The Best Sports Nicknames of the Last Decade
Superstar athletes are often and understandably the most memorable parts of sports history, but players with excellent nicknames can be enduring figures, too.
The 2010s provided a nice mix of All-Star talents and role players who became well-known in their sports because of nicknames. While the timeline demands flexibility due to career arcs, we focused on athletes who rose to prominence in the 2010s.
For example, Ken Griffey Jr. (The Kid), Allen Iverson (The Answer), David Ortiz (Big Papi) and Shaun White (The Flying Tomato) weren't considered for the list. They began starring in the previous decade.
The list is entirely subjective but attempts to consider a blend of originality and popularity.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: "The Greek Freak"
Donte DiVincenzo: "The Big Ragu"
Jeremy Lin: "Linsanity"
LeSean McCoy: "Shady"
Doug McDermott: "Dougie McBuckets"
Pablo Sandoval: "Kung Fu Panda"
Bartolo Colon: "Big Sexy"
When you picture an athlete who played 21 professional seasons, Bartolo Colon is probably not what you envision. He checked in at 5'11" and 285 pounds with the Texas Rangers in 2018.
Between his stature and longevity, Colon developed into a lovable figure toward the end of his career. He played for the New York Mets from 2014-16, a time during which Colon's teammates bestowed the nickname "Big Sexy" upon him.
Joel Embiid: "The Process"
What started as the rallying cry for Philadelphia 76ers morphed into the nickname for Joel Embiid.
As a product of general manager Sam Hinkie's strategic teardown, the Sixers selected Embiid with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Embiid missed two seasons due to injury, and Philly fans greeted him with chants of "Trust the Process" in his 2016 debut.
Embiid began referring to himself by the nickname and has since received a trademark for "The Process."
Kyrie Irving: "Uncle Drew"
Although it's fair to consider this manufactured, Kyrie Irving landed "Uncle Drew" as a result of a Pepsi ad campaign.
Still, the character stuck. The 2012 commercial has more than 56 million views on YouTube, and the campaign added several more chapters before a 2018 movie.
Irving tried to create a different nickname in 2016, but "The Ankletaker" didn't catch on. This one did.
And remember: Don't reach, youngblood.
Calvin Johnson: "Megatron"
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft, Calvin Johnson received his nickname almost immediately upon joining the Detroit Lions.
"I've never seen anything like him," former Lions wide receiver Roy Williams said in 2007, per MLive's Justin Rogers. "He's a big, strong, physical, fast guy. We call him Megatron."
However, it wasn't until the 2010s that Johnson both embraced and lived up to the nickname. He earned the first of six straight Pro Bowl nods in 2010 and first-team All-Pro honors from 2011-13.
After the 2015 season, Johnson retired with 731 career receptions for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns.
Terrance Knighton: "Pot Roast"
Terrance Knighton became a more recognizable figure when he played for the Denver Broncos in 2013-14, but "Pot Roast" dates back to the beginning of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Knighton himself relayed the story behind the nickname:
"A guy named Clint Ingram, my rookie year. On the plane ride back from Seattle to Jacksonville. It's a six-hour flight, so it's dark on the plane. Everyone's asleep, but the stewardess is walking down the aisle with the food, and she's like 'Pot roast, pot roast!' and I was like, 'Right here.' So then my teammate at the time was like, 'You said that like that's your name.'"
Knighton played his final season with Washington in 2015.
Marshawn Lynch: "Beast Mode"
Like Calvin Johnson, Marshawn Lynch entered the NFL in 2007. But his defining moment happened in the wild-card round of the 2010 season.
On a game-clinching 67-yard touchdown run, Lynch powered through eight potential tackles. It serves as both one of the most memorable plays in NFL history and as the launching point for his career. Lynch then posted four straight seasons with at least 1,200 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns for Seattle.
As the Seahawks developed into a perennial Super Bowl contender, "Beast Mode" became unforgettable.
Johnny Manziel: "Johnny Football"
The last decade included a whole bunch of successes, failures, detours and learning experiences for Johnny Manziel, but millions of people can identify "Johnny Football."
Manziel surged onto the national radar in 2012, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. He played two remarkably entertaining seasons at Texas A&M before the Cleveland Browns selected him in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Though he's no longer in the NFL, Manziel remains a highly recognizable figure.
Doug Martin: "Muscle Hamster"
Let's start here: Doug Martin doesn't like "Muscle Hamster." If you happen to see him, please do not say it.
The story is entertaining, though. Jarrell Root, a college teammate at Boise State, discussed the origin with ESPN's Andrew Astleford in 2015:
"He hated it. He was like, 'OK, man, why can't I be like a pit bull or anything cool like that?' And I'm like, 'Dude, you're short. Hamsters are cool. There's nothing wrong with hamsters. Why do you hate hamsters?' You don't choose a nickname. If your buddies give you a nickname and it sucks and you don't like it, it just sticks with you. He really disliked it. But we just kept it rolling."
Martin played seven NFL seasons—six with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—and eclipsed 5,000 career rushing yards.
Tyrann Mathieu: "Honey Badger"
Tyrann Mathieu put together a spectacular 2011 season at LSU. He collected 76 tackles with 7.5 for loss, forced six fumbles, recovered five, returned two for touchdowns, grabbed two interceptions, broke up nine passes and returned two punts for scores.
For a non-offensive player, his ability to consistently impact the game was incredible. Mathieu finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting that year.
The nickname "Honey Badger" suited the undersized yet ferocious player who had a blond streak in his hair. Unfortunately, it wasn't all good; LSU ended up dismissing Mathieu for a violation of team rules before the 2012 season.
"It felt like I got caught up in that 'Honey Badger' character," Mathieu told Sporting News' Tadd Haislop. "It kind of began to consume me."
However, Mathieu has since turned the proverbial corner and become a reliable impact player in the NFL. He landed All-Pro honors in 2019 as his Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl.
Nick Young: "Swaggy P"
Nick Young has crafted a few stories about how he landed the nickname, so the actual origin is uncertain. Nonetheless, "Swaggy P" is a memorable moniker.
After four-plus seasons with the Washington Wizards, he developed into a bit of a cult hero on the Los Angeles Lakers. Young's lively personality—complete with a legendary celebration of a missed three—turned him into a fan favorite.
No matter your feelings about his on-court play—lots of threes, not much defense—he was typically good for a laugh. And in 2018, "Swaggy P" celebrated an NBA title with the Golden State Warriors.