The Yoga Instructor, Humble Moses, and Wave Papi: An Analysis of NBA Nicknames
Basketball-reference.com is a very useful website dedicated to tracking every stat that takes place in every single NBA game. It is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon if you are some combination of: A. an NBA fan, B. a statistics fetishist, or C. actually insane. I occupy two of those categories, so I oft frequent basketball-reference.com. Not only will BBREF provide you with every traditional and advanced statistical category, this little site will also give you vital statistics about every player, including height, weight, age, college and high school experience, and most importantly nicknames. For some players (King James, Black Mamba, The Truth) the nickname section is a friendly reminder of what some players have been appointed by their loyal fans. For many, many other players, this section is a window into a weird corner of NBA fandom that has rarely been seen. Your average bench player in the league has at least one nickname that you have never heard before. This section of basketball-reference.com is my favorite section of basketball-reference.com. I’ve used it to settle arguments, discover new favorite players, and kill time. I love this section of basketball-reference.com. In order to spread my love of these monikers, I’ve gathered the most interesting nickname from each NBA team.
Each name was born of one of the following naming structures: 1. A pun on the player’s god-given name, 2. A way of describing that player’s style on the court, 3. A reference to a pop culture figure, or 4. Completely arbitrary decision making by the nickname bestower. I suspect many of these are self-appointed titles, which is equal parts impressive and disturbing.
The Threegional Manager | Mike Scott | PF
In NBC’s hit sitcom The Office, Steve Carrel played bumbling boss Michael Scott, Regional Manager of the Scranton Branch of Dunder-Mifflin, a paper company. In the NBA’s hit-and-miss comedy Atlanta Hawks, James Michael “Mike” Scott plays power forward, where he makes three-point shots at a reliable 34.5%. Bonus points to this nickname for combining both a description of Mike’s playstyle, a reference to a pop culture character, and a pun.
Old Man | Jaylen Brown | SF
Jaylen Brown was the third overall pick in the most recent NBA draft, an event where people wear outfits they will one day regret on a stage in front of many people with cameras. Jaylen Brown completed only one year at his alma mater, Cal. Jaylen Brown does exciting, athletic things with a basketball in his hands on basketball courts. Jaylen Brown is not yet 20 years old. To the untrained eye, nothing about Jaylen Brown resembles an old man. Is this an ironic nickname? I do not know. This nickname is a bad nickname.
King of Twitter | Isaiah Whitehead | G
Isaiah Whitehead joined Twitter in May 2015. In that time, he has accumulated 6,270 followers. I’m not comfortable admitting how many of his 905 tweets I read, but I will reveal it is enough to definitively say he is not the King of Twitter. Furthermore, the current King of Twitter and Future King of the Atlantic Division, Joel Embiid, has shown no signs of relinquishing his crown.
Honorable mention on the Nets: Caris Lavert a.k.a. Baby Durant. I am unabashedly a fan of one player being the baby version of another player. I should clarify, I mean the literal infant version of another player. Caris Lavert wobbles around the court, head too heavy to support by his own neck, creating mismatches and flipping finger rolls up and in through multiple defenders, right?
The Big Handsome | Cody Zeller | C
An incomplete list of people in the NBA more handsome than Cody Zeller: Serge Ibaka, Meyers Leonard, Serge’s arms, Carmelo Anthony, Serge’s legs, Klay Thompson’s jumper, Chandler Parsons, and Dirk’s hair. I suspect Cody’s mother, Mrs. Zeller, gave her son this nickname. I’m sorry, Mrs. Zeller, Cody is very large and moderately handsome, but not The Big Handsome.
Interesting note: I discovered that Marvin Williams’ birth name is Marvin Gaye Williams, but he has no Marvin Gaye related nicknames (or nicknames at all for that matter). That should change.
TIE: Jimmy Buckets & Dougie McBuckets | Jimmy Butler & Doug McDermott | SG & SF
First things first, have you ever heard anyone call Rajon Rondo The Yoga Instructor? Basketball-reference.com has and basketball-reference.com has never let me down, so it must be fact.
Jimmy Buckets and his Irish cousin, Dougie McBuckets are a great nickname tandem. In fact, the Bulls can put out a pretty good nickname small-ball starting five:
PG: The Yoga Instructor (Rondo)
SG: Flash (Wade)
SF: Jimmy Buckets (Butler)
PF: Dougie McBuckets (McDermott)
C: Threekola (Mirotic)
Buffet of Goodness | Channing Frye | PF/C
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the reigning NBA champions because Lebron James is better at the sport of basketball than anyone who has ever played the sport of basketball. They may also be the champions of nicknames. I must say, I have no idea where “Buffet of Goodness” comes from, but it is great.
Honorable mention: Uncle Drew, Orange Mamba (Jordan McRae), and of course King James.
The Black Falcon | Harrison Barnes | SF
According to the internet, Harrison Barnes was dubbed The Black Falcon while on a tour of ESPN with Jared Sullinger and Kyrie Irving. He wanted to be named after an animal, because Michael Jordan is The Black Cat and Kobe Bryant is The Black Mamba. Harrison Barnes continues to win off the court despite catching unyielding L’s on it.
The People’s Champ | Will Barton | SG
Will Barton, second round pick, increased his scoring by almost 6.5 points last season. Does that make him The People’s Champ? That’s not for me to say. It is for basketball-reference.com to say. Basketball-reference.com says it is. I love Will Barton and will take any opportunity to talk about him.
Stanimal | Stanley Johnson | SF
Stanley Johnson isn’t scared of Lebron James, which is to say, Stanley Johnson is scared of no mortal man. Which means, I am very scared of Stanley Johnson.
Golden State Warriors
Big Smokey | Klay Thompson | SG
Klay Thompson is rumored to be a marijuana enthusiast. He also once scored 37 points in one quarter of basketball. Independently, these are just facts. Together, they lead me to believe there is a non-zero chance that Klay scored 37 points in a quarter while high as a kite and that is why he deserves the Big Smokey moniker.
The Drunken Dribbler | Corey Brewer | SG
This nickname could easily pass for an 1800’s baseball player who only hit groundballs and wore a curly mustache. I chose it for that reason, and because I need to remind the world that Corey Brewer once put up 51 points in an NBA game.
Mississippi Bullett | Monta Ellis | SG
Because Monta Ellis have it all.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Truth | Paul Pierce | SF
The Truth might be my favorite nickname in all of sports. It’s simple and effective.
Honorable mention: Diamond Stone is the name of a real NBA player. Unfortunately, I can’t select him as it is not a nickname. But. Diamond Stone. I mean. That’s untouchable.
Los Angeles Lakers
Swaggy P | Nick Young | SG
This nickname isn’t particularly interesting on it’s own, but it perfectly summarizes the roller coaster that is Nick Young. Furthermore, Swaggy P claims that God came to him in a dream and called him Swaggy P. Swaggy P has more confidence than I could ever dream of.
The Grindfather | Tony Allen | SG
Tony Allen embodies the Memphis Grit & Grind personality that brought Memphis so much success in years past. He screams “first team all defense!” after he makes plays. What’s not to love? That’s not rhetorical, but it might as well be. Because everything about Tony Allen is lovable.
Bloodsport | James Johnson | SF/PF
Presented without comment.
Humble Moses | Malcolm Brogdon | SG
Despite never having played in an NBA game, Malcolm Brogdon has three (3) nicknames listed on basketball-reference.com. They are Humble Moses, The President, and Uncle Malcolm. I don’t know anything about Malcolm Brogdon, but he is currently my favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Maple Jordan | Andrew Wiggins | SG
As the future greatest Canadian player in NBA history, this nickname is perfectly suited for Andrew Wiggins. He also almost threw down a 720 dunk earlier this summer. Much like the real life Wolves, the nickname Wolves had a lot of promising young monikers including Tyus Stones, Professor Big Shots, KAT, and of course, The Big Ticket.
New Orleans Pelicans
Too Easy | Tyreke Evans | SG
The Brow was too obvious a choice here. Not a lot of effort in that nickname and it also still makes me rather uncomfortable. Too Easy is a terrific nickname, albeit not that appropriate for a guy who shot 43% from the floor last year. Then again, Anthony Davis is definitely a character from a Vonnegut novel who was teleported to Earth to teach us about the beauty of basketball before leaving us with a well-thought out life lesson that seems confusing at first but after an innocent child explains the meaning to us, we all feel comforted.
New York Knicks
Zinger, Porzingod, KP6, Unicorn, Godzingis | Kristaps Porzingis | PF
Zinger is the nickname MVP. The only active player with five (5) total nicknames. The more I think about it, nicknames are like quarterbacks, if you have five nicknames, you have no nicknames. Stop me before I talk myself out of this.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kiwi Phenom | Steven Adams | C
New Zealand only won four gold medals in the Rio Olympics, but they were awarded a rare platinum medal for Steven Adams performance in the Western Conference Finals. His dunk on Draymond Green actually registered on the Richter Scale in New Zealand.
Air Congo | Serge Ibaka | PF
This beat out Evan Fournier’s nickname Don’t Google. If you Google Fournier’s last name, you will find photographs that force you to staple your eyelids shut. Have you ever seen Serge Ibaka’s Body Issue photos? If you Google Serge Ibaka Body Issue, you will see the perfect human specimen. Argument settled.
Sauce Castillo | Nik Stauskas | SG
This nickname came about after a closed-captioning error (miracle?) when Sauce was still in Sacramento. Neither I, nor basketball-reference.com can explain how Nik Stauskas sounded remotely like Sauce Castillo.
Mini-Lebron | Eric Bledsoe | PG
Bledsoe has shown signs that this nickname is accurate, but injuries and the point guard blender that is Phoenix have slowed him down. This falls in the same category as Baby Durant.
Cool Breeze | Allen Crabbe | SG
This nickname came about after Allen Crabbe grew his hair out last season. Lillard, known for his wordplay, saw Crabbe step off the team bus and noticed his hair blowing in the wind. Noticing the similarities between a Cool Breeze and Crabbe’s silky smooth game, Lillard gave him the name. Also, I made that story up.
Spell Check | Arron Afflalo | SG
Spell Check is a great nickname but it has very little to do with basketball, so Afflalo loses some points for that. Boogie Cousins almost made the list, but his nickname is almost more widely used than his real name.
San Antonio Spurs
Fiery Francophile | Tony Parker | PG
The Parisian Torpedo, Parker’s other nickname, was just as strong, but I had to pick one. Parker may be in the twilight of his career, but just like his actual NBA game, he knows his strengths when it comes to nicknames.
Junkyard Dog | Demarre Carroll | SF
The Raptors had the worst selection of any NBA team. Add “bad at nicknames” to the list of Canadian Stereotypes, right behind “too polite,” “maple syrup,” and “fear of laundry baskets.”
Armadillo Cowboy | Joe Johnson | SG
When I thought about the Jazz, I was sure that one of Rudy Gobert’s nicknames would take the cake. They are the perfect combination of name puns, play style, and references. Then, I stumbled on Armadillo Cowboy. What? Armadillo Cowboy. Just look at yourself in the mirror and say “I am the Armadillo Cowboy.” Your life is going to change.
TIE: Optimus Dime & Wave Papi | John Wall & Kelly Oubre Jr. | PG & SF
Optimus Dime hits all the checkboxes for a great nickname, although I’ve never heard it before today. Wave Papi hits all the checkboxes for “please call me this.” There is no way that anyone besides Kelly Oubre Jr. called Kelly Oubre Jr. Wave Papi. With that being said, I will refer to him as Wave Papi henceforth.