“Dr. J”, “The Black Mamba” and “Magic”, these are some of the most famous nicknames in NBA, and sports, history. But what’s sometimes overlooked is the story behind the nickname. Here are 12 NBA players, current and former, and the stories behind how their nicknames came to be.
Kevin Garnett – “The Big Ticket”
Back in his early days, Garnett played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were horrible back then. It didn’t stop him from putting on a show though. People began calling Garnett “The Big Ticket” because he was the only reason people filled the arena every night. The young stud was the hottest ticket in town, and everyone came out to see him.
Earvin Johnson Jr. – “Magic”
In a basketball game as a 15-year-old star for Everett High School, Johnson notched a monstrous triple double: 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 16 assists. After watching the game, a local sportswriter called him “Magic”. The name stuck and the rest was history.
Paul Pierce – “The Truth”
In a 2001 Celtics’ loss, 112-107, to the Lakers, Paul Pierce scored 42 points on a scorching 13 for 19 shooting. After the game, Shaquille O’Neal pulled a Boston reporter over and pointed to his notepad.
“Take this down,” said O’Neal. “My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the m***********g truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.”
Karl Malone – “The Mailman”
The former Utah Jazz star and Hall of Famer, earned the nickname “The Mailman” for his ability to always deliver in the clutch.
Allen Iverson – “The Answer”
With his ‘Too-cool-for-Skool’ personality and off-the-court issues in high school, his friends in high school called him “The Answer” because he was just that to basketball’s conformity, which was the image of a family-friendly environment. Iverson’s first and only tattoo he had coming into the NBA was a tattoo of a bulldog with the writing, “The Answer”, above it. The nickname later transformed into much more. Iverson was the number one pick for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996. As a rookie, he averaged 23.5 points en route to winning rookie of the year. He would later go onto win the MVP, four scoring titles, and lead the Sixers to the NBA Finals. In short he was “The Answer” to all the Sixers’ questions: When would the team be good again? When would they have another superstar? When would the team reach the Finals again?
Vince Carter – “Half Man, Half Amazing”
Aside from “Vinsanity”, Vince Carter earned another nickname. In the 2000 Olympics, Carter jumped over a 7’2’’ French player on a dunk. He didn’t do it in a dunk contest, he did it in an actual game which truly was half man, half amazing.
Amare Stoudemire – “STAT”
On first thought it would seem like Stoudemire got this nickname for filling up the stat sheet. Instead, STAT means “Standing Tall and Talented.” Real cool stuff, Amare… He actually does think that apparently because he got a tattoo that says “STAT”. Where this nickname came from remains unclear, but it was probably Stoudemire himself.
Glen Davis – “Big Baby”
Glen Davis was 5’6’’, 160 pounds at age nine and playing in the peewee leagues. He was too big for kids his age though, so he had to play with the older kids. While playing with them, Davis would pout and whine about some calls, so they called him a “Big Baby.” Whether he’s nine or twenty-two, Davis still knows how to cry on the court. In a 2008 Celtics game, he was caught crying on the bench after Kevin Garnett yelled at him.
Julius Erving – “Dr. J”
While playing pickup games as a kid, Erving was given the nickname “The Doctor” by a friend because of the way he could slice through defenses to the rim and ‘operate’ on his opponents playing basketball. The nickname was later shortened to Dr. J.
Charles Barkley – “The Round Mound of Rebound”
Out of all the nicknames on this list, this one may be the most fitting. Listed at 6’6’’, but measured slightly under 6’5’’, Barkley was the shortest player ever to lead the league in rebounds. He averaged 11.7 rebounds per game over his career. A large factor for his success was his dominating physical presence due to his 252-pound frame. Hence the nickname, “The Round Mound of Rebound.”
Kobe Bryant – “The Black Mamba”
Kobe Bryant actually gave himself his own nickname. Lame? Kind of, but it’s a pretty cool nickname. The Mamba is the world’s second largest venomous snake. It’s also the fastest land snake in the world and can become very long. (avg. length 8 ft)
As Bryant once told the LA Times, “The Mamba can strike with 99 percent accuracy at maximum speed, in rapid succession. That’s the kind of basketball precision I want to have.”
Dwayne Wade – “Flash”
In 2004, Shaquille O’Neal aka “Superman” joined the Miami Heat after being traded from the Lakers. He determined his teammate and star-in-the-making, Dwayne Wade, needed a great sidekick name. Impressed by Wade’s speed, he called him “Flash”, after the superhero.