryant's father Joe "Jellybean" Bryant on a 76er's second-string unit that was loaded with superstars.  World B. Free's nickname legacy was somewhat overshadowed because he had to play a backup role to superstars that were already marketing their nicknames like "Chocolate Thunder" Darryl Dawkins and "Dr. J" Julius Irving. 


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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Tyron "Muggsy" Bogues makes the list at No. 6 for having one of the best and most memorable nicknames of all.  At 5-foot 3-inches tall and 136 pounds, "Muggsy" Bogues was known for his low center of gravity and for being one of the best "small" point-guards to ever play the game. 

    Basically "Muggsy" would mug his opponents and steal the ball from them, thus the nickname was created especially for him.   

    Click-on his name above to see him in action along with Anthony "Spud" Webb, another player that made the list because of his nickname.  Despite being one of the smallest players in the league, in his hey day, "Muggsy" Bogues could still dunk a basketball.

    When he played along side the late Manute Bol for the Washington Bullets who would later become the Washington Wizards, Muggsy and Manute were like a circus side show because Manute was so tall and Muggsy was so short.  

Magic Johnson

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    Magic" Johnson " target="_self">Earvin "Magic" Johnson is No. 7 on my list of having one of the best nicknames ever created in basketball.  Since his nickname was so incredible, most people still don't know that "Magic's" real name is Earvin. 

    "Magic" Johnson made basketball nickname history when he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine as a 6-8 sophomore point-guard at Michigan State University. Magic was the NBA's first "big" point-guard who could do it all.  Magic invented the "no look" pass which became his signature move. 

    "Magic" Johnson is another one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players and will always be near the top of the list of greatest assist men in the NBA.

The Answer

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    "Allen Iverson" target="_self">The Answer" Allen Iverson, makes the list at No. 8 for having one of the best nicknames in basketball. 

    Allen Iverson had a few nicknames but the one that stood out the most was "The Answer" as Iverson would eventually be the missing piece to the Philadelphia 76er's puzzle to contend for a world championship. 

    Allen Iverson did lead the 76ers to the championship series against the Los Angeles Lakers as he had a season that was nothing short of spectacular. 

    Probably the thing that Allen Iverson will be remembered the most for is the infamous "practice" press conference where he said the word "practice" so many times and argued that he didn't have to practice in order for the 76ers to be a good team. 

    Allen Iverson's crossover dribble was legendary and unstoppable.  He was also one of the first players in the league to sport a tattoo and a corn-rolled hair style. 


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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Vince Carter makes the list at No. 9 with a nickname given to him by Kenny "The Jet" Smith for his uncanny ability to do dunks that literally bordered on the verge of "insanity." So "Vincesanity" became a nickname that stuck with Vince Carter. 

    Vince Carter also had one of the highest vertical leaps ever recorded and this was the essence of how he created and successfully recorded some of the best dunk shots ever attempted.

    The dunk shot where he jumped over a player listed at seven-foot tall in a game where he competed in the Olympics for the USA, will go down as one of the "craziest" dunks ever.

    Thus, making the nickname "Vincesanity" as one of the best nicknames ever. 

Spud Webb

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    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    Anthony "Spud" Webb made himself famous by becoming the first player under 6'0 tall to win the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest. "Spud" makes the list at No. 10 for having an incredible nickname indicative of his small stature.

    Spud Webb had a great career in the NBA, but most people don't even know his real name is Anthony, because the nickname "Spud" has stuck with him throughout his career.

Wilt The Stilt

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    Wilt Chamberlin was a legend in his own right and had many nicknames during his career, but none stood-out as well as "Wilt The Stilt."

    Wilt Chamberlin set all sorts of scoring records in the NBA and had a nickname given to him to describe his incredible size. Wilt "The Stilt" scored 100 points in a game and this might go down as one of the hardest records ever to beat. 

    Chamberlin was recognized as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players and will forever be remembered as the guy who caused basketball to change the rules because of his size and because he was so dominant.

Hakeem The Dream

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon makes the list as having one of the best nicknames in basketball history. It is really hard to say his actual name without mentioning "The Dream" somewhere in the conversation. 

    His "Dream Shake" move underneath the basket will also go down as one of the best one-on-one moves in the history of the game. 

    Hakeem started his career in the NBA by being called "Akeem" but later officially changed it to "Hakeem."  He was honored as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players and makes my list at No. 12 for having one of the best nicknames ever. 

White Chocolate

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Jason Williams aka "White Chocolate" makes the list next. Everyone is familiar with Williams' claim to fame as he played on the same high school basketball team as superstar wide-receiver Randy Moss. 

    Jason Williams has a killer crossover and played the game with a sort of "soulful" flare that created the nickname "White Chocolate" during his days with the Sacramento Kings, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic.

Chocolate Thunder

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Darryl Dawkins or "Chocolate Thunder" is a nickname that is synonymous with power. Chocolate Thunder became famous for tearing down backboards prior to the implementation of the collapsible rim. 

    Chocolate Thunder actually had names for his dunks.  One of his more popular dunks was called the "Yo Mamma" dunk and Dawkins would save this one for players, teams and games when he wanted to make a serious statement.

    Chocolate Thunder will go down as one of the best nicknames ever because it was so indicative of Darryl Dawkins' ability to wreak havoc on opposing players and teams with an assortment of powerful slam dunks. 

Agent 0

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Gilbert Arenas' "Agent 0" nickname became synonymous with his enigmatic persona and style of play. "Agent 0" was one of the first guys to use Twitter as a form of social media. Arenas had one of the first unstoppable crossover dribbles and was one of the firsts to wear his hair in a twist-braided style.

    Gilbert Arenas also used the "Agent 0" brand and nickname to market himself throughout the business world.  He once scored 60 points against the LA Lakers.  Click on his name above to see the highlights. 

    Agent 0 has been known to be prankster to all of his teammates and makes the list at No. 15 for one of the most creative nicknames in basketball. 

Pistol Pete

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    "Pistol Pete" Maravich makes the list for a nickname indicative of his great shooting skills.  "Pistol Pete" Maravich had an arsenal of tricks and some of his famous passes and the way he dribbled the ball are still being used by players today. 

    "Pistol Pete" will be remembered mostly for his days with the New Orleans Jazz wearing jersey No. 7 and this number was symbolic of the shape of a pistol.  Pete Maravich could shoot lights out on any given night and deserved the nickname "Pistol Pete."

Earl The Pearl

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    Earl "The Pearl" Monroe  was a flashy point guard that played along side Walt "Clyde" Frazier during the glory years of the New York Knickerbockers during the 70s. 

    "The Pearl" was a nickname that depicted Earl Monroe's flashy style and diamond-in-the rough qualities out on the basketball court. "The Pearl" had a herky-jerky style and created original versions of the double-pump shot and crossover dribble back in the 70s.   

    Usually when a nickname is recycled and used again, as it was in this case when Syracuse University star point-guard Dwayne "Pearl" Washington got to use it for a second time it usually means that it's a pretty good nickname. 

The Microwave

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson played with the Detroit Pistons and was given his nickname because he was a streaky shooter that could instantly "heat-up" against opposing teams. 

    "The Microwave" was famous for coming off the bench in times when the Pistons needed him the most. Vinnie didn't say a whole lot out on the floor and usually let his game speak for him. 

    The Microwave also played on the same team with the enigmatic Dennis "The Worm" Rodman.

The Glove

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    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Gary "The Glove" Payton makes the list with a cool nickname given to him because of the way he covered opponents with his so-called "gloves."

    Payton was a West Coast point-guard that became famous for throwing alley-oops to the "Rain Man" Shawn Kemp during the glory years of the Seattle Supersonics. 

    The Glove eventually got his ring with the Miami Heat and had many memorable moments in the NBA for backing-up his play on the court with a confident demeanor and leadership mentality.

The Jet

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    Kenny "The Jet" Smith of the Houston Rockets makes the list as having one of the best nicknames ever in the NBA.  "The Jet" was lightening fast and brought a New York East Coast style of play to the Houston Rockets.

    "The Jet" is now a broadcaster for the NBA on TNT and has also been known to create great nicknames for players now playing in the league.  "The Jet" created the nickname "Vincesanity" for Vince Carter by describing his uncanny ability to do outrageous dunks. 

    It is virtually impossible to list all of the best nicknames ever created in the NBA, but I tried to list the ones that had the best marketing pitch and that created catch phrases that will never be forgotten.  I am sure that I left off some good ones so this is why I created an honorable mention list.  

    Honorable Mention: Dennis "The Worm" Rodman, Vince Carter "Half-Man Half-Amazing", Clyde "The Glide" Drexler, "Dr. Dunkenstein" Darryl Griffith, Sonny "Slick" Watts, "Downtown" Freddy Brown, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, "Mr. Crossover" Tim Hardaway, "Big Nasty" Corliss Williamson, John "Spyder" Salley. 

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