The 100 Best Nicknames in Sports History
Editor's Note: Click here to get an updated list of the Best Sports Nicknames in the Last Decade!
Is the art of the nickname dead?
With the popularity of nicknames that incorporate initials or the shortening of an athlete's name (see A-Rod, D-Wade, etc.), it would seem that some of the creativity has been sucked out of the catchy renaming of our favorite athletes.
A truly memorable nickname should be three things: It should be original, it should become synonymous with the athlete to the point that the nickname itself is iconic and it should reflect the personality, style or abilities of the player in a clever way.
These are the 100 best nicknames in sports history.
100. Eric Esch: "Butterbean"
What You Need to Know: I couldn't resist.
99. Glen "Big Baby" Davis
The "I Don't Like My Nickname, But It Isn't Going Anywhere, Is It?" Nickname: "Big Baby" mentioned last year that he wasn't fond of his nickname and wanted a new one.
Sorry, Glen—you'll forever be "Big Baby." Don't cry about it.
98. Christian Okoye: "The Nigerian Nightmare"
Originality: Heritage plus alliteration plus a name reflective of his running style equals a great, unique nickname.
Iconic: Not exactly. But it's a fun nickname, so the nickname gets a pass.
Appropriate: With his bruising running style, he was a nightmare for defenders—believe me.
97. Andre Dawson: "The Hawk"
In His Own Words: From ESPN.com comes the following tale of Dawson's nickname.
"My uncle would hit me ground balls and throw me batting practice, and he said I had this presence," Dawson said. "I would be all over the ball, and my approach was different from normal kids. A lot of kids would back away. They would be afraid of the ball. He said that I would attack it and it would remind him of a hawk. And it just stuck all of those years."
96. Anthony "Spud" Webb
The "I Have No Idea What His First Name Actually Is" Nickname: From a 1982 article Rick Telander wrote in Sports Illustrated comes this hilarious excerpt about Webb's classic handle.
Spud's older brother, David, is known as Bean. It's intriguing to think for a moment of a family named exclusively after vegetables, but this isn't the case.
"When I was born, my head looked like a bean so they called me Beanhead," says 22-year-old David, who works in the family store, Webb's Soul Market, in Dallas. Bean notes that his three sisters and his other brother, Reginald, have no nicknames. "But Spud isn't named after a potato. I know people think that. When he was born, see, he had this big ol' bald head. People called him Sputnik-head, after that satellite the Russians put in orbit. That's where Spud comes from. But now, when Spud jumps, he really is in orbit."
95. Calvin Johnson: "Megatron"
The "Childhood Cartoon Reference" Nickname: Guaranteed win in the nickname department.
94. Stu "The Grim Reaper" Grimson
Originality: Gotta love using the last name to come up with "The Grim Reaper" for a nickname. I mean, would you mess with this guy?
Iconic: Not really. He's on this list for originality points.
Appropriate: Again, would you mess with this guy?
93. Robert Parish: "The Chief"
92. Kenny "The Snake" Stabler
Originality: Sorry, Jake Plummer, but you were never "The Snake." People just thought you were.
Iconic: Not as iconic as others on this list, but he was a darn good quarterback in his time.
Appropriate: His high school coach gave him the name after he zigged and zagged his way to a long touchdown run. Before knee injuries, the nickname aptly described his scrambling style.
91. "Smokin" Joe Frazier
Anachronistic Pop Culture Reference: Here you go.
An iconic nickname for an iconic fighter.
90. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
Originality: The only "Shogun" I know of in the sports world.
Iconic: Outside of MMA, no. Within the MMA community he is often simply referred to as Shogun Rua, however.
Appropriate: I would be too afraid to tell him otherwise, that's for sure.
89. Jack Tatum: "The Assassin"
Keep it Simple: Just watch the video. The nickname fits.
88. Andrei Kirilenko: AK-47
The "Was This Planned in Advance?" Nickname: This name incorporates his initials, his jersey number and his nationality (Russian), while referencing the famous Soviet assault rifle.
Well played, Kirilenko—well played indeed.
87. Ryan "Darth" Bader
Originality: He's only going to score originality points for this one. I absolutely love this nickname.
Iconic: Mr. Bader is an unknown outside of the MMA world. So no, this nickname isn't iconic.
Appropriate: His professional record is 12-2, so he's no slouch. But when he mixed it up with the big names in the sport (Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz), he was defeated. A Jedi Master he is not.
86. Matt Ryan: "Matty Ice"
Originality: A favorite for frat guys everywhere.
Iconic: If Ryan can lead the Falcons to a Super Bowl, it will become iconic rather quickly.
Appropriate: Aside from the beer reference, it reflects his cool and confident demeanor on the field. Actually, I'm not sure if the older folks get the beer reference, which is what makes the nickname so damn awesome in the first place.
85. Florence Griffith-Joyner: "Flo-Jo"
A Proper Use of the Shortened-Name Nickname: In today's nickname landscape (huh?), this nickname would be corny. But this came before the proliferation of the "first initial combined with a portion of the last name" nicknames, so it makes the list.
84. Craig "Ironhead" Heyward
Fun Fact: Per Sports Illustrated:
Heyward earned the nickname "Ironhead" in his hometown Passaic, N.J. for both his massive head (size 8 3/4) and the way that he speared defenders with it. True to form, Heyward said he was once struck over the head with a pool cue—breaking the cue in half.
83. Curtis Joseph: "Cujo"
A Proper Use of the Shortened-Name Nickname: A-Rod is corny. Cujo is not. Why, you ask? Because the nickname was based off of the Stephen King novel Cujo, and Joseph had the rabid dog from that book painted on his hockey mask.
82. Ben Roethlisberger: "Big Ben"
Originality: I've seen people list "Big Ben" as the nickname for the NBA's Ben Wallace, but I'm not drinking that Kool-Aid. And yes, it is both original and clever because it is a reference to this.
Iconic: He is widely referred to as "Big Ben."
Appropriate: He's a big dude, and he gets better as the clock winds down. Works for me.
81. David "Deacon" Jones
The Self-Appointed Nickname: Normally, I think that giving yourself a nickname is corny. It should be more natural than that.
But not only did David Jones appoint himself "Deacon" so his name would be more memorable for future generations, he also was the first to call tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage a "sack."
If you've coined a term that became an institutionalized statistic, you can call yourself whatever you like.
80. Harold "Pee Wee" Reese
The "I Have No Idea What His First Name Actually Is" Nickname: We learn the following from Pee Wee's website:
Contrary to popular belief, the nickname "Pee Wee" was given to him during his marble playing days, not due to his small stature.
Pee Wee was a Louisville city marbles champion at age 12.
Apparently, a "pee wee" is a type of marble.
79. Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson
Originality: Has anybody else ever been called "The Microwave"? I highly doubt it.
Iconic: Not outside of basketball circles, but certainly to NBA fans.
Appropriate: From Sports Illustrated we get this tidbit:
Danny Ainge coined this nickname as a tribute to the Detroit guard, whose instant offense and ability to heat up in limited playing time wreaked havoc havoc on many Pistons opponents during the late '80s.
78. Bobby Hull: "The Golden Jet"
"The" Nicknames: When your nickname includes the word "the," indicating you are the definitive version of something, there is a good chance your nickname is pretty cool.
"Gold" Nicknames: When your nickname includes some reference to gold, chances are you were highly respected.
77. Ed "Too Tall" Jones
Obvious Alert: He was 6'9", so the nickname was apt. Not terribly creative, but I always thought it had a nice ring to it.
76. Anderson Silva: "The Spider"
Originality: While there will be another spider reference on this slideshow, I think "The Spider" is Silva's alone.
Iconic: The nickname may not be as iconic as the fighter, but it is commonly known to MMA fans nonetheless.
Appropriate: Watch the video—it just looks like he's hitting his opponents with eight limbs.
75. Leroy "Satchel" Paige
The "I Have No Idea What His First Name Actually Is" Nickname: From ESPN's SportsCentury comes the following tidbit about Satchel Paige.
Leroy "Satchel" Paige was the longtime Negro League star who eventually received his due in the majors. He reportedly got his nickname working as a baggage porter in Mobile, Ala., where he became a "satchel tree" by carrying several bags at once. "Satchel," the man, was literally ageless. (His birthdate, commonly reported as July 7, 1906, was never rock solidly confirmed).
74. Reggie Jackson: "Mr. October"
Originality: The one and only.
Iconic: Without question.
Appropriate: He pretty much sealed the deal on this nickname when he blasted three home runs on three pitches in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, leading the Yankess past the Dodgers.
73. Deion Sanders: Prime Time
Alternate Nicknames: "Neon" Deion
Originality: Much like there is only one Deion Sanders, there is only one "Prime Time."
Iconic: Even as a studio analyst today, he is often referred to as "Prime Time" or simply "Prime." It stuck.
Appropriate: Deion Sanders was two things—flashy and talented. He was cocky as hell, but he almost always backed it up on the field during his Hall of Fame career.
72. Stan "The Man" Musial
The Art of the Rhyming Nickname: Throughout the course of this slideshow, a whole slew of nicknames will rhyme. While a nickname that rhymes in and of itself is not a bad thing, the simple act of rhyming often replaces any creativity in the nicknaming process.
Listen, Stan Musial really was "The Man," as a quick glance at his stats will make apparent. Still, that doesn't make "The Man" a great nickname—it's a good nickname because it has a nice ring to it.
But as you'll see, there are even better rhyming nicknames to come.
71. Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon
The Art of the Rhyming Nickname: See Musial, Stan.
70. "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler
Originality: So far as I can tell, this one belongs to Hagler. If there was a "Marvelous" before him, they certainly weren't marvelous enough to warrant the nickname more than Hagler.
Iconic: He liked the sound of Marvelous Marvin Hagler so much, he made it his legal name. Move over, Ochocinco, you aren't alone.
Appropriate: I'd say his career record was pretty marvelous: 62-2-3 (52 by knockout). He was the undisputed middleweight champion for seven years between 1980-87 before losing a controversial split-decision to Sugar Ray Leonard.
69. Dominik Hasek: "The Dominator"
Originality: A pretty simple nickname here, as Hasek's first name inspired the nickname. Well, that and his success as a goalie.
Iconic: Not to the same degree as others on this list, but certainly well-known in hockey circles.
Appropriate: Seeing as he was a six-time Veinza Trophy (best goalie) winner and two-time Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) winner, I'd say "The Dominator" was appropriate.
68. Jon "Bones" Jones
The Art of the Rhyming Nickname: An improvement over "The Dream" and "The Man" because it is less cliched, and because Jon Jones is totally capable of breaking bones.
When your professional record is 13-1, only two of those victories came by decision, and you are the UFC's Light Heavyweight Champion, "Bones" is a damn fine nickname.
67. Walter "Big Train" Johnson
Overuse of the Train Motif: There are a lot of "Train" nicknames out there. You won't find another common one, Nolan Ryan's "The Ryan Express" on here, because the train motif is overused.
But Walter Johnson was one of the original "Train Nickname Guys," so he makes the cut.
66. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Originality: It's not the most original nickname in the world, but it has a good ring to it.
Iconic: He's often simply referred to as Rampage Jackson, so I'd say this nickname stuck.
Appropriate: He's an MMA fighter—of course it's appropriate.
65. Honus Wagner: "The Flying Dutchman"
Originality: He's the definitive "Flying Dutchman," but he got the nickname because of his speedy baserunning and the fact that he was German (Dutchman apparently equating to "Deutsch" in this instance). Pretty straightforward stuff.
Iconic: Not one of the truly classic nicknames from this time period, but a good one nonetheless.
Appropriate: Listen, Honus Wagner once said, "I never have been sick. I don't even know what it means to be sick. I hear other players say they have a cold. I just don't know what it would feel like to have a cold - I never had one."
And I believe him. You could have called him "Spanky" for all I care—if Honus didn't hate it, it was appropriate.
64. Dale Earnhardt, Sr.: "The Intimidator"
Originality: The one and only.
Appropriate: Earnhardt was an aggressive, no-nonsense driver. Frankly, I was intimidated by the mustache alone.
63. Randy Johnson: "The Big Unit"
The "Sexual Innuendo" Nickname: Or so you think:
Then came a seemingly insignificant exchange with a teammate.
"I was given [my nickname] when I first got called up to the big leagues in 1988 by a former teammate of mine, Tim Raines," the 6-foot-10 hurler recalled. "He was about 5-foot-9. He bumped into me, looked up and said, 'You're a big unit.'"
62. Gary Payton: "The Glove"
Originality: From Sports Illustrated:
In the 1993 Western Conference Finals, Payton squared off against Phoenix Suns point guard Kevin Johnson. Supposedly, after playing his typical lock down defense, Payton received a call from his cousin saying he was "holding Johnson like a baseball in a glove." The nickname fit.
Iconic: Certainly one of the best nicknames from the NBA in the '90s, a great decade for basketball monikers.
Appropriate: He was one of the best defenders to ever play the point guard position. Enough said.
61. Jeanette Lee: "The Black Widow"
Originality: She may not mate with her opponents before killing them, but she does handle their balls (I just gave myself a high five).
Iconic: If you don't know who "The Black Widow" is, you've never watched late night or early morning ESPN. Which makes you the dork.
Appropriate: From her demeanor to her tendency to leave opponents lifeless on the table, this nickname really is perfect.
60. William "The Refrigerator" Perry
What You Need to Know: This video is the most amazing thing I have ever watched. It is two-and-a-half minutes of comedic gold.
59. Paul Hornung: "The Golden Boy"
Originality: No, you won't see Oscar De La Hoya on this list becuase his nickname wasn't original. Hornung is the original "Golden Boy," and don't you forget it.
Iconic: Here's why Hornung goes so low—most people would associate this nickname with De La Hoya. The original "Golden Boy" gets second billing to a "Golden Boy" who came years later. Life just isn't fair.
Appropriate: The Heisman Trophy winner in 1956 is arguably the greatest player in the history of Notre Dame football. I think that makes the "The Golden Boy" a proper alias for Hornung.
58. Wayne Gretzky: "The Great One"
Originality: I'm not saying it isn't true, but it's kind of boring, right?
Iconic: There are a lot of great players in sports history. But Gretzky is "The Great One."
Appropriate: Yes, he was amazing. It's still a boring nickname, however.
57. Muhammad Ali: "The Greatest"
What You Need to Know: You can pretty much take the entire Wayne Gretzky slide, replace "The Great One" with "The Greatest," and you'll know how I feel about Ali's nickname.
56. Hector “Macho” Camacho
The Art of the Rhyming Nickname: You gotta love "Macho" as a boxing nickname, especially in this case.
55. David Robinson: "The Admiral"
Nickname in a Nutshell: He had served as an officer in the U.S. Navy before being drafted by the Spurs. Short, sweet and memorable—a winning formula for a lasting nickname.
Nickname Pairing: Robinson and a young Tim Duncan were called "The Twin Towers," which is just really strange to think about now.
54. Orlando Hernandez: "El Duque"
Originality: "El Duque" means "The Duke," making the translation of this nickname less than unique. (This is the part of the slideshow where I point out that the "Duke" in Duke Snider was a nickname). However, in Spanish it is totally unique, at least within the American sporting scene.
Iconic: "El Duque" is one of the classic nicknames from the past 15 years in baseball.
Appropriate: He's no Duke Snider, but not many people were.
53. Mark Fidrych: "The Bird"
What You Need to Know: I can't embed this video because the damn MLB won't let me, but you should really check it out. It does a great job of covering this man's career, the spawning of his nickname and his antics on the mound.
Seriously, check it out, it's worth five minutes of your life if you're a sports fan.
52. Wanderlei Silva: "The Axe Murderer"
Originality: Um, yeah—it's original.
Iconic: It has a way of sticking in your memory, that's for sure.
Appropriate: Well, it certainly isn't subtle. But truthfully, neither is MMA. I want to dislike this nickname for being boorish, but I can't help but love it.
51. "Super" Mario Lemieux
Indisputable Fact: When you can aptly describe a player's abilities while making a video game reference, you've just nailed a winning nickname.
50. Robert "Tractor" Traylor
Proper Utilization of the Last Name: What an awesome nickname this was. The perfect combination of a nickname that took into account his physical build and name.
49. Chuck Bednarik: "Concrete Charlie"
Originality: Simple yet effective, and apt in describing both his hard-hitting style and his durability (he played both ways for most of his career). "Concrete" was as original as you needed to get when describing Bednarik.
Iconic: Outside of NFL Films circles, probably not. Which is a shame, because it's a great nickname.
Appropriate: Why don't you ask Frank Gifford (the guy on the ground who looks dead) if this nickname is appropriate.
48. Allen Iverson: "The Answer"
What You Need to Know: In Philadelphia, he was "The Answer" to fans weary from years of poor teams. Eventually, he became "The Question." But for awhile there, it was a whole lot of fun in Philly.
47. Ozzie Smith: "The Wizard of Oz"
Alternate Nicknames: Technically speaking, "Ozzie" is also a nickname, as Smith's given name was Osbourne. He also went by simply "The Wizard."
Originality: Much less original as I initially thought, as Ozzie Newsome also went by "The Wizard of Oz." I'm not sure who got the nickname first, as the two played in the same time period. It also was a pretty easy nickname to coin, so major points are lost on the creativity scale here.
Iconic: If you ask the average sports fan who "The Wizard" was, they'll say Smith, not Newsome.
Appropriate: There is no question that he was a wizard with the glove, as he is often called the greatest defensive shortstop in the history of the game.
46. Walter Payton: "Sweetness"
Fun Fact: From ESPN's SportsCentury:
After shedding the childhood nickname "Spiderman," Payton picked up "Sweetness" at Jackson State, a school he chose over larger, more glamorous suitors because his brother Eddie was already playing there. Whether it was for all the skills he brought to the field or because it packed a certain irony for someone who enjoyed physical contact, the new nickname stuck.
45. Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway
Originality: Hardaway's grandmother called him pretty, because she thought he was very handsome. However, she had such a thick Southern drawl that his friends thought she was saying "Penny." The rest is history.
Iconic: Did anyone ever call him Anfernee? Nah, he was Penny.
Appropriate: Eh, this is one of those "catchy childhood nickname" situations—we let him slide on the fact that "Penny" didn't reflect an aspect of his game.
44. David Ortiz: "Big Papi"
Originality: Absolutely. The only person who might disagree is Biggie Smalls, but I doubt he'll be raising any fuss about it.
Iconic: I did a "Google News" search for Big Papi, and hordes of game articles referenced David Ortiz as "Big Papi" in the headline. I'd say it's an iconic nickname.
Appropriate: He's big and he hits for power—it's perfect.
43. Jake "The Raging Bull" LaMotta
Alternate Nicknames: The Bronx Bull
Originality: Such a good nickname, they used it for the title of Martin Scorsese's film about LaMotta.
Iconic: That film is considered to be one of the finest ever made, so there you have it.
Appropriate: The guy was a terror, in and out of the ring. Everyday life was a proverbial china shop for LaMotta.
42. Frank Thomas: "The Big Hurt"
Originality: This is a dandy, and it belongs to Frank Thomas alone.
Iconic: It may never go down as one of the truly classic nicknames of all time, but in the '90s, this was as iconic of a baseball nickname as there was.
Appropriate: The perfect description of Frank Thomas as a hitter. He was big, powerful and put a hurting on the ball.
41. Bill "The Spaceman" Lee
Originality: Trust me, everything about Bill Lee was original.
Iconic: Bill Lee is probably the least iconic baseball player on this list, so his nickname loses points in that regard.
Appropriate: We'll let Lee and a few of his quotes convince you of just how appropriate this nickname is:
I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won't matter if I get this guy out.
The other day they asked me about mandatory drug testing. I said I believed in drug testing a long time ago. All through the sixties I tested everything.
You have two hemispheres in your brain - a left and a right side. The left side controls the right side of your body and right controls the left half. It's a fact. Therefore, left-handers are the only people in their right minds
40. Fred McGriff: "The Crime Dog"
Originality: This was Chris Berman's clever idea, a nod to McGruff the Crime Dog, so it was always original.
Iconic: This is one of the better baseball nicknames in recent memory, and most baseball fans will know who the nickname refers to.
Appropriate: It doesn't really reflect an aspect of his game, but it's an awesome nickname nonetheless, so we'll let him slide on this one.
39. Gordie Howe: "Mr. Hockey"
Originality: It's pretty straightforward, and I wouldn't exactly call it clever. Though I don't think Gordie Howe would be concerned with such trivial concerns.
Appropriate: Gordie Howe could do it all—he was a prolific scorer, he didn't shy away from hitting or fighting, he was tough and strong and he played forever, accumulating 22 straight seasons of 20-plus goals between 1949 and 1971.
38. "Mean" Joe Greene
Originality: Certainly, a nickname like "Mean" isn't very original. But I wouldn't say that to his face, either.
Iconic: Have you ever just called him Joe Greene, without the "Mean?" I don't think I have.
Appropriate: Yes. He was a scary man, at least on the football field.
37. "Sir" Charles Barkley
Alternate Nicknames: Sir Charles was also known as "Chuck" and my personal favorite, "The Round Mound of Rebound."
Originality: Only Charles Barkley could have a nickname steeped in sarcasm ("Sir" was certainly in contrast to his controversial, outspoken personality) and "The Round Mound of Rebound."
Iconic: While "Chuck" seems to have stayed with him through his analyst days, the other two were quite popular when he played.
Appropriate: The three of them combined perfectly encapsulate the personality and game of Barkley.
My Personal Version of This Nickname: The Round Mound of Profound.
36. "Iron" Mike Tyson
What You Need to Know: Do I need to add anything to that video?
35. Billy "White Shoes" Johnson
Originality: A pretty literal nickname. Here's the story from the Victoria Advocate:
Johnson was known for his signature white cleats when most players wore black cleats.
"Don't believe Wikipedia," he said. "About the part that paint fell on my shoes. I had them dyed."
Johnson said he began wearing the shoes as a part of a high school dare.
"I got away with it," he said, jokingly. "I was one of the lucky ones."
Iconic: Johnson is another player who sounds weird if you say his name without including the nickname.
Appropriate: Well, he really wore white shoes, so I guess so.
34. Pete Rose: "Charlie Hustle"
Originality: Supposedly, this is how Rose got his nickname:
Got the nickname "Charlie Hustle" during a spring training game against the New York Yankees in his rookie season (1963). Rose drew a walk and sprinted to first, prompting Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford to yell from the dugout, "There goes Charlie Hustle!" The nickname stuck.
Iconic: As well-known as Rose's gambling problems.
Appropriate: It reflected his hard-nosed, high-energy style of play, even if Mickey and Whitey were making fun of him when they coined it.
33. Roberto Duran: "Manos De Piedra" (Hands of Stone)
Alternate Nicknames: "No Mas"
Originality: You have to appreciate the bilingual originality he has going for him.
Iconic: Sadly for Duran, "No Mas" became pretty iconic as well.
Appropriate: Of his 103 wins—he had fights in five separate decades—70 were by knockout.
32. Jack Nicklaus: "The Golden Bear"
"The" Nicknames: He's got this one covered.
"Gold" Nicknames: Ditto for this one.
Animal Nicknames: Another common trope of the nicknaming game. The fact that Jack Nicklaus' moniker manages to cover all three of these common nicknaming practices is epic.
31. Lawrence "Yogi" Berra
Originality: As original as they come. The story goes as follows:
Yogi got his "nickname" from Bobby Hofman, a childhood friend. While watching a movie about an Indian snake charmer, Bobby noted that Yogi had a striking resemblance to the hindu man, saying "That yogi walks like Lawdie ( Larry) Berra," and the name stuck.
And yes, Yogi predated the cartoon bear.
Iconic: Until doing research for this, I had no idea his first name was Lawrence.
Appropriate: Yogi Berra was an original and one of baseball's finest characters—he deserved a unique name like Yogi.
30. Clide "The Glide" Drexler
Originality: So far as I can tell, this one really only applied to Clyde Drexler.
Iconic: His answer as to how he got his nickname for an ESPN chat should clear this up:
I think it was some of my high school basketball teammates. Mainly because your nickname had to rhyme with your name and because I took the long way to the basket. People still call me Glide to this day.
Appropriate: It doesn't just rhyme with his first name—it actually describes the way he played the game.
29. James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell
Originality: Here is the apparent origin of Bell's moniker:
He reportedly earned his famous nickname as a rookie with the Stars, when he calmly struck out the feared slugger Oscar Charleston in a crucial situation. The players began calling him “Cool,” which manager Bill Gatewood later modified to “Cool Papa.”
Iconic: I'm not sure how many baseball fans would know who James Thomas Bell was, but they've heard of Cool Papa Bell.
Appropriate: Bell would later become known as being one of the fastest and greatest baserunners in the game's history. While he may have been a bit more scorching than cool, the nickname just sounds awesome—I know I would want to be referred to as "Cool Papa"—so I deem it appropriate.
28. Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean
Originality: Have you ever heard of another athlete being called "Dizzy"? I didn't think so.
Iconic: Most people likely know him as simply Dizzy Dean.
Appropriate: Dean was not only a Hall of Fame pitcher, but he was a Hall of Fame character as well. I'll leave you with one of his quotes to support that claim:
Sure I eat what I advertise. Sure I eat Wheaties for breakfast. A good bowl of Wheaties with bourbon can't be beat.
27. Eldrick "Tiger" Woods
The "I didn't even know this was a nickname" nickname: Apparently, he was "nicknamed Tiger after a Vietnamese soldier and friend of his father, Vuong Dang Phong, to whom his father had also given that nickname."
Really, Tiger is the perfect nickname for him, as he was legendary for hunting down opponents on the final day and securing the win. He was an intense, ferocious competitor before the sex scandal went down—will he ever get his edge back?
Or will we have to resort to calling him Eldrick?
26. "Sugar" Ray Robinson
A Nickname / A New Name: The New York Times' obituary of Robinson tells the tale.
Robinson's given name was Walker Smith Jr. He was born in Detroit on May 3, 1921. He moved with his family to New York, where he grew up in Harlem. As a teen-age amateur boxer representing the Salem-Crescent gym, he borrowed the Amateur Athletic Union card of another Harlem youngster named Ray Robinson. Once his Sugar Ray nickname stuck, he never used his real name.
''Sugar Ray Robinson had a nice ring to it,'' he once said. ''Sugar Walker Smith wouldn't have been the same.''
And yes, he was the original "Sugar Ray."
25. Dick "Night Train" Lane
Originality: Dick "Night Train" Lane got his nickname because he loved the Buddy Morrow song, "Night Train." So it's not the most original nickname in the world, but it sounds damn good in conjunction with his name.
Iconic: I'd guess his nickname is more iconic than the song itself, though I'm no music expert.
Appropriate: Again, it just sounds good. And frankly, the man ran like a locomotive and hit like one too, despite playing cornerback. It worked.
Overuse of the Train Motif: Night Train is almost the best "train" nickname on here. Almost.
24. Earl "The Pearl" Monroe
Alternate Nicknames: Black Jesus.
Originality: I'll get into "The Pearl" more below, but "Black Jesus"—or even just "Jesus," according to Spike Lee—is pretty awesome.
Iconic: Not just one, but two classic nicknames.
Appropriate: When you watch highlights of Earl Monroe you realize he really was a pearl, in that he was valuable and rare. He is definitely one of those "often imitated, rarely duplicated" players.
23. Karl Malone: The Mailman
Originality: Freddie Mitchell tried to incorporate package delivery when he named himself "Fred-Ex." But the only good "mail delivery" nickname was Malone's.
Iconic: Malone was one of the greatest power forwards of all time, and his nickname followed suit.
Appropriate: He generally delivered, having scored the second-most points in NBA history with 36,298 points in his career. Then again, if we are talking about championships, the nickname may not be so apt...
22. "Pistol" Pete Maravich
Originality: Weapon-related nicknames are fairly common, but Pistol Pete was at the forefront of that tradition.
Iconic: Pistol Pete is as iconic as they come.
Appropriate: I think Sports Illustrated does a pretty bang-up job of summarizing the nickname:
As with many things about Maravich, it's hard to know how where the truth about his nickname ends and its legend begins. It was either given to him at age 12 by a reporter or when he was in college at LSU. It was either because of his shooting motion (from the hip, like unholstering a pistol) or because of his dead-eye accuracy. But, like all good legends, it makes no difference, as Maravich will always be the supreme talent and showman known simply as Pistol.
21. Jerome Bettis: "The Bus"
What You Need to Know: Watch the video—trying to tackle the man was like stepping in front of a moving bus.
20. Joe Louis: "The Brown Bomber"
Time Period Nicknames: Would a nickname like the "Brown Bomber" be considered appropriate today?
Truthfully, I'm not so sure it would be. It had a nice ring to it (alliteration will do that), and given Louis' popularity, I would like to think the emphasis was more on distinguishing him for the "bomber" rather than the "brown" aspect of the nickname.
And yet, in looking back at the time period, perhaps it is important to distinguish the "brown" of the nickname. Louis was the first black athlete to reach hero status to whites and blacks alike, and was a symbol of power within the black community. You simply can't distinguish Louis from the race relations of the time.
What's in a nickname, you ask? In the case of Joe Louis, more than meets the eye.
My Personal Version of This Nickname: The Noun Bomber.
19. George "The Iceman" Gervin
Originality: There is only one "Iceman."
Iconic: When compiling this list, Gervin's nickname was one of the first that came to mind.
Appropriate: With his trademark finger roll and his ability to finish both around the rim and with his jumper, Gervin was about as cool as they come.
18. Reggie White: The Minister of Defense
What You Need to Know: We miss you, Reggie (The video covers just how perfect his nickname was, by the way).
My Personal Version of This Nickname: The Minister of Pretense.
17. Maurice "The Rocket" Richard
Originality: He was the original "Rocket," so he gets originality points (Sorry Raghib Ismail, but you're second fiddle on this nickname).
Iconic: If you don't know who Rocket Richard is, you might not be a sports fan.
Appropriate: He was the most prolific goal-scorer of his time, known for his puck-handling abilities and speed. A fitting moniker indeed.
16. Michael "Air" Jordan
Originality: Short, simple, and unique to him. All hail "His Airness."
Iconic: He had a line of shoes named after this nickname (or was it the other way around?), which are probably the most famous brand of shoes ever. I'd say that's pretty iconic.
Appropriate: It works, though it actually undersells Jordan's game. He was so much more than a high-flyer, but "Air" stuck.
15. O.J. Simpson: "The Juice"
Originality: Combined with the offensive line he nicknamed "The Electric Company," O.J. had one of the baddest nicknames going.
Iconic: "The Juice is loose!" would come to mean something entirely different later in life.
Appropriate: Despite his nefarious post-retirement life, O.J. was one of the most electric runners in NFL history.
14. Ted Williams: "The Splendid Splinter"
Alternate Nicknames: Teddy Ballgame
Originality: How awesome of a nickname is "The Splendid Splinter"? Just fantastic.
Iconic: Perhaps not as iconic to non-sports fans as some of the others on this list, but within the baseball community they are household nicknames.
Appropriate: Both are absolutely perfect. What better way to describe a man many consider the greatest hitter of all time than "The Splendid Splinter?"
My Personal Version of This Nickname: The Splendid Printer.
13. Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns
Originality: Before Ricky Hatton, there was Thomas Hearns.
Iconic: He may not be the first boxer who comes to mind, but his nickname is one of the best ever.
Appropriate: "Hitman" is the perfect nickname for a boxer, especially given the double-entendre on "hit." And Hearns was quite the accomplished boxer and fought in some of the more memorable matches in the '80s against boxers such as Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran.
12. Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain
Alternate Nicknames: The Big Dipper
Originality: "The Stilt" is one of the few rhyming nicknames that isn't corny, given Chamberlain's height compared to his peers. "The Big Dipper" is just awesome.
Iconic: Wilt the Stilt has been rolling off of the tongues of sports fans for years.
Appropriate: Both are perfect. And awesome. Just like Wilt was.
11. Joe DiMaggio: "The Yankee Clipper"
Alternate Nicknames: Joltin' Joe.
Originality: Both undoubtedly belong to Joe.
Iconic: Both have stood the test of time, though again, they are probably mostly known by baseball fans. At the time, however, they would have been known by most Americans.
Appropriate: According to his Wikipedia page (and sourced from Ben Cramer's book Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life), "DiMaggio was nicknamed the 'Yankee Clipper' by Yankee's stadium announcer Arch McDonald in 1939, when he likened DiMaggio's speed and range in the outfield to the then-new Pan American airliner."
Well done, Arch.
My Personal Version of This Nickname: The Yankee Quipper.
10. Red Grange: "The Galloping Ghost"
What You Need to Know: Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice gave him the nickname and wrote about him in the following poem:
A streak of fire, a breath of flame
Eluding all who reach and clutch;
A gray ghost thrown into the game
That rival hands may never touch;
A rubber bounding, blasting soul
Whose destination is the goal.
My Personal Version of This Nickname: The Galloping Ghostwriter.
9. Lou Gehrig: "The Iron Horse"
Originality: Huge creativity points here: The story goes that Native Americans used to describe locomotives as "iron horses" given the size and strength of the trains. The press transferred the name to Gehrig, and it stuck.
Iconic: Like Gehrig the ballplayer, this nickname has probably been underrated throughout history. And like Gehrig the ballplayer, it is one of the best in baseball history.
Appropriate: One man in baseball history was more durable than Lou Gehrig. But Cal Ripken, Jr. was not more powerful, that much is for certain. "The Iron Horse" fit perfectly.
My Personal Version of This Nickname: The Iron Discourse.
8. Julius "Dr. J" Erving
Originality: There have been "docs" throughout history, so this one isn't the most original. Still, as many "docs" as there are out there, there is only one doctor.
Iconic: Dr. J gets a ton of points in this category because of how iconic his nickname is. Most people don't call him Julius Erving—he's always Dr. J.
Appropriate: It doesn't really apply to an aspect of his game, and was actually a nickname his childhood friend Leon Saunders gave him. Here's the story:
I used to call him the Professor because, when we would do anything, whether it was playing basketball, or cards, or just sitting around and shooting the breeze, he always had to have the upper hand. He could outtalk anybody, to the point where he would lecture whoever else was around, if we were willing to listen. I just kind of dubbed him the Professor one day. And he said, "Well, if I'm the Professor, then you're the Doctor." We kind of had professional-sounding nicknames, and we just shared that amongst ourselves.
7. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
Originality: The one and only.
Iconic: You've seen Field of Dreams, right? This nickname is as iconic as any in baseball history.
Appropriate: This is where he may lose a few points, as it is a pretty literal nickname. From the "Shoeless" Joe Jackson website:
He received his nickname "Shoeless," after playing a minor league game in his stockings because a new pair of spikes had given him blisters on his feet the previous day.
6. Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch
What You Need to Know: The video covers it, so make sure you watch it.
The fact that his legs actually looked crazy when he ran is just so perfect.
5. Willie Mays: "The Say Hey Kid"
Originality: Here's the story on how he got his nickname:
When Mays came to the majors, he didn't know everyone's name right away.
"You see a guy, you say, 'Hey, man. Say hey, man,' " Mays said. "Ted was the 'Splinter'. Joe was 'Joltin' Joe'. Stan was 'The Man'. I guess I hit a few home runs, and they said there goes the 'Say Hey Kid.' "
Mays credits sportswriter Jimmy Cannon with creating the nickname. Other sources trace it to sportswriter Barney Kremenko.
Iconic: As iconic as they get.
Appropriate: It doesn't really describe his actual game in any way, so not in that regard. But it seemed to reflect the personality he brought to baseball, so it always seemed like the perfect nickname for Mays.
4. Ty Cobb: "The Georgia Peach"
Originality: Georgia is known for its peaches. Cobb was born in Georgia and was one hell of a ballplayer. It was a good fit.
Appropriate: Cobb may have been a "peach" of a ballplayer, but he was anything but as a human being. Per ESPN, Cobb was "a southern Protestant who hated northerners, Catholics, blacks and apparently anybody else who was different from him."
I can certainly see if some people take issue with this being ranked so high, but I always loved this nickname for the irony it evokes.
3. "Broadway" Joe Namath
Originality: Can you imagine anyone else having this nickname? I didn't think so.
Iconic: As iconic as his legendary prediction from Super Bowl III.
Appropriate: Before there were playboys like Tom Brady or Derek Jeter, there was the fast-living Broadway Joe. He shone when the lights got bright, and he loved living the life. One of the best nicknames ever, hands down.
2. George Herman "Babe" Ruth
Alternate Nicknames: The Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, The Colossus of Clout.
Originality: The nickname "Babe" isn't the most original of the nicknames, but he makes up for that with the multitude of alternate nicknames he accrued during his career.
Iconic: "The Babe" is as iconic as it gets.
Appropriate: Again, the alternate nicknames win the day here. "The Sultan of Swat" is one of my favorites of all time.
My Personal Version of This Nickname: The Sultan of Plot.
1. Earvin "Magic" Johnson
Originality: There is only one "Magic," and that's the way it should be.
Iconic: I'd guess a large portion of the population have no idea that his first name is Earvin. He's Magic, baby!
Appropriate: Watch the highlight reel—there is no better description for his game than "Magic." This is the perfect nickname.