Well, of course, we had to finish with Allen Iverson. And here are the names to go with the nicknames:
Birdman: Chris Andersen
Superman: Dwight Howard
Diesel: Shaquille O’Neal
Iceman: George Gervin
The Glove: Gary Payton
Dollar Bill: Bill Bradley
Tiny: Nate Archibald
The Admiral: David Robinson
The Dream: Hakeem Olajuwon
The Chief: Robert Parish
And if we could have figured out how to fit all those letters on the back of a jersey, we would have liked to have remembered Chocolate Thunder (Darryl Dawkins), the Boston Strangler (Andrew Toney) and the Round Mound of Rebound (Charles Barkley).
The name game
The NBA apparently will let players wear their nicknames on the backs of their jerseys in selected games this season. Most NBA fans would have no trouble figuring out that LeBron James would be wearing “King James” and maybe movie fans would figure out that his Miami Heat teammate Ray Allen would go with “Shuttlesworth,” after his “He Got Game” character.
But let’s test your NBA knowledge with a little stroll through history with some distinctive nicknames and see how many you get. We’ll start off nice and easy with a couple of current guys and then dip back a bit further. The names are revealed at the end.
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His unique plumage — hair and tattoos — earned him the avian moniker. A midseason pickup by the Miami Heat, he provided them a big boost of energy off the bench, particularly at crucial junctures in the playoffs on the way to their second straight NBA title.
This fellow basically gave himself the nickname with a caped appearance in the NBA’s dunk contest. An athletic marvel for a man his size, he also has been known to be offensively challenged in his moves and shooting touch. And beyond that, he apparently has trouble getting along with coaches and teammates, which is why he’s headed to yet another new team this coming season.
This guy has gone by so many nicknames — The Big Aristotle, Wilt Chamberneezy, The Big Shamrock among them — that it’s hard to choose just one. But he dominated the paint in the NBA like few others ever have, with raw power and surprising mobility for a 7-footer with such bulk. And he rapped, he acted, he joined law enforcement … and picked up a few NBA championships along the way.
A 6-foot-7 sliver of a shooting guard, he was once described by Jerry West as “the only player I would pay to see.” A four-time scoring champ who straddled the ABA and NBA, he would launch a smooth jumper, slice to the hoop or — perhaps his signature move — let the ball trickle off his fingers in an elegant finger roll. And he looked so cool doing it that you almost swore he never broke a sweat.
Why was he “The Glove”? Because when this 6-foot-4 guard slapped his defense on you, that’s how tight a fit you were subjected to. This newly minted Hall of Famer would take on anyone and talk trash while doing it. That includes His Airness himself. In an NBA Finals, The Glove shut down Michael Jordan like no one ever had — holding him to 37-percent shooting and keeping him under 30 points for three straight games, something that never happened to Jordan in the Finals before or after. And The Glove didn’t expend all of his energy on defense, finishing his career in the top 30 all-time NBA scorers.
An Ivy Leaguer, a Rhodes scholar, a member of the storied Knicks teams of the 1960s and 1970s, the small forward picked up his nickname for his frugal lifestyle despite a big contract. He was the polar opposite, sartorially speaking, of teammate Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Those on the right might have wished he had brought his inclination not to spend money with him to Washington when he later became a Democratic senator.
Yeah, he was a little guy, but no man in the NBA has ever stood as tall for what he accomplished in one season. For the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1972-73, the slight — listed at 6 feet 1 and 150 pounds — point guard became the only player in league history to lead the NBA in both scoring (34.0) and assists (11.4) in the same season. The Hall of Famer also won a championship as a member of the Celtics.
Well, naturally, what other rank would you give the best player ever to come out of the Naval Academy? A classy presence on the front line of the Spurs for a lot of years, the 7-foot-1 Admiral teamed with Tim Duncan to give San Antonio a most formidable combination, one that resulted in two NBA titles. On his own, The Admiral was Rookie of the Year, MVP and a four-time All-NBA and All-Defense first-teamer.
Yes, he played like a Dream. Moves in the pivot unlike any other big man of his time, such a master that he’s still in demand to teach his repertoire to a new generation of players. A quick-leaping defender. The Dream was a native Nigerian who didn’t play as if he ever learned 7-footers weren’t supposed to run the floor, and he won two NBA titles with the Houston Rockets as well as trophies for league and Finals MVP.
The Chief never betrayed any emotion on the court, just going about his business of being the strong presence in the middle of the Larry Bird-era Boston Celtics. His name came from the deadpan Native American character from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Even if he didn’t let his face display any expression, Celtics fans broke into big grins knowing he was at center.