Best NBA Nicknames of All Time
Whether it’s because of the personalities or the nature of the game itself, NBA nicknames are the best in all of pro sports. But it’s easier to shut up Charles "The Round Mound Of Sound" Barkley than to pick the top nicknames of all time.
Somebody has gotta do it, though, and it might as well be the brilliant mind who referred to Metta World Peace as "The Artest Formerly Known As Ron." Hey, wait, that’s me!
First, a few rules:
1. No initials. Way too lame. So no Jamal (JC) Crawford, Anthony (AD) Davis, Kevin (KG) Garnett, LeBron (LBJ) James, Dennis (D.J.) Johnson, Kevin (K.J.) Johnson, Larry (LJ) Johnson.
2. No self-inflicted monickers. That means "The Big Aristotle" and "The Big Shaqtus" and "The Big Shamrock" and the dozens of other "Big," bad names that Shaquille "The Big Nickname-Maker" O’Neal heaped upon himself. Yours, too, Kobe "Black Mamba" Bryant.
3. No God-given names. That’s you, Nick "Swaggy P" Young, uh, right?
4. No unofficial names. Sorry, Pat "Sluggo" Cummings and Scottie "No-Tippin'" Pippen.
Now let’s roll 'em.
25. Splash Mountain — Brook Lopez
Born: April 1, 1988 (North Hollywood, California)
Career: 11 seasons (2008-present)
Teams: New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks
Bottom line: Brook Lopez was christened "Splash Mountain" by the internet world early in the 2018-19 season, when the 7-foot center went on a 3-point binge.
Better yet, the big guy is an admitted Disney nerd who owns resort property in Orlando.
“I am pretty partial to that [name], honestly," Lopez told reporters at the time. "I wear it with pride on my sleeve. I’ll roll with that one. If it keeps going, why not? That’s fantastic."
24-22. The Human Victory Cigar — Darko Milicic, Chuck Nevitt, Stojko Vrankovic
Born: Darko Milicic — June 20, 1985 (Novi Sad, Serbia)
Chuck Nevitt — June 13, 1959 (Cortez, Colorado)
Stojko Vrankovic — Jan. 22, 1964 (Drnis, Croatia)
Careers: Milicic — 10 seasons (2003-13)
Nevitt — 9 seasons (1982-94)
Vrankovic — 5 seasons (1990-92, 1996-99)
Teams: Milicic — Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics
Nevitt — Pistons, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs
Vrankovic — Celtics, Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers
Bottom line: Twenty-one feet, seven inches worth of ... splinters.
When they entered the game, it was officially over. Their combined career average: 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
They would rank higher if coaches could light up stogies on the bench like Celtics instigator Red Auerbach did back in the day.
21. The Greek Freak — Giannis Antetokounmpo
Born: Dec. 6, 1994 (Athens, Greece)
Career: 6 seasons (2013-present)
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Bottom line: This guy scares the hell out of people. No, not just with his skills but also his name, probably the most misunderstood in NBA history.
It’s YAH-nis AN-tet-tuh-KOOM-poh for those of you mangling at home.
"The Greek Freak" may not be the best nickname ever, but it ranks as the most helpful one.
20. The Microwave — Vinnie Johnson
Born: Sept. 1, 1956 (Brooklyn, New York)
Career: 13 seasons (1979-92)
Teams: Seattle SuperSonics, Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs
Bottom line: The legend of "The Microwave" was born on May 5, 1985, the night that the reserve guard lit up the Boston Celtics for 34 points in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"If that guy in Chicago [football player William Perry] is 'The Refrigerator,' then Vinnie Johnson is 'The Microwave,' " the Celtics' Danny Ainge said afterward. "He sure heated up in a hurry."
And the rest was nickname history.
19. Tommy Gun/Ack-Ack — Tommy Heinsohn
Born: Aug. 26, 1934 (Jersey City, New Jersey)
Career: 9 seasons (1956-65)
Team: Boston Celtics
Botton line: As the Boston fourth estate duly noted here, Tommy Heinsohn never saw a shot he couldn’t take, a testament to his hyper-aggressive nature and monstrous ego.
Shoot, the six-time All-Star averaged 29.4 field-goal tries per 48 minutes in his career. (By comparison, loose cannon Russell Westbrook averaged only 25.8 through the 2018-19 season.)
Rarely has a nickname been this well-earned.
18-17. McFilthy and McNasty/Leon — Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn
Born: Jeff Ruland — Dec. 16, 1958 (Bay Shore, New York)
Rick Mahorn — Sept. 21, 1958 (Hartford, Connecticut)
Careers: Ruland — 8 seasons (1981-87, 1991-93)
Mahorn — 18 seasons (1980-99)
Teams: Ruland — Washington Bullets, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons
Mahorn — Bullets, Pistons, 76ers, New Jersey Nets
Bottom line: Boston Celtics broadcaster Johnny "Homer" Most made a career of roasting opponents over the airwaves.
The McFilthy-McNasty tag team was his best insult yet. And if you didn’t know who was which, it didn’t matter. The names were interchangeable.
Mahorn also was known as "Leon" after boxer Leon Spinks because of his comparable girth and gapped front teeth.
16. Honeycomb — Gus Johnson
Born: Dec. 13, 1938 (Akron, Ohio)
Career: 10 seasons (1964-73)
Teams: Baltimore Bullets, Phoenix Suns
Bottom line: It sucks that the NBA ignores its past.
Mention the name Gus Johnson and too many fans think of a broadcaster and not the original, the five-time All-Star who was Pete Maravich, Julius Erving and LeBron James rolled into one Zeus-like, 6-foot-6, 230-pound body.
"Honeycomb" was well ahead of his time, among the first great dunkers and holder of the unofficial record for most broken backboards in a career (three). Sweeeeet.
15. The Human Eraser — Marvin Webster
Born: April 13, 1952 (Baltimore, Maryland)
Career: 9 seasons (1976-84, 1986-87)
Teams: Denver Nuggets, Seattle SuperSonics, New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks
Bottom line: The 7-foot-2 flyswatter got his nickname as a junior at Morgan State, where he averaged 8.0 blocked shots per game for the Division II champions.
In the NBA, only weeks after the 1978 playoffs, in which he led the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals in what would be his career highlight, "The Human Erasure" disappeared to the New York Knicks as a free agent.
14. Just Breathing/Joe Barely Cares — Joe Barry Carroll
Born: July 24, 1958 (Pine Bluff, Arkansas)
Career: 11 seasons (1980-91)
Teams: Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns
Bottom line: "Joe Barely Cares" wasn’t a no-talent bum — the center actually played in an All-Star Game once. The problem was that the first pick of the 1980 draft often gave the impression that he, um, barely cared.
The stoic center will forever be remembered for the Brinks job that ultimately sent him and a scrub to the Boston Celtics in return for future Hall of Famers Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, a godawful deal that set the Warriors franchise back years, if not decades.
When "Just Breathing" sat out the final year of his rookie contract to play in Italy for one season, he solidified his reputation as one of the most despised athletes in Bay Area sports history.
13-12. Spider/King Kong and Stormin' Norman/Godzilla — Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier
Born: Jerry Sloan — March 28, 1942 (McLeansboro, Illinois)
Norm Van Lier — April 1, 1947 (East Liverpool, Ohio)
Careers: Sloan — 11 seasons (1965-76)
Van Lier — 12 seasons (1970-81)
Teams: Sloan — Baltimore Bullets, Chicago Bulls
Van Lier — Cincinnati Royals, Bulls
Bottom line: In the early-to-mid 1970s, there was no more dreaded matchup for a backcourt player than that against Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier at the Chicago Stadium icebox in the dead of winter.
Los Angeles Lakers star Jerry West (more on him later) likened the cold-blooded assassins to "King Kong" and "Godzilla." Nailed it.
11. The King/The Chosen One/Bron-Bron — LeBron James
Born: Dec. 30, 1984 (Akron, Ohio)
Career: 16 seasons (2003-present)
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers
Bottom line: There is no more apt and recognizable name than "King James," the uber-ego who has lorded over the NBA world as a player, coach, general manager and part-time owner for the better part of decades.
Not to be confused with "LeFraud," "LeBum" and "LeQuitter."
10. Pistol Pete/The Pistol — Pete Maravich
Born: June 22, 1947 (Aliquippa, Pennsylvania)
Years: 10 seasons (1970–80)
Teams: Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans/Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics
Bottom line: At a much-too-young 40, the original Showtime left behind images of floppy socks, circus shots, behind-the-back dishes and one marvelous nickname.
He got tagged in high school, where his lightning release from the hip was mindful of Wild West days.
9. Downtown Freddie Brown — Fred Brown
Born: Aug. 7, 1948 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Career: 13 seasons (1971-84)
Teams: Seattle SuperSonics
Bottom line: The name "Downtown Freddie Brown" was as accurate as his jump shot and rolled off the tongue as smoothly as the rock did his fingertips.
The SuperSonics lifer was lethal from any spot inside Bellevue. Too bad the mad bomber wasn’t around for the modern 3-point era.
He was made for it.
8. Durantula/The Slim Reaper — Kevin Durant
Born: Sept. 29, 1988 (Washington, D.C.)
Career: 10 seasons (2009-present)
Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors
Bottom line: Kevin Durant may be an all-time shotmaker, but nicknames, not so much.
He doesn’t care for "The Slim Reaper" because of its dark overtones. Fine. He also doesn’t like "Durantula," a crazy good description for the otherwise friendly spiderman who feasts on smaller prey at night.
He prefers ... "The Servant"? That’s just so wrong.
7. You @#$%^&*()_+!/The Prince of Darkness/His Heinous — Bill Laimbeer
Born: May 19, 1957 (Boston, Massachusetts)
Career: 14 seasons (1980-94)
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons
Bottom line: The all-time spit disturber/cheapshot/villain/flopper/punching bag also owns the record for most unprintable names (countless) in hoops history.
He was called "Thug" so many times, the unabridged NBA Dictionary has his lovable puss next to it.
Celtics voice Johnny Most referred to him fondly as "The Ax Murderer."
A Milwaukee writer coined "The Prince of Darkness."
The best was "His Heinous" courtesy of Steve Bulpett, the Boston Herald sportswriter.
As the baddest of the Bad Boys once put it, "I've got Velcro all over me. Every insult sticks to me."
6. Wilt the Stilt/The Big Dipper/Dippy — Wilt Chamberlain
Born: Aug. 21, 1936 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Career: 14 seasons (1959-73)
Teams: Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers
Bottom line: "The Stilt" came about as a high school sensation —the big fella had two of the tallest, boniest, skinniest legs ever — but he disliked references to his considerable size.
Wilt fun fact: He wore rubber bands on his wrists in case they were needed to hold up his socks.
Chamberlain preferred "The Big Dipper," a name that friends gave him in high school but not for the reason most think. Actually, it was for the many times he ducked to get through doorways, not because of his stature in the hoops galaxy.
5. Zeke From Cabin Creek/Mr. Clutch/The Logo — Jerry West
Born: May 28, 1938 (Chelyan, West Virginia)
Career: 14 seasons (1960-74)
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Bottom line: From West Virginia phenom to late-game Lakers savior to the image of the NBA, Jerry West was the rare all-time great who had a catchy nickname for each phase of his career.
The league won’t confirm that its brand was inspired by a Sport magazine photo, and for his part, the selfless legend wishes it had never happened.
As he put it, "I don’t like to do anything that calls attention to myself."
4. Air Canada/Half Man-Half Amazing/Vinsanity — Vince Carter
Born: Jan. 26, 1977 (Daytona Beach, Florida)
Career: 21 seasons (1998-present)
Teams: Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks
Bottom line: Can you think of any player who owns not one, not two but three nicknames as cool as these? Neither can I.
The GDOAT (Greatest Dunker Of All Time) got "Half Man-Half Amazing" courtesy of Shaquille O’Neal — who else? — after he posturized a 7-foot-2 French player in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
3. The Big O — Oscar Robertson
Born: Nov. 24, 1938 (Charlotte, Tennessee)
Career: 14 seasons (1960-74)
Teams: Cincinnati Royals, Milwaukee Bucks
Bottom line: Per my Official Nickname Rulebook: "The owner of any monicker that begins with The has to be singularly and uniquely qualified for it. There cannot be five or 10 of The whatever. Said person must be the one, the only. Otherwise, he should be made to give it back immediately."
Say "The Big O" and a single name comes to mind without hesitation.
And, no, I don’t mean Oliver Miller, wise guy. He was The Really, Really Big O.
2. Magic — Earvin Johnson
Born: Aug. 14, 1959 (Lansing, Michigan)
Career: 13 seasons (1979-91, 1995-96)
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers
Bottom line: When a nickname becomes so transcendent that it replaces the real one, it is an automatic first-ballot choice for the Nickname Hall of Fame. Really, how many millennials can’t tell Earvin from a hole in the ground?
So never mind those baby hooks and no-look passes. This sleight of mouth is the greatest Magic trick of them all.
A local sportswriter gave him the name after he rang up a triple-double for Everett High School in Lansing, Mich.
1. Chocolate Thunder/Sir Slam/Dr. Dunkenstein — Darryl Dawkins
Born: Jan. 11, 1957 (Orlando, Florida)
Career: 14 seasons (1975-89)
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons
Bottom line: Know where Shaq got his inspiration for all those nicknames? Well, you’re lookin' at him. Dawkins had a name for everything — even his own dunks. There was The Rim Wrecker, Go-Rilla, Look Out Below, In-Your-Face Disgrace, Cover Your Head, Yo-Mama, Spine-Chiller Supreme and The Greyhound Special, of course. You know, for the few times he went coast to coast.
It was music legend-hoops aficionado Stevie Wonder who first referred to the lovable lug as "Chocolate Thunder," a delicious name for one of the first great power dunkers in hoops history. "Sir Slam" shattered two backboards in less than a month, a show of brute force that paved the way for breakaway rims.
He dubbed the first slam as "The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, (Bill) Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am Jam."
Go ahead, people, pick one. Any one.