'360' in Lakerland? B/R Staff Remembers Best and Worst NBA Teammate Nicknames
The biggest moment of the 2021 NBA offseason may well have been the news that Russell Westbrook would be headed to the Los Angeles Lakers to form a trio now dubbed "360" (thanks to the jersey Nos. 3, 6 and 0) with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The report sent shockwaves through the league on draft day. Though Russ and LeBron are both well into their 30s and AD has often struggled with durability, there was (and is) little doubt that this is one of the game's most talented big threes. And, as is often the case after one of these superteams is assembled, a group nickname wasn't far behind.
LeBron himself has experience with the process. Shortly after he and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat, those three were dubbed The Heatles. Many years earlier, Tim Duncan and David Robinson gave rise to the San Antonio Spurs dynasty as the Twin Towers. In the 80s, the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers captured the attention of fans all over the world.
There have been plenty of other examples over the life of the NBA, many of which weren't as well received or memorable as those above. The best and worst can be found below.
I get it. Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook's jersey Nos. are 3, 6 and 0, respectively. It's not much of a mental trip to get to 360. You don't even need an onramp. But beyond just mashing three digits together, the nickname doesn't really apply to the players it's ostensibly describing.
Is there something about their games that is circular? I mean, beyond a "Rust Cohle's 'time is a flat circle'" or "Kevin Nealon in Happy Gilmore" philosophical approach, what about them says 360 degrees? Is it a reference to the three skill sets completing each other? If so, that's an awful lot of dependency on LeBron's shooting.
Ultimately, this feels forced because it just happens to show up on the jerseys.
It isn't easy to put a finger on why it's so satisfying. Splash Brothers is just an apt moniker for two of the greatest shooters in NBA history in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Perhaps it's because they grew up together in the NBA, initially with a struggling Golden State Warriors franchise, into three-time champions. And since it seems like every three-pointer they attempt is going to drop, Splash Brothers (like Curry and Klay) is a winner.
Cleveland becomes "Sexland" during basketball season, combining the two last names of the Cavaliers' young backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. It's one the team was hesitant to promote as first, but has now wrapped its arms around.
If Sexton agrees to an extension and Garland signs his own next offseason, Sexland could live on in Cleveland for years to come.
'Fire and Ice'
The nickname "Fire and Ice" didn't last long enough to make an impression. With his emotional personality, DeMarcus Cousins was the former, while the more laid-back (but monstrous on the court) Anthony Davis was the latter.
But the New Orleans Pelicans missed the playoffs in Cousins' first year with the team after he arrived in late February 2017 via trade from the Sacramento Kings. He tore his Achilles the following January, essentially ending the Fire and Ice combo before it ever gained any traction.
Davis, who didn't last much longer in New Orleans, was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2019.
"Lob City" was a legit nickname for the Blake Griffin/Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan era. While the Los Angeles Clippers never got past the second round of the playoffs together, the games were a fast, high-flying dunk-fest.
Before injuries brought him down to earth, Griffin was one of the greatest in-game dunkers the game had ever seen.
Eventually, the postseason flame-outs got the best of L.A. The vibe soured, and the squad broke up. But for a franchise that historically experienced few highs, the "Lob City" Clippers were a ton of fun.
'Peanut Butter & Jelly'
Is this even recognized as an official nickname? Far be it from me to wish invalidation upon my own selection, but good lord, I hope not.
Dwyane Wade kind of mentioned that he and LeBron James were like peanut butter and jelly in passing, back when he was on the Cavaliers in 2017, because they go together. Though this made for a somewhat entertaining conversation about which one of them was peanut butter and who qualified as jelly, the entire concept is just extremely blah, which I guess befits the post-Miami, short-lived partnership between the two.
The sentiment behind it is fine. But it needed to be more creative, which is to say, perhaps not self-assigned. How did no one attempt to override this suggestion with better ones? I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but surely they existed.
Like everything else about the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh team-up in Miami, the "Heatles" nickname seemed corny and over-the-top at the time but actually looks prescient in hindsight.
"I see we sell out 99.1 percent on the road, so we call ourselves the Heatles off the Beatles," James told reporters at the time in explaining the self-given nickname. "So every time we take our show on the road we bring a great crowd."
A team that had yet to win anything nicknaming itself after the most successful and influential band of the 20th century turned off a lot of people who were already predisposed to not liking the at-the-time-unprecedented Big Three union. A decade later, the idea that multiple stars could combine forces in one city to take over the league, win titles and generate endless social media buzz has become standard operating procedure in the NBA. It's hard to argue with the comparison now.
Rajon Rondo coined the phrase "three alphas" to describe himself, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler in Chicago at his introductory press conference in the summer of 2016. At the time, there were questions about whether three ball-dominant stars would fit together in the backcourt. Those doubts proved to be...pretty much spot-on.
As the 2016-17 season progressed, "Three Alphas" became more of a punchline than the superstar billing Rondo intended it to be. Rondo himself was benched for stretches, and all three had to cede starting spots for one game after Butler and Wade ripped their teammates after a game and Rondo defended the teammates the next day but called out Chicago's leadership. At one point, Rondo was suspended for a game for throwing a towel in the direction of assistant coach Jim Boylen.
The Bulls limped into the playoffs and took a surprising 2-0 lead on the No. 1-seeded Boston Celtics but fell apart when Rondo fractured his thumb. That summer, all three alphas were gone. The experiment was not a successful one.
'Grit and Grind'
Anytime someone mentions the Grit-and-Grind era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball, it immediately evokes a singular moment. For me, it's flash pangs of Tony Allen guarding Kevin Durant in the playoffs, a matchup that at once made zero sense and, by Grit-and-Grind standards, all the sense in the world.
Along with Allen, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph all immediately spring to mind. They were Grit and Grind. They played blue-collar, no-nonsense basketball, the aesthetics of which typified the underdog spirit from which their moniker was borne.
This era gave us so much. There is the upset of the first-place Spurs in 2011. The Western Conference Finals appearance in 2013. The seven-game set versus the Thunder in 2011. Z-Bo getting ejected against the Clippers in 2013. Eliminating those same Lob City Clippers. Countless Gasol passes. The high-low offense founded around two bigs at a time when such stratagems were becoming taboo.
The list goes on. And on. And on. Sort of like Grit and Grind, though now defunct, did itself.
Near the beginning of his second season in Houston, Dwight Howard anointed the Rockets the "Swag Champs" because they "come out and play with swag."
That year, Howard, James Harden and the Rockets made the Western Conference Finals, so it wasn't a complete failure. But given Howard's waning popularity in the years since, and how little the Rockets accomplished relative to expectations during his time there, it's a moniker that has not aged well.
'Boston Three Party'
As much as fans gravitated toward calling the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen triumvirate the Big Three, the best nickname for Boston's title-winning trio was the Boston Three Party.
Derived from one of the most important developments on American soil, the actual Boston Tea Party in 1773 stemmed from colonists getting fed up with, among other things, being taxed by the British.
Danny Ainge, in charge of the Celtics' basketball operations, was fed up with all the losing the team had been doing under his watch.
That all changed in the summer of 2007 after what was one of the worst seasons record-wise in franchise history as the Celtics won just 24 games. Bostonians felt the historical number of losses (it was the second-worst record in an 82-game season in franchise history) would be worth it because all those defeats meant they had the best shot at landing the No. 1 overall pick, which was going to be Greg Oden or some dude named Kevin Durant.
Instead, the Celtics wound up with the fifth overall pick, which they would use to select Jeff Green.
Instead of continuing to build with youth, Ainge decided it was high time to cash that youth in for proven talent.
So Ainge was able to package the Green pick with other assets to trade for Ray Allen. Soon after, Ainge pooled together a few more assets to pry Kevin Garnett out of Minnesota, giving Boston a core group that would eventually win an NBA title that season.
And while they may be better known as Boston's Big Three, considering the revolutionary way they went about winning an NBA title in their first season together, the Boston Three Party has a nicer ring to it.
Admittedly, the "Sonic Boom" moniker was probably erased from most memory banks. Maybe that's because the two players involved had such iconic nicknames: Gary Payton was The Glove, and Shawn Kemp was the Reign Man. Or perhaps it's the fact that the team that inspired this, the Seattle SuperSonics, was uprooted and rebranded as the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.
Either way, this surely isn't the first nickname that came to mind for most (all?) fans in this discussion, but it's the perfect blend of simple and creative.
Payton and Kemp formed an electric combination in the open court, with Payton's lob passes triggering that everyone-holds-their-breath calm before the storm and Kemp's ferocious finishes sending a Sonic Boom-level shock wave throughout the arena.
Is it the greatest nickname in hoops history? No. But it's at least a solid eight out of 10, so it's worth the mention.
This gets two thumbs down from me, and if I could borrow more thumbs to point to the floor, too, I'd be all over it.
For starters, the genesis of the self-appointed "7-Eleven" nickname was—wait for it—their jersey numbers. Super creative, right?
Then, has there ever been a more anonymous duo to earn a nickname? Goran Dragic had never been to an All-Star Game by that point (2017), and Dion Waiters had nearly flamed out of the league, saved only by a two-year, $6 million offer from the Miami Heat.
Oh, and while the pair adopted the nickname after an eight-game winning streak, the surge brought their team to a 19-30 record. They'd go on to close the campaign with a 41-41 mark, miss the postseason and have their nickname forgotten by precisely everyone until this very mention of it.
Tim Duncan and David Robinson certainly weren't the only jumbo-sized frontcourt in NBA history. Nor were they the only duo referred to as the "Twin Towers" at some point or another. The nickname just fits them better than anyone else, and they're the two we think of when we hear it.
There are at least a couple of reasons it works so well for The Big Fundamental and The Admiral (besides the obvious fact that they're huge). For one, each player is an all-time great by his own merits. They have three league MVP awards and 25 All-NBA appearances between them. And both are top-15 players in Bleacher Report's 50 greatest of all time.
The other reason is that these two individual talents worked so well together. From day one, there was no jealousy, strife or growing pains for this duo. They made the Spurs an instant title contender and won two championships together before Robinson retired. And nothing seals the fate of a group nickname quite like winning.
The beauty of the Brian Shaw lob to a prime Shaquille O'Neal through the Los Angeles Lakers' three-peat (2000-2002) was undeniable—at least to Lakers fans.
The Shawshank Redemption was snubbed for seven Academy Awards, but it was huge in its day (1994). The wordplay of "Shaw-Shaq Redemption" just never quite fit. The lesser-used and mostly forgotten "Shaw-Shaq Connection" made more sense. How was a Shaq lob from Shaw redeeming as the Lakers won their third title in a row?
Some of the best nicknames in sports are also the simplest. Such is the case for "Showtime" and its application to Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers.
Beyond the obvious geographical connection to Hollywood, L.A. played a dynamic, up-and-down brand of basketball that truly did look like a show in comparison to most other teams in the league. No one passed or led a break with the flair of Magic. James Worthy was one of the most exciting transition weapons in the league. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, though the era coincided with the twilight of his career, was often unstoppable inside using his patented sky hook—itself a thing of beauty.
The show was backed by substance, too. From 1979-80 to 1990-91, the Lakers won five championships and led the league in points per 100 possessions and effective field-goal percentage for the entire 12-year stretch.
It's easy to see why Showtime is one of the most memorable nicknames in league history.