Ranking the Best Current Nicknames in the NBA
From Slo-Mo to Iso Joe, we count down the best nicknames currently being employed in the NBA.
There comes a time in the NBA offseason where all the noise and rumors go quiet and all that’s left is a gaping void where basketball should be.
Sure, we’ve got the seemingly endless loop of workout videos, in which all players seem as if they’re unstoppable (thanks editing) as well as the pending preseason, but August is not the best time to be a fan of the NBA.
However, that means we have time and space to delve into the most important issues facing the league today, and that’s exactly what I plan to do… by counting down the best player nicknames currently being used in the NBA.
First, a few caveats. Any and all initial-based nicknames were disqualified, so no PG-13, CP3 or KD is present on this list since those are simply acronyms, not actual nicknames. Similarly, shortened names are not technically nicknames but rather abbreviations, so terms such as Melo and Dame are disqualified.
Also not present are any nicknames that are no longer in use, or have been dismissed by their respective subject. The most notable example of this one is Kevin Durant’s stellar “Slim Reaper” moniker, which has fallen out of favor versus the much less interesting (and less threatening) “KD” nickname. Let’s get into the list!
Honorable Mention: Sweet Melon
Did you know that Basketball Reference lists one of Carmelo Anthony’s nicknames as Sweet Melon?
You didn’t? Well, now you do. You’re welcome.
Rising Fast: Spida
With an insane second jump and spindly, freakish length, Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell perfectly exemplifies his Twitter and Instagram handles of Spida D Mitchell.
To his credit, Mitchell has leaned in to the nickname, even going so far as to wear a cobweb-covered suit to the ESPYs, where he won best breakthrough athlete of 2018.
11. J-Crossover — Jamal Crawford
Though not listed on Basketball Reference as one of Jamal Crawford’s nicknames, “J. Crossover” is a terrific nickname for one of the grandmasters of juking dudes up and down the court.
Even at 38 years old (!), Crawford was still shredding opposing defenders off the dribble last year for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and I’m sure he will next season wherever he ends up.
Also, the man has barely aged since his rookie debut in 2000, so having a tight handle must help stave off the effects of aging.
10. Slo-Mo — Kyle Anderson
In a league that’s dominated by lightning-quick first steps and supremely agile athletes, one player dares to buck the trend with his methodical (but no less effective) play style.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson claims the nickname of “Slo-Mo,” which represents his steady, under-control gameplay. Even on a frenetic, broken play like this one with the Spurs last year, Slo-Mo is always in control and contained, leading to an amazing alley-oop pass:
Sure, it might not be the most entertaining form of basketball, but the man gets results and his nickname is one of the most unique and interesting in the entire NBA.
9. The Beard — James Harden
While I almost disqualified appearance-based nicknames from this list, when the facial feature in question is something as recognizable as James Harden’s beard, then it must be included on the list of best nicknames in the NBA.
After an MVP season last year, hearing “The Beard” bandied about is more commonplace than ever. Just remember, Harden didn’t always have that massive, bushy face fur.
8. The Brow — Anthony Davis
Similarly to Harden, Anthony Davis’s “The Brow” nickname is solely reliant on Davis’s singularly interesting unibrow that he’s sported for his entire career.
When he took to Instagram and pretended he’d shaved the unibrow for an April Fool’s Day Joke, the internet wept. Keep “The Brow,” AD, it’s what gives you your powers!
7. Jimmy Buckets — Jimmy Butler
I know this is name-based, but it is neither an abbreviation nor an acronym, so I feel comfortable sliding this one into consideration at number seven on this list.
Plain and simple, Jimmy Butler gets buckets, and he was one of the primary driving factors for the Minnesota Timberwolves to break their 13-year playoff drought last season.
6. Iso Joe — Joe Johnson
A seven-time All-Star, Joe Johnson or “Iso Joe” doesn’t get the respect he deserves. I mean, look at this clip of him obliterating Paul Pierce off the dribble and tell me this man isn’t a Hall of Famer:
His nickname of “Iso Joe” returned to the lexicon when he helped aid the 2016–17 Utah Jazz to an upset victory against the hobbled Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs last year.
Though he was less productive last season for the Jazz and Rockets, his “Iso Joe” moniker continues to be one of the league’s best.
5. Joker — Nikola Jokic
Though, admittedly, I’m not certain just how good of a stand-up comedian the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is, the way he plays on the court is full of joy and incisive, cutting passes — representing the pithy barbs of a standup.
Jokic’s nickname of the “Joker,” not only serves as a play on his name, which gets butchered frequently by a lot of English-speakers but also represents the incredible fluidity and fun play style he brings to the Nuggets offense.
4. The Polish Hammer — Marcin Gortat
Even though the Washington Wizards’ Marcin Gortat saw clear signs of fading production last season (his PPG, RPG, and FGA all dropped in 2017–18), his nickname of The Polish Hammer ranks up there as one of the best currently employed in the NBA. Gortat himself must enjoy it too, as he has a tatoo of a Thor-esque hammer on his left arm.
Especially when punctuated by his customary celebration of pounding his clenched fist into an open palm after a ferocious dunk, The Polish Hammer can still posterize unsuspecting defenders if they’re not careful.
3. Boogie — DeMarcus Cousins
Another extremely fitting nickname, DeMarcus Cousins’s “Boogie” moniker is both playful and goofy, two things that Cousins has been called in his career. Strangely, those terms could not be described regarding his decision to join the Golden State Warriors, but I digress.
An exceptional nickname that represents both Cousins’ nimbleness on the court as well as his willingness to mix it up with a glut of technical fouls, the “Boogie” nickname for Cousins is here to stay.
(Just like the ring he will probably win with the Warriors next year…)
2. The Stifle Tower — Rudy Gobert
Another of Gobert’s monikers on Basketball Reference is also extremely worthwhile (The French Rejection), but in the end, “The Stifle Tower” is both clever and funny, perfectly representing Gobert’s signature defensive prowess.
A likely Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner for years to come, Gobert certainly has the capacity to stifle opposing players with his near-record length (thanks Mo Bamba).
Gobert also stands tall, much like the legendary Parisian landmark after which Gobert is named, serving as a terrifying deterrent for any ballhandler gutsy enough to drive at Gobery with reckless abandon.
1. The Greek Freak — Giannis Antetokounmpo
Either one of Giannis’ nicknames on Basketball Reference deserve some love here, as “The Alphabet” is also a pretty good nickname — though it certainly pales in comparison to “The Greek Freak,” which will go down in history as one of those special nicknames that actually has an internal rhyme — making them eminently more memorable.
Just think of “Clyde the Glide” or “Hakeem the Dream.” Both of those are iconic, classic NBA nicknames not only because they represent two of the greatest to ever play in the league, but also because of the elegance and catchiness of their nicknames.
Again, The Greek Freak is not only memorable, but it also perfectly captures the player it represents. No one in the NBA has the stunning combination of speed, length and skill that Giannis currently possesses, and let’s not forget: He’s still only 23 years old.
So long live “The Greek Freak,” and all of the great basketball nicknames throughout history.
Nickname info courtesy Basketball Reference.