If you are an NBA player, there is a good chance you are a known name. You may very well be a star and even one who surpasses the world of sports fandom. Everybody knows Michael Jordan, right? Some guys are known by only one name. Shaq. Kobe. LeBron. Then there are the famous nicknames and the maybe not-as-famous nicknames that are still fun. Who doesn’t like a good nickname? We certainly do, and so do NBA fans. Here are our 25 favorite NBA nicknames.
This is a nickname that has superseded his actual name. How many people call him Earvin Johnson? Nobody, right? He’s Magic Johnson. That’s what he’s been known as since he basically became famous. That’s what he’s known as now. Johnson will always be Magic, which is also a great nickname for a crazy point guard.
It’s such a simple nickname, but it’s so iconic. His name is Julius Erving, and he was a “doctor” of basketball, so he became known as Dr. J. And yet it just stuck with everybody. Dr. J just rolls off the tongue, and Erving’s amazing dunks and stellar play certainly helped embed the nickname in our minds.
The U.S Postal Service doesn’t actually have that “Neither rain nor snow…” motto, but we still think of mail carriers as being largely reliable. That’s how Karl Malone got his nickname, “The Mailman.” Malone always delivered — except on Sunday and national holidays, we guess.
“Air Jordan” isn’t super creative for a guy named Michael Jordan. And yet it was perfect. Jordan was a dunk champion. His “Jumpman” logo is still iconic. Flying through the air is MJ’s thing. It’s a pitch-perfect nickname.
Until Russell Westbrook came around, Oscar Robertson was the last player to average a triple-double over a whole NBA season. “The Big” whatever is usually a decent nickname concept, but none of them tops “The Big O” as a nickname. It’s just fun to call somebody “The Big O.”
Rhyming is a good choice for nicknames. There are a couple of those on this list. Wilt Chamberlain was tall (7-foot-1). So are people who walk on stilts. Hence, Wilt the Stilt. It’s not an intimidating nickname, but it’s fresh enough to be fun.
What is Allen Iverson the answer to? We aren’t sure. That wasn’t really what was important. All that mattered was A.I. (not as good of a nickname) was the Answer. It was a formidable nickname and fitting for a guy who changed the NBA.
Most guys get nicknames for their physical traits or their offensive acumen. Not Gary Payton. He earned his nickname for his defensive skills. Payton is the only point guard to ever be Defensive Player of the Year. He fit to the guys he was guarding like a glove. Works for us.
Call him Akeem. Call him Hakeem. We just known that Hakeem Olajuwon is “The Dream.” It’s a rhyming nickname and a perfect one. He had his Dream Shake. He had those basketball shoes that were way cheaper than Jordan’s. You can even just call him “Dream,” and people will know whom you’re talking about.
It kind of feels like Giannis Antetokounmpo got a nickname right out of the gate because of the difficulty in spelling, and pronouncing, his actual name. However, Giannis is Greek, and he’s a physical freak, and those words rhyme. Now he’s an MVP, and The Greek Freak has entered the lexicon.
Some people call Charles Barkley “Sir Charles,” which is kind of blah. However, Barkley was a hefty, formidable rebounder who wasn’t maybe as much of a physical specimen as some of his fellow big men. “The Round Mound of Rebound” just works perfectly, and it’s maybe the most amusing NBA nickname ever.
Vince Carter had a ton of nicknames: “Air Canada.” “Half Man, Half Amazing.” The best of the bunch, though, is “Vinsanity.” His dunking skills were insane, or rather “Vinesane.” It just rolls off the tongue, and until “Linsanity” it was the one “insanity” nickname out there.
Man, when Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were on the same team, it was a dynamic nickname duo. Maybe “Clyde the Glide” doesn’t make a ton of sense, but we don’t care. Everybody calls him “Clyde the Glide” so you know that works as a nickname.
Joel Embiid likes to have fun. When Sam Hinkie tore down the 76ers to rebuild them, it became known by fans as “The Process.” “Trust The Process” became the rallying cry. Naturally, Embiid, one of the players drafted during that time, decided to give himself the nickname “The Process.” We don’t usually like self-given nicknames, but this one is fun enough to get a pass.
Rik Smits was a giant guy from the Netherlands who was an underrated player. He was even an All-Star once. When you are over 7-foot tall it’s pretty easy to dunk. It’s also super fun to call a guy “The Dunkin’ Dutchman.”
Shawn Kemp was one of those players who wasn’t overrated necessarily, but he is oversized in our memory because of his big, splashy highlights. It rains a lot in Seattle, and if you get buckets you could be said to be making it rain. Plus, “Rain Man” is a movie that existed. So the nickname was tweaked a bit to “Reign Man” to call to mind royalty, and a nickname was born.
This is the newest one on the list, and we owe it all to Brook Lopez beginning to shoot threes. The 7-foot center, who had spent his entire career by the basket, was suddenly splashing treys. However, he’s still a mountain of a man, so we get this awesome nickname.
There was a time when Pete Maravich was wearing a jersey that just said “Pistol” on it. He’s not the only Pistol Pete. That’s also the nickname of Oklahoma State’s mascot. However, it’s alliterative and cool, so we still did it for Maravich.
Robert Horry won seven NBA titles even though he was never THAT good of a player. He averaged 7.0 points per game in his career; however, Horry made several iconic big shots. Before he even retired he was being called “Big Shot Bob,” which is, frankly, a great nickname.
Robert Parish played for 21 seasons, and for an NBA-record 1,611 regular-season games. He had a long time to earn a nickname. However, Parish wasn’t the most dynamic of personalities. That’s actually how he got his nickname. He was called “Chief” after the big, quiet character from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Dennis Rodman’s nickname “The Worm” is an indelible one. It’s evocative and unusual. How did he get it though? Well, there are conflicting stories. We can’t say for sure how it started. It doesn’t matter. Rodman was an outsized personality, and he earned an outsized nickname.
A few players in NBA history have been called “Big Dog.” We get it, since it’s a really good nickname. However, to us, the quintessential “Big Dog” is Glenn Robinson. His son, Glenn Robinson III, is now in the NBA. Maybe we could call him “Little Dog?” Or maybe “The Puppy?” Or would that maybe not go over well?
Kenny Smith is on TNT’s NBA programming with two other nicknamed gentleman in Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Smith has a nickname of his own though. You could say he’s called Kenny “The Jet” Smith because of his speed. In truth, we know it’s because of the Elton John song “Benny and the Jets” as much as anything else.
This is maybe the best nickname story of the bunch. Nik Stauskas was never a remarkable NBA player. However, one day the closed captioning on a game turned “Nik Stauskas” into “Sauce Castillo.” In the modern era that was able to go viral, and a guy who never made much of an impact on the court got a great nickname anyway.
Sure, technically Big Ben is just the bell — not the clock or the giant tower. Let’s not get pedantic. We think of Big Ben as being tall and foreboding. That makes it a perfect nickname for Ben Wallace, who was arguably the best defensive player in the NBA during his time with the Pistons. When he got a rebound, they would also play a bell chiming in Detroit. Not bad for an undersized, undrafted player.