The Last Word with Lang Whitaker - The Wingmen

Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a contributor for NBA TV, a book author, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. After starting 2-for-2 in pushing the Hawks into the postseason, he's back for his third season in 2009-10 to share his thoughts on the team exclusively for Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at

"Second Unit? Try 'The Wingmen' "
by Lang Whitaker

Earvin Johnson is a fine name, but Magic Johnson is one of those monikers you can’t forget. Julius Erving sounds dope, but Dr. J just rolls off the tongue. Dominique Wilkins? I always preferred The Human Highlight Film. And don’t sleep on Tree Rollins. Or The Highlight Factory.

The importance of a good nickname cannot be understated. Not only can a nickname make you sound cooler, but as a marketing device, it gives your fans (and enemies) something to grab on to, a catchy word or phrase to remember you by. When I played ball in high school, we called our second team (which is the team I was on) The Celtics, because we were a bunch of white guys with an African-American center. The nickname didn’t travel far -- I’m not sure anyone knew about it except for our coaches and teammates -- but it gave us an identity, made those of who rode the pine a feeling like we belonged. When I received a trophy at the season-ending banquet, it read “Captain of the Celtics.”

Sure, personal nicknames are cool, but I’ve always liked when teams (or subsets of a team) have nicknames. For instance, remember when the Kings brought The Bench Mob off the bench every night? Or how the Lakers co-opted the same nickname last season?

This is why I am here today. After years of famine, the Hawks roster now is feasting. We’ve got 12 good, quality players, and Mike Woodson has even taken to playing five reserves together at the same time. The Teague/Crawford/Evans/Joe Smith/Zaza combo plays well together, and last night they opened up a big lead on Memphis in the second quarter. They hustle, get after it, make games fun to watch. (Zaza even threw an alley-oop last night!) Our friends at Peachtree Hoops put together a poll seeking to recognize just Jason Collins and Randolph Morris. Which is fun, but I think we need to recognize the entire second unit.

So last night I posed the question on Twitter: What nickname should we give to the bench? I got several good suggestions, including “The Nest” and H2O (get it? Like Hawks 2.0?). But my favorite nickname for the Hawks bench, and the one almost everyone out there in Twitterland seemed to enjoy the most, came from @SongBirdShields, who suggested “The Wingmen.”

Sounds pretty cool, right? Plays off a phrase currently in the zeitgeist, and accurately reflects the bench’s role providing assistance to the starters. I can already see it on t-shirts and posters. It’ll give national NBA columnists something to write about, and even people who don’t follow the Hawks will have something to hook into. Now we need to get it into the lexicon. I’m writing about here on Bloggers and message board denizens, let’s all get on this.

Oh, and Bob Rathbun and Steve Holman, let’s work it into the broadcasts. Next time Woody plays the bench en masse, please shout out The Wingmen. Let’s do this.

You too, Human Highlight Film.

Last week I wrote about Mike Woodson’s focus on defense, but I’m still getting emails about Atlanta’s attendance issues. Reader Donald writes...
Great article, I really enjoyed it and think we need more people calling out Atlanta fans. I know times are harder than ever, but when is the last time you saw the Staples Center empty? I have gone to about 20 games a year and almost every Playoff game the last three years since moving downtown to attend Georgia State University, and while I don't get great seats, you can get pretty decent ones for a very reasonable price (third level, center court). The Hawks give half off to students and military in certain sections, they have $15 Wednesday's and free tickets in January if you donate to Toys for Tots.

What I am trying to say is that if a poor college kid can afford some games, most people can afford the same. It is embarrassing to see the Highlight Factory empty every night, or to hear MVP chants for Wade and LeBron after Playoff games. I have always heard the rebuilding excuse, Atlanta fans only support winners -- well we need to wake up because the Hawks are legit. Now you know!

Word. Thanks, Donald.

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at Also, catch Lang every Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. on NBA TV's "The Beat." He can be reached at

Archives: The Last Word with Lang Whitaker
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