Maybe we are doing this in the wrong order. The best nicknames are often not simply plays on words, but also vivid descriptions of what a player does with a basketball. Think Pistol Pete Maravich. With 11 new players, we should probably give this group some time to grow into nicknames.
However, news recently arrived that the NBA may allow player nicknames on jerseys. So with that in mind, and thinking fast, some thoughts on existing nicknames:
Apparently O.J. Mayo is going to call him G or Rook, but if anyone needs a real nickname (as those do not count), it is Antetokounmpo. That is what everyone will say. Actually, what everyone really wants to say is “Giannis Antetokounmpo”. Any eventual nickname will probably not be as good as the real thing.
So far, The Greek Freak is the only one to catch on, for good reason. It evokes not only his home country but also his atypical physique and age. It rhymes. It’s not perfect, but it is the best we have, for now. Ironically, the blogosphere coined CTRL-C, CTRL-V, but this is the same group that surely already knows the spelling by heart anyway. We have also heard Bo, but that is not going to be endorsed here, unless he really, really, really wants to be called Bo. In which case, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
One of the best nicknames going in basketball, in sports really. Tuff Juice is also super-official, embraced by the man himself and immortalized via his @realtuffjuice Twitter handle. So, how does one become Tuff Juice? (It is not easy, if you are interested in becoming Tuff Juice.) As the story goes, Butler picked up the nickname circa 2006 with the Wizards, back when Gilbert Arenas was averaging better than 28 per game and Butler was turning into an All-Star.
Anyway, then-coach Eddie Jordan recounts that the soft-spoken Butler sometimes used the phrase to good-naturedly rib teammates, as in: "Some of our guys need to drink some tough juice." I will let Arenas take it from here: "There are two different people," Arenas says. "If you're an assassin, if you're 'Tough Juice' on the floor, you might have that nice-guy image off it. He's a nice, cool guy. But when he gets on the court, you're like, 'Oh, man, this guy wants to tear down everything.' That's what you need on any team."
To most Milwaukeeans, he is Del3no. That one is easy, and more fitting than ever after leading the NBA in threes made per minute last season with the Rockets. It is catchy. It is fun to say on Twitter, I guess. But speaking of Twitter, the Argentine goes by @cabezadelfino. Cabeza translates to Head in Spanish. With Zaza Pachulia back in town, Delfino has all but conceded that he does not have largest (literal) head on the team. But the self-adopted Cabeza moniker stays.
Also: Carlitos and ‘Los have nice rings.
He earned the title of Mr. Fantastic at North Carolina thanks to a long reach, slender body, and general heroism that brought to mind the comic book namesake. I will do my part to resurrect this nickname – one that honestly I never heard last season – if and only if he can grow into it. I think he already grew out of The Muppet Baby (in reference to Jim Henson), so he needs something in the meantime.
Okay, this is probably the right time to mention that the frontcourt troika of Henson, Larry Sanders, and Ekpe Udoh was together affectionately declared (on the same pages where I often scribbled basketball notes), the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men. Despite all of the offseason reshuffling, somehow these three are intact. Coincidence?
Ersanity is more of a time (spring, 2012) and a place (planet, Earth) than a nickname. But it is times like those that bring to light his cornucopia of nicknames. Ersanator (stylized ERSANATOR) has always been a bit underrated in my book.
I actually like that Ilyasova has a bunch of nicknames rather than a single standard one. Not sure who else in the league has so many endearing nicknames. Also not sure exactly who coined Turkish Thunder, but it might be the most well-known of the bunch. On his finer days, the Turk Nowitzki label is a fun one. I think I am even forgetting one or two others, but I could not, would not, forget Ghostface Ilya.
Does Brandon Knight have a nickname? It seems like he should. He was the best high school player in the country, once or twice. He has a malleable last name. But I never really had heard of one. And a Google search for “Brandon Knight nickname” confirmed my worries. There have been attempts to assign him a nickname. This was a valiant effort, with Knight Who Says Ni and Starry being my personal favorites. Silent K sounds cool. Good is not good enough. His middle name is Emmanuel, so there might be something to work with there. Go.
With just six letters and the fourth best name in Bucks history, he hardly needs a nickname at all. Yet here he is: Juice. Like Tuff Juice, this one is also Twitter-confirmed. And with that, the Bucks have cornered the lucrative juice market. Mayo said he has been called Juice basically his whole life, and that last link also reveals the real offseason stunner: He prefers Miracle Whip.
Technically, I guess Khris is a nickname in itself. His full name is James Khristian Middleton. Nonetheless, former Pistons teammate Greg Monroe nicknamed him Sleepy, for his even-keeled demeanor.
Like a few of his teammates, Neal is closely associated with three-pointers, so Three Piece is inevitable. If you watched the Finals last season (yes, you watched the Finals last season because how could you have not watched the Finals last season, if not please stop reading this and go watch recordings of the Finals last season) then you know that Highlight Neal can be fitting in the best of times. Hopefully after this contract he proves to be the Real Deal.
Fun Fact: He was born Zaur Pachulia, but legally changed his name to Zaza. So that means Zaza isn’t really a nickname anymore. Some five years ago, Zadidas was chosen as the winner in a nickname contest. That seems more like a backup option. You probably know rappers from Georgia, but you may not have known about this rapper from Georgia – the country of Georgia, that is (geography majors click here!). And I quote: “You know Tupac? I’m Z-Pac!”. Let’s just stick with Zaza.
Few players have more nicknames on this list of nicknames from a few years ago than Luke Ridnour. I don’t know if any of these are mainstream: Frodo, The Mop, Cool Hand Luke, Lucky Luke. None are particularly great or awful. Overall, I am lukewarm.
The fearless leader of the tube man revolution is now LARRY SANDERS! to the national population. Lots of fun last year, but the nickname also feels like something that should always live on in 2012-13 and only 2012-13. Moving along, we have the obvious picks: The Larry Sanders Show, The Sandman, and Colonel Sanders. I wouldn’t typically go for plays on other active player nicknames, but The Block Mamba is quite good in short bursts. Dr. Blocktopus is rather excellent, and he became the Fiery Angel in a can’t miss feature story last season.
The Nightmare is self-proclaimed, official, terrifying, and wonderful. There is also a nice historical tie-in, as former NFL running back Christian Okoye went by The Nigerian Nightmare (the two share Nigerian heritage). During his Golden State years, he also picked up the nickname Traffic Cop. Former coach Keith Smart: “A traffic cop doesn’t just see the problem at the light. He sees the problem far ahead with the other cars coming.”
My passions? Writing and the Bucks, to start. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009-10 – almost all of that time writing for BrewHoop. I have also written for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.