NBA: Best Nicknames in History

NBA: Best Nicknames in History

In the 73-year history of the NBA, fans and pundits alike have coined countless nicknames for its stars and sometimes even as banter.

Some players adopted monikers that they still use today, long after they have retired from the sport, while others have corny handles that they can never seem to shrug off.

Here are some names that have stuck throughout history and are still mentioned when talking about the player.

Black Mamba

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In his auto-documentary “Muse,” Kobe Bryant revealed that he created the Black Mamba persona as a way to deal with the struggles he was going through off the court between 2003 and 2004.

Bryant explained that “Kobe” was tasked with dealing with all his “personal challenges” and “The Black Mamba” handled business on the court.

The 5-tmes NBA Champion went on to promote “Mamba Mentality”, which is essentially a way of life.

“To sum up what Mamba Mentality is, it means to be able to constantly try to be the best version of yourself,” Bryant said in an interview.

White Mamba

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What started out as an internet joke, became reality for Brian Scalabrine. The term “White Mamba” was given to him as a sarcastic nickname in relation to Kobe Bryant’s “Black Mamba.”

As much as he has horrible stat lines, (Career 3.1 PPG), Scalabrine is very much a fan favourite.

By spending most of his career watching from the bench, he has come to understand the game in a way very few players can.

Hence when Tom Thibodeau took over the Chicago Bulls, Scalabrine was recruited.

His Airness/Air Jordan

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One who needs no introduction, Michael Jordan earned the nicknames “Air Jordan” and “His Airness” for his high flying dunks and posterising style of play in the 90s.

During his second year in the NBA, he released his first shoe with the same name, the Air Jordan I. The iconic Jumpman logo was born and Jordan became the biggest draw for both the NBA and sneaker culture in history.

King James

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For someone as influential and well ahead of his class, you would think LeBron James got his nickname in the middle of his career.

Unsurprisingly that is not the case. Back in 2002, a 17-year-old James was already the talk of the town, and would be Jordan’s “Heir Air Apparent”.

Sports Illustrated put the prodigy on a pedestal and in so doing, he gamely took the moniker and never looked back.

A fun fact, the name “LeBron” originated from Africa, and it also means King in the language.

The Mailman

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Karl Malone was called the Mailman because he literally delivered on a nightly basis.

He scored more than 20 points per game in 17 out of his 19 NBA seasons (including 12 times 2000+ points and 9 consecutive ‘’double double’’ seasons for points and rebounds), excluding only his rookie season in 85/86 and his retirement season in 03/04.

Deserving more recognition (read: championship rings) for his results, Malone was just unfortunate to be playing in Michael Jordan’s era.

Big Ben

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Ben Wallace was huge, and is often credited as an immovable object especially under the rim.

Wallace’s dominance as a rim protector insinuated with Westminster’s “Big Ben” clock-tower and thus the Pistons rang a bell to signify his entrance into the game.


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Dwayne Wade never actually liked the nickname Flash, which was given to him by Shaquille O’Neal.

He only started to like the nickname “Flash” once he realized how fast he really was on the court.

Wade is also predominantly known as one of the most explosive slashers on the court and to put him as the Barry Allen of NBA seems plausible.

Dr. J

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Julius Irving said the name originated from a high school friend even though people began trying to dub him things like “The Claw” and “Black Moses.”

He explained, “When I got to the Rucker League (in New York City), I was already 21, it was my junior year of college, and I was going to play on that stage before my first pro season. And they started calling me all kinds of nicknames because of the antics on the court.

I went over and corrected them and said, “Look, if you’re going to call me anything, just call me the Doctor, because you know, my best friend in high school had given me the name The Doctor and I’d given him the name The Professor and we graduated high school together, went to college together and shared those nicknames.”


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Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson was given the moniker of ‘Magic’ by Fred Stabley Jr., a sports writer for the Lansing State Journal.

Johnson’s nickname stuck with him so well that eventually people began calling him Magic on a first name basis.

Some went on to explain that it is because of his passing ability on the court that left people bewildered and exclaiming, “How did he do it? Magic?”

The Big Fundamental

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Tim Duncan was a no-nonsense power forward who held together the San Antonio Spurs dynasty for 19 years and brought them five championships.

Duncan is the only player who relies on the basics and fundamentals of basketball to such great effect as to be given that moniker.

White Chocolate

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Jason Williams is nothing short of spectacular with his flashy style of play and intricate passes which leaves spectators jaw-dropping.

Williams was given the nickname by a Sacramento Kings media relations assistant back when he was a rookie. Who can ever forget his behind the back elbow pass?


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Chris Andersen was given his nickname ‘Birdman’ during the 2002 NBA summer league by his teammates Junior Harrington and Kenny Satterfield. Andersen embraced the ‘Birdman’ nickname and would often celebrate after dunks or blocking a shot by outstretching his long wingspan in mimicking a bird taking flight.

Boogie Cousins

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The nickname “Boogie” was given to DeMarcus Cousins by former Kentucky coach Rod Strickland during his lone season in Lexington. The name was given after Strickland saw the big man’s dribbling ability.

Splash Brothers

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The Splash Brothers nickname refers to the duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s ability to “splash” the net with the ball, particularly on three-point shots.

Brian Witt, a writer for the Warriors website gave them the title after Curry and Thompson had combined for 25 points and seven 3-pointers by halftime in a match against the Charlotte Hornets.

Uncle Drew

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Pepsi wanted to film a commercial for its no-calorie cola, Pepsi Max, in which an athlete would show viewers what he would do with a lifetime supply of the drink.

From a budgeted advertisement, out came a Kyrie ‘Andrew’ Irving in an old-man suit dressed up to play pick-up at a neighbourhood basketball court.

Uncle Drew’s series of clips gained so much worldwide attention that a full feature film was eventually released in 2018.

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