The NBA is a nickname-driven league. Think of the greats: Air Jordan, Magic, Larry Legend, Dr. J, Zeke, Iceman, Dream, Big Diesel, etc. Almost every one of them has some kind of made-up moniker. However, all-time greatness is by no means a pre-requisite for nicknaming. From run-of-the-mill stars to high profile role players to glue guys, a vast percentage of NBA players have picked a nickname up somewhere along the way that managed to stick.
Meanwhile, all 30 teams also have their own official nicknames. Some of them are so deeply tied to a city’s local culture and/or a tradition of excellence (think Celtics or Spurs) that it would be near impossible to think of better ones; but for other franchises, there’s certainly room for improvement—or at least room to consider it.
That thought occurred to me the other day as I was reading about the Sacramento Kings and their all-star forward DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. For whatever reason, I internally articulated the pairing of Sacramento and Boogie and was struck by how great it sounded. Kings is one of the blandest and most overused team nicknames out there. Boogie, on the other hand, is unique and exciting. If it can be used in the singular to describe one player, why not use it to represent a whole team?
From there, I began poring through other rosters around the league to see who else might be able to supplant his team’s current nickname with a stronger one. Pickings were slim for a few squads, but most had at least one nickname that wouldn’t sound completely absurd if it were repurposed for an entire franchise’s use. Many of them would never merit any legitimate consideration, but at the very least, these possibilities are worth a fun hypothetical debate. So I went ahead and presented each team’s best option(s).
In some cases they’ve been slightly modified for grammatical and stylistic purposes, but for the most part, they remain true to how they’re used to describe the player. There were inevitably a few nicknames that I breezed over in my research and neglected to consider. I apologize in advance for whatever absences there may be. Most of the time, I was using www.basketball-reference.com as the judge of whether a nickname was ‘official’ or not.
Atlanta Firemen (Justin “Fireman” Holiday)
Atlanta Grondos (Dennis “German Rondo” Schröder)
Atlanta’s starters didn’t offer up much in the way of potential team nicknames, so we turn instead to its bench. Holiday was nicknamed “The Fireman” in college for his ability to ‘cool off’ hot shooters on the defensive end. Firemen might not wow you immediately when you think about it in this context, but when you break it down, it’s pretty enticing. Firefighting takes guts, instinct, and strength. Public service of that nature is exceedingly honourable (think of the bravery shown by the FDNY had during 9/11) and impactful. If we’re going to glorify negative nicknames like Pirates and Devils in other sports, why not go positive with Firemen? Plus, given the rise of the fire emoji, the word “fire” as an adjective has taken on a crazy level of positivity in society. Where better than “Hotlanta” for the Firemen to represent?
German Rondos doesn’t really make for much of a team nickname, but when you combine the two parts of it, you get the angry clefthoof-murdering giant from the World of Warcraft! It’s overwhelmingly obscure and nerdy but at least it’s more unique than Hawks.
The Pick: Atlanta Firemen
Atlanta Hawks admittedly rolls off the tongue way better than Atlanta Firemen, but who cares? This is a distinctive, worthy nickname.
Boston Beasts (Jae “The Beast” Crowder)
The alliteration is nice but Beasts is a little too generic to really resonate with a fanbase. Next best option was Isaiah “Pizza Guy” Thomas. Oh well.
The Pick: Boston Celtics.
An easy choice.
Brooklyn Armadillos (Joe “Armadillo Cowboy” Johnson)
Who would’ve thought that one of the most ordinary names in the league would produce one of the wildest NBA nicknames? Yes, ever since a strange hazing challenge at the University of Arkansas where he was asked to go out and bring back an armadillo—no questions asked—Johnson has been known as the Armadillo Cowboy (I’m citing Reddit on this one, but it sounds plausible enough). It’s a cool animal to be associated with because armadillos possess some admirable abilities: digging deeply with their nifty claws, curling their bodies into a ball to deter predators (great metaphor for when players collapse on defense!), and holding their breath for around six minutes underwater. Although there are no armadillos anywhere near Brooklyn, they live in burrows, which sounds enough like New York’s boroughs for this idea to actually have some relevance behind it.
The Pick: Brooklyn Armadillos
The most boring team nickname in the NBA is no more (in my hypothetical universe)!
Charlotte Psychos (Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough)
Charlotte Goats (Michael “The GOAT” Jordan)
Psycho is the adjective officially used to describe current Hornet/former Tar Heel legend Tyler Hansbrough, but it’s just as applicable to team owner Michael Jordan, whose legendary competitive streak goes pretty unmatched in sports. In the words of the great Jay-Z: “Psycho, I’m liable to go Michael/ Take your pick, Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6.” Emphasizing a locked in, balls-to-the-wall attitude with your team nickname is definitely a plus. That being said, the word “psycho” (short for psychotic) directly derives from a term that encompasses various mental disorders and probably isn’t the most respectful choice given that connotation.
Since Psychos is off the table—and the next best player options are Frank Kaminsky’s “Frank the Tank” and “Moose”—I made an exception and let the team’s owner sneak in there. His GOAT (Greatest of All Time) status plus the fact that lots of goats roam North Carolina made it a solid possibility.
The Pick: Charlotte Hornets
Despite the fun Jordan-inspired double entendre, Hornets is the far superior choice. The poetic flow of Charlotte Hornets is sonically pleasing and everything the team has done with its uniforms and court design make the nickname too good to scrap.
Chicago Buckets (Jimmy “Buckets” Butler and Doug “McBuckets” McDermott)
It’s a neat coincidence that two players on the same squad have such similar nicknames and a shame that it isn’t something more exciting in a team context. Buckets is basically Nets 2.0.
The Pick: Chicago Bulls.
You’re not moving away from the nickname associated with six titles and the NBA’s best logo for anything, let alone something as bland as Buckets.
Cleveland Kings (LeBron “King James” James)
Cleveland Drews (Kyrie “Uncle Drew” Irving)
Cleveland Hitmen (Mo “The Hitman” Williams)
Cleveland Swish (J.R. “Swish” Smith)
Lots of options, starting with the man basically running Celeveland’s entire organization: King James. I already established in the intro that Kings is a nickname that could be easily supplanted in general, but the only concern here is whether or not it’s better than Cavaliers or these other options. There are several definitions for the word cavalier, which include mounted soldiers, 17th century English poets, and people who just don’t give a fuck. It doesn’t have a ton of traction in modern language, but it’s also pretty objectively fun as a nickname.
Other than glorifying Kyrie’s Uncle Drew Pepsi commercials (and perhaps one-time Cav Drew Gooden), the only meaning behind the Cleveland Drews would be the Drew League. As its website states, the Drew League has been “a Mecca for west coast pro-am basketball for 40 years.” Created as a means of promoting positive mentorship and community engagement through basketball, the south central LA league has seen seven members of the 2016 NBA All Star team—including LeBron, Kobe, and Durant—grace its court. It doesn’t make for much of a fearful nickname, but the legendary nature of what it represents gives it some clout.
Hitmen has a nice double entendre meaning when you consider the fact that Cleveland radio DJ Alan Freed coined the term ‘rock and roll’ way back in the fifties; but then you remember that it literally means ‘people who are hired to murder other people,’ so it’s probably best to just veto this possibility right here.
Last but certainly not least, we have the Cleveland Swish. As anyone remotely familiar with basketball knows, the swish is the apex of good shooting. Its sound is synonymous with satisfaction. A swish is a pretty abstract concept to depict as a logo or mascot, but I envision something similar to what the Portland Trail Blazers have done by taking the idea of kinetic synergy on the court and turning it into their iconic pinwheel design.
The Pick: Cleveland Swish
I like the nickname Cavaliers a lot more than others I’ve read/talked to, but I think Swish is just a step above. Rather than taking one of the most uninteresting facets of the game and turning it into a team name as the Nets did, Cleveland would be using one of basketball’s sexiest terms. I’m all for it.
Dallas Iron Men (Wesley “Iron Man” Matthews)
Dallas Simbas (Justin “Simba” Anderson)
It should be mentioned here that Dirk Nowitzki is also heavily associated with the nickname Swish. His Twitter handle is @swish41 and Swish 41 is a big part of his brand in general. However, it’s rarely used casually among league observers to describe him, so I decided to just give it solely to J.R. Smith for this hypothetical exercise.
Anyways, on to the top candidates—who don’t really bring that much to the table. Iron Man is a nice nickname for the resilient Wes Matthews, but the pluralization doesn’t help its cause. Same goes for the rookie Anderson and his Lion King-inspired title. To describe how it comes across in this context, I’ll borrow a line from Simba voice actor Matthew Broderick in one of his other stellar roles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “It’s a little childish and stupid” (but then again, so is high school).
The Pick: Dallas Mavericks
Mavericks is an excellent nickname that would get full points for uniqueness if it weren’t for Top Gun.
Denver Manimals (Kenneth “The Manimal” Faried)
Despite being floated around in trade rumours nearly every season, Kenneth Faried and his phenomenal nickname still reside in Denver. From Animorphs to Greek mythological characters, there’s something simply awesome about the concept of part human-part animal combinations. Manimals also offers a lot of room for cool interpretation in terms of logos and design. Regardless of what the final product looks like, it’ll be fierce and furious.
The Pick: Denver Nuggets
I absolutely love “The Manimal” as an individual nickname, but it loses a lot of its appeal in a larger context and starts to sound a bit cheesy. Nuggets is unique and regional, it works just fine.
Detroit Pterodactyls (Brandon “The Pterodactyl” Jennings)
Detroit Bangers (Aron “The Big Banger” Baynes)
In the Toronto Raptors the NBA already has one dinosaur-themed team, but Pterodactyls could arguably be the superior one if Detroit were to adopt its backup point guard’s nickname. The word is a mouthful, but it’s a worthwhile mouthful. So what if it has literally zero regional connection? It’s hard to go wrong with a carnivorous winged dinosaur.
As for Baynes’ nickname (which is meant to sound like “Bangah” because of his Australian heritage), there’s a lot to like there as well. Apart from suggesting a bruising, physical style of basketball, Bangers has a musical connotation, referring to hit tracks. What better to pair that with than Hitsville, USA (aka Motown)?
The Pick: Detroit Pistons
Motown is only one part of Detroit’s heritage, and in this case, the Motor City gets the nod. Pistons is the perfect example of an ordinary object sounding way cooler than it should as a nickname because of its local importance.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State Splash (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson aka “The Splash Brothers”)
Golden State Blur (Leandro “The Brazilian Blur” Barbosa)
This is an interesting showdown. In one corner you have the incumbent Warriors, one of the most generic nicknames in sports. In the other you have Splash and Blur, two options that resemble the Cleveland Swish in the sense that they are highlighting some of the game’s more artistic qualities. Splash derives from the idea of being a ‘wet’ shooter, knocking down shots from all over the court with ease. It evokes mental images of ocean waves crashing down, which could be a nice tie-in for a team located in the Bay Area, overlooking the Pacific.
More than ever the NBA is a league that values speed. Gone are the days where massive paint-clogging forwards and centers ruled the game from the post. Rebranding with Barbosa’s Blur nickname would be fitting for a Golden State team that plays with the league’s second-fastest pace—to devastating effect.
The Pick: Golden State Warriors
It might be broad and unrelated to San Francisco in any relevant way, but Golden State Warriors—and its Dubs short form—sounds great from a rhythmic standpoint. Besides, the franchise has always used that broadness to its advantage by de-emphasizing the importance of the nickname and shining the spotlight on its Bay Area-specific design.
Houston Beards (James “The Beard” Harden)
Houston Supermen (Dwight “Superman” Howard)
Houston Jets (Jason “JET” Terry)
Houston Switchblades (Trevor “Switchblade” Ariza)
Harden’s facial hair is truly formidable and Houston Beards has some quirky appeal, but it just doesn’t bring enough to the table when it comes down to it.
Supermen falls victim to the same kind of ‘good for an individual but not a team’ effect that has been discussed at length already.
Even if Jets wasn’t already being used as a nickname by two other Big 4 sports franchises, it still wouldn’t be able to surpass Rockets, which is the superior flying machine choice for this NASA-host city.
From a purely objective standpoint, switchblades is really the most intriguing nickname of this bunch—even though it’s reportedly a nickname that Ariza doesn’t care for all that much. The springing action of a switchblade makes for a solid basketball analogy in terms of quickness and reactionary instincts. However, switchblades are basically illegal in North America and were responsible for an enormous amount of violence in the mid-20th century (much of it gang related), so it really shouldn’t be considered beyond this point.
The Pick: Houston Rockets
Clutch City keeps its official team nickname.
Indiana PG (Paul “PG-13” George)
There weren’t really any legitimate challengers on this nickname-deprived squad. Monta Ellis’ “Mississippi Bullet” was the only other one I could find, which not only represents another state, but also a nickname that has already been scrapped by a franchise for its violent connotations (Washington Bullets).
The Pick: Indiana Pacers
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Truth (Paul “The Truth” Pierce)
Los Angeles Princes (Luc Richard “The [Fresh] Prince” Mbah a Moute)
Not only is “The Truth” one of the best player nicknames in all of professional sports, it has aged really well for the player who got it. Old man Pierce has this sage-like aura about him, calling out overhyped foes like the 2014-15 Raptors or Mark Cuban in free agency. He’ll play sparingly all game but then come off then bench in crunch time and burn you with the decisive shot. As a team nickname Truth would be another one of those more conceptual ones, but once you wrap your head around the unconventionality of it, it starts to sound like a more decent choice.
Princes comes to the team courtesy of Mbah a Moute, an actual Cameroonian prince. Although princes aren’t as high ranking as kings, they’re next in line for the monarchy, and associating yourself with an upward-trending arrow isn’t a bad thing. Some would even argue that thanks to Machiavelli’s The Prince, the word could be considered more fearful than king. Also, Los Angeles’ hockey team is the Kings, so rebranding as the Princes would create some nice thematic unity for the Freeway City.
The Pick: Los Angeles Princes
It’s not an ideal choice, but it beats out Truth and Clippers. While Clippers had some local relation to the sailing culture in its original home of San Diego, it’s mostly associated with dark years tainted by the despicable presence of Donald Sterling in LA. Princes is a solid—if unspectacular—nickname to start a clean slate with.
Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Mambas (Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant)
Los Angeles Voodoo (D’Angelo “Voodoo” Russell)
We begin with the nickname of the melodramatic retiring legend, Kobe Bean Bryant. He also goes by Kobe Wan Kenobi, Mr. 81, and Vino, but there’s one clear choice here: Mambas. The mamba is quick and venomous, which makes it a fantastic representation of both tenacious basketball and the Los Angeles paparazzi. On an unrelated note, it’s kind of funny how much LA Mambas sounds like “La Bamba.” Could make for a nice recurring arena gimmick.
Dubbed “Voodoo” as a nod to the phenomenal R&B artist D’Angelo’s second album, D’Angelo Russell gives LA another intriguing option. Choosing a nickname relating to dark magic is kind of fitting for a franchise that is envied around the league for its almost unfairly storied history and ability to land a meeting with just about every free agent in even its darkest days (read: the present). My worry with potentially using Voodoo is that the fact that it’s meaning stems from a religion of the same name, and using that as a nickname is a form of cultural appropriation—despite the fact that voodoo has taken on a secular meaning in Western culture as well. The last thing North American professional sports need at this point is another culturally appropriative nickname.
The Pick: Los Angeles Mambas
Sticking with the Lakers nickname that originated in Minneapolis has always been a dumb move for the franchise. It’s not like there are a bunch of Mambas in LA, but Lakers is full-on regional whereas animal nicknames give you a little more leeway to just run with it and pick something exotic (Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Penguins, etc.).
Memphis Grindfathers (Tony “The Grindfather” Allen)
Memphis Tanquetas (Marc “La Tanqueta” Gasol)
The Memphis Grizzles of the 2010s have developed a reputation for playing grind-it-out basketball in large part to their defensive wizard Tony Allen. It’s risky to choose a team nickname based on the style of one period in franchise history, but Grindfathers is also just a term that’s fun to say over and over again.
As you may have guessed, Gasol’s nickname translates into “tank.” While tanks are certainly cool and intimidating objects, the fact that tanking is such a widespread issue in the NBA really dampens the upside of this possibility.
The Pick: Memphis Grizzlies
Grizzlies is a Vancouver-themed nickname but it’s ended up fitting quite well for this grizzly Memphis squad. No need to mess with a good thing.
Miami Flash (Dwyane “Flash” Wade)
Miami Birdmen (Chris “Birdman” Anderson)
Wade has tried to push the nickname WoW (Way of Wade) as part of his brand, but Flash is the only one anyone will ever care about. It totally encapsulated the electrifying basketball Wade played before moving into the injury-riddled second phase of his career, and it’s one of the few superhero-inspired nicknames that could work for an entire team.
Birdmen is essentially a more specific version of Faried’s Manimals. You could definitely still do a lot with it though. And God knows we could use another bird-man hybrid in the cultural universe after the devastating loss of Birdperson on Rick and Morty.
The Pick: Miami Heat
Both challengers are decent enough, but Heat has aged well (it helps that Shaq showed up in South Beach and the LeBron-era team had a mini-run of league dominance) and should definitely continue on as the Miami nickname.
Milwaukee Generals (“General” Grievis Vasquez)
Vasquez’s nickname comes from the Star Wars character General Grievous. He was fighting against the Jedi, which is definitely a negative, but the nickname is general enough (pun very much intended) and has enough meaning elsewhere that it wouldn’t really matter.
The Pick: Milwaukee Bucks
This is a great and very underrated nickname. Fear the deer!
Minnesota Professors (Andre “The Professor” Miller)
Minnesota Bounce (Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine aka “The Bounce Brothers”)
Knowledge is power but emphasizing academic knowledge in a basketball nickname doesn’t send the most powerful message to fans or opposing teams. I love Andre Miller and everything The Professor stands for, but it’s not quite right for the North Star state—or any state, for that matter.
There’s no telling if “Bounce Brothers” will earn the same kind of prestige as “Splash Brothers” does, but given some of their performances this season, I’d have no problem betting on Wiggins and LaVine to become one of the league’s most dynamic backcourt duos. As a team nickname it falls into the same kind of vein as Splash, Swish, and Blur: a purely basketball concept (unless of course you’re really into fabric softener and the Bounce brand).
The Pick: Minnesota Timberwolves
Even though the Lakers should’ve never taken the Minnesota-based Lakers nickname, Timberwolves isn’t a bad replacement. I’ve always liked the way the syllables stack up and manage to roll off the tongue nicely. Now if they could just get rid of the childish font on their jerseys…
New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans/Louisiana Swampers (Kendrick “Swamp Thang” Perkins)
It’s rare for a player’s nickname to actually matchup nicely with a team’s geography, but that is indeed the case with The Big Easy’s scowling backup center. Louisiana is so chalk full of swamps that the franchise could even follow in the footsteps of Indiana, Utah, and the others who have included the entire state in their official names. Apart from referring to people who live in swampy areas, swamper’s alternative meaning is people who perform odd jobs, often working in maintenance or support roles. It’s not as glamorous as Atlanta Firemen but it would be a nice way to honour some of society’s more unheralded workers.
The Pick: New Orleans Pelicans
Some have criticized this nickname, but I’ve always found it to be excellent. It’s totally unique in professional sports and the pelican is way more fearsome than people generally assume it to be. I also find it to be a remarkable coincidence that the Pelicans’ superstar player (Anthony Davis) just so happens to have an iconic unibrow that resembles the shape of a pelican flapping its wings. Must be a sign that the franchise made the right choice in moving on from Hornets.
New York Knicks
New York Zingers (Kristaps “Zinger” Porzingis)
It’s appropriate that the most captivating player on New York’s roster also has its most team-applicable nickname. Zinger’s most common usage as a word is in reference to a witty remark made by someone—often at someone else’s expense. That’s not a bad definition for competitive sports! Sports are all about being strategic and gaining an edge over an opponent.
The Pick: New York Knicks
Zingers stacks up surprisingly well for something that isn’t particularly intimidating, regional, or basketball-related, but it can’t dethrone the incumbent. For some strange reason—when you consider that it’s describing a pair of pants—the Knickerbockers nickname still feels pretty legit.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Reapers (Kevin “The Slim Reaper” Durant)
Oklahoma City Tarantulas (Kevin “Durantula” Durant)
It’s unfortunate that Kevin Durant isn’t into the “Slim Reaper” nickname because it’s a great one. It also pluralizes easily and works in the team context. Can you imagine how ominous a reaper-themed pre-game jumbotron montage would be? Oklahoma’s also a big farming state, so the “You reap what you sow” saying would tie in nicely. It might get a little annoying though when opposing arenas play Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” whenever Oklahoma City comes to town.
Oklahoma City Tarantulas is admittedly a mouthful, but it’s a pretty cool and distinctive nickname. Tarantulas are dangerous as hell and definitely meet the mark as far as intimidation is concerned.
The Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s far from the NBA’s best nickname but it’s better than a lot of people give it credit for. Reapers kind of just feels like a bit much for a good-spirited sporting event. Then again, we’re talking about the team whose owner killed the Seattle Supersonics, so maybe it’s appropriate after all.
Orlando Buffet (Channing “Buffet of Goodness” Frye)
GET SOME BETTER NICKNAMES, DAMNIT!
The Pick: Orlando Magic
Philadelphia Sauce (Nik “Sauce Castillo” Stauskas)
As legend has it, Stauskas got his unusual nickname when a Kings announcer saw his name appear in the closed captioning text as Sauce Castillo during a game. Later that night it was trending in Sacramento and the rest is history. Sauce is one of those words that has an absurdly high amount of entries on Urban Dictionary. It could be referring to alcohol, talking back, the source of something, a type of specific hockey motion, a request to pass something, and other undiscovered uses that would sound totally plausible because it’s just that kind of a malleable word. Thanks to the Philadelphia-based artist G. Love and the Special sauce, there’s even a local connection!
The Pick: Philadelphia 76ers
Even though the Sixers have been a deplorable basketball team for the past two and a half years, their nickname has remained awesome. It’s a reference to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, and like San Francisco 49ers, it’s a keeper.
Phoenix Keef (Markieff “Keef” Morris)
Not a lot of nicknames to work with on the Suns’ roster. Sadly our best option is a term (Keef) that is most commonly used to describe the especially potent crystals that can be separated from dank marijuana buds.
The Pick: Phoenix Suns
Maybe in 25 years when weed is legal everywhere and nobody cares about downplaying it in the mainstream media Keef will seem legit. Until then, it’s probably best to pass on it.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Cavemen (Chris “Caveman” Kaman)
Portland Breeze (Allen “Cool Breeze” Crabbe)
In Cavemen you get a nickname that highlights humans at their most primal point. When you think about the types of skills a caveman needed to survive (you know, hunting large animals with rudimentary tools), it’s pretty cool. However, in a basketball context, it unfortunately brings to mind basic, outdated strategy. Portland is one of the hippest places on earth, it might not mesh so well with such an archaic nickname.
Breeze is an unusual option, but definitely one worth considering. Like Crabbe’s nickname implies, everyone loves the feeling of a cool breeze coming in on a warm day. Heck, even on cold days, a little breeze isn’t such a bad thing. Fallen leaves dance around, trees rustle, it’s awesome! Shooting the breeze has always been a cool phrase, but it has some double meaning here when you take into account the basketball relevance of shooting.
The Pick: Portland Trail Blazers
I love this nickname so much. It encapsulates the notions of tackling frontiers and being a leader while also sounding awesome in both its full form and the shortened “Blazers.” Besides, only a seaside city could ever claim a nickname like Breeze.
Sacramento Boogie (DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins)
The one that started it all. Boogie as a word is grounded in its relation to boogie-woogie music, but it’s really just evolved into a fun all-around term. When people say something like “Let’s boogie,” it implies a desire to get moving and see some action, which is a great association for a basketball team to have.
The Pick: Sacramento Boogie
No second thoughts on this one.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Fundamentals (Tim “The Big Fundamental” Duncan)
San Antonio Claws (Kawhi “The Claw” Leonard)
San Antonio Torpedoes (Tony “Parisian Torpedo” Parker)
We go nuts for the posterizing dunks, ankle-breaking crossovers, and earth-shattering rejections, but basketball is really a game of fundamentals. That’s why Tim Duncan has been such a gift from the heavens for basketball purists. Nobody except maybe Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been good as he has for as long as he has. Even if he hasn’t necessarily made the idea of playing non-flashy, fundamentally sound basketball seem ‘cool,’ everyone knows that his perpetually great play is largely responsible for San Antonio turning into basketball Mecca. Honouring that legacy with the Fundamentals nickname certainly doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Kawhi Leonard and his disruptive hands give us our second option. Claws are pretty menacing and exciting. However, in a league where the Raptors and Grizzlies both have claws figuring prominently into their team designs, going in that direction might be overkill.
Torpedoes is one of those classic ‘choose something powerful seemingly at random’ nicknames; but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. Despite the lack of naval bases in the San Antonio region, it makes for a nice nickname that emphasizes speed, force, and precision. The biggest issue with it is that it’s a serious mouthful to say San Antonio Torpedoes.
The Pick: San Antonio Spurs
This nickname has alliteration, regional ties, and represents a winning tradition. It’s not going anywhere.
Toronto Bulldogs (Kyle “Bulldog of Bay Street” Lowry)
For years and years, basketball observers had always described Kyle Lowry as having a “bulldog mentality” because of his tenacious play. Then when he established himself as a franchise point guard in Toronto and The Wolf of Wall Street came out, he was a natural fit to become the Bulldog of Bay Street. Bulldogs is a solid nickname, the only problem is that it’s already been claimed by three prominent college basketball schools: Gonzaga, Butler, and Georgia.
The Pick: Toronto Raptors
You could do a lot worse than Raptors. Plus, dinosaur nicknames are pretty rare in both professional and collegiate North American sports, so it’s got a nice uniqueness to it.
Utah Octopai (Tibor “The Octopus” Pleiss)
Raise your hand if you knew that a guy named Tibor Pleiss played in the NBA before just now. Good, me neither. The long-armed German center was drafted by the Nets in 2010 and has mostly played in Europe and the D-League since then. He might be mostly anonymous in the NBA, but his nickname is still the best Utah has to offer (Rudy “Stifle Tower” Gobert has a great one, but it doesn’t translate nicely for the whole team). An octopus’s constricting limbs and ink-spraying defense mechanism makes it a pretty hazardous creature—you don’t screw around with an octopus. And could you imagine how cool that mascot would be?
The Pick: Utah Jazz
It still makes no sense for Utah to use New Orleans’ old nickname, but if we’re forced to choose between two that have absolutely no regional connection, Jazz is the way to go. Utah’s current jerseys are gorgeous and the metaphor of jazz musicians and their synergy being equivalent to five basketball players on the court is a really good one.
Washington Hammers (Marcin “Polish Hammer” Gortat)
Another tool/weapon choice, but this one is less controversial than Switchblades. Hammers are essential household items. They allow us to apply massive amounts of force in precise locations. And the notion of ‘hammering away’ at something until the job is done is a great connection to make in basketball (e.g. pounding the rock). It would also be hilarious to see whatever MC Hammer tie-ins the franchise could come up with.
The Pick: Washington Wizards
I’m not a fan of this nickname at all, but I still think it holds an edge over Hammers. That being said, the Wizards’ jerseys have definitely come a long way since the lame blue ones they used to sport.
Incumbent Nicknames: 24
New Nicknames: 6 (Atlanta, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Los Angeles x2, Sacramento)