Nicknames are like a rite of passage in the world of sports. When someone gives you a nickname a sense of pride and feeling of being a part of something bigger takes over.
While most nicknames are bestowed upon you, there are some players out there that end up nicknaming themselves. Whether the nickname came from your childhood, yourself, your teammates, your fans or the press, living up to the nickname becomes on some level a part of your legacy.
Nicknames in the NBA are endless and have remained forever entwined with the legends who embodied them.
Top NBA Nicknames
Here is a list of some of the best NBA nicknames; from the newbies to the not-so-well-known to the unforgettable legends.
- Julius Ervine – Dr. J, The Doctor
One of the first players to transform the dunk into a form of art. He received his nickname from a childhood friend. His Long Island friend gave him the nickname The Doctor which was later shortened to Dr. J because of the way he could always operate on opposing defenses.
- Earvin Johnson – Magic
Magic is one of the most recognizable nicknames in the history of the NBA. Johnson led the Los Angeles Lakers as one of the tallest point guards in league history and was known to have the best vision on the court of all time. Said to be a wizard on the basketball court, Johnson made magic happen with some of the most amazing passes witnessed in the league’s history.
- Pete Maravich – Pistol Pete
Known for never hesitating to make risky plays on the court, Pistol Pete played as if he had not a care in the world. The nickname came from his low and to the side shooting style and his gunslinger mentality on the court. In Maravich‘s 11 seasons in the league, he managed to average over 24 points and 5.5 assists per game.
- Hakeem Olajuwon – The Dream
One of the best all-time defenders acquired his great footwork agility by growing up playing soccer. He was a force to be reckoned with coming in at 6‘10″ with a gigantic wingspan and massive hands. Known for having a smooth fadeaway jumper and his astounding leadership skills, Olajuwon led the Rockets to two championships in the mid-90s. He could do it all; he was the dream center.
- Kobe Bryant – The Black Mamba
Given to him by himself, The Black Mamba is a representation of Bryant’s fierce passion for the game of basketball. Known for being very aggressive and fast on the court it suited Bryant well.
- Michael Jordan – Air Jordan
Remembered as one of the greats, Jordan had many nicknames over his basketball career, but the one that has stood the test of time is Air Jordan. It was said many times that he could fly, soaring from the free throw line to complete one of his outrageous dunks. Known for being one of the best dunkers in the run of play, the image of those long legs and arms outstretched soaring to the goal will forever be idolized.
- George Gervin – The Iceman
Gervin was known for having his own style of play. Thought to have ice in his veins by never breaking a sweat at practice or in games. He had a coolheaded demeanor on the court that allowed him to become regarded as one of the greatest shooting guards in the league‘s history.
- Allen Iverson – The Answer
Played for four teams in his 14 seasons in the NBA as both point guard and shooting guard. Known as one of the toughest players in the league, Iverson was an eleven-time NBA All-Star, two-time NBA All-Star MVP, and became the NBA‘s Most Valuable Player in 2001. Having a big heart on the court and being relatable to his fans made it easy for him to he win the hearts of many. Allen Iverson became the answer to all questions.
- Karl Malone – The Mailman
A two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and fourteen-time NBA All-Star, Malone made a name for himself playing most of his career with the Utah Jazz. Holding the record for scoring the second most career points in NBA history, Malone is considered one of the best power forwards ever to play in the league. Mostly known for his pick and roll combination with teammate John Stockton, Malone always knew how to deliver.
- Clyde Drexler – Clyde the Glide
Drexler was a smooth player making it look as though he glided across the basketball court effortlessly. His nickname was actually given to him because of the way he floated through the air to finish off one of his astounding dunks. Probably one of his best-known dunks was the windmill.
- Vince Carter – Air Canada
Carter received his nickname because of how closely he resembled Michael Jordan‘s dunking ability when he started his career in Toronto, Canada. Carter is known as one of the best dunkers of all time with his agile 360 windmills and through the legs alley-oop off the bounce.
- Shaquille O‘Neal – Diesel, Superman, Big Aristotle
Acquiring many nicknames over the years both from teammates and self-proclamation, O‘Neal was best known for the nickname Diesel. Standing at 7‘1″ and weighing a measly 325 pounds he was one of the biggest players to play in the NBA. Built like a Mack Truck, O‘Neal could exploit his defenders time and time again.
- Gary Payton – The Glove
Said to be one of the best defenders at the guard position of all time. Payton received his nickname after the 1993 Western Conference Final when his cousin told him he was holding Kevin Johnson like a baseball in a glove, after that the name took hold. Payton was a nine-time All-Defensive team player and the only point guard to ever receive the award of Defensive Player of the Year.
- David Robinson – The Admiral
For obvious reasons, Robinson received the nickname “The Admiral” when he joined the NBA after serving as an Officer in the United States Navy. He exuded a calm and collected appearance on and off the court and carried himself in an almost graceful manner. Robinson is highly regarded as one of the greats for being one of only four players to record a quadruple-double and one of only six players to record 70 plus points in a single game, among his many other achievements throughout his career.
- Wilt Chamberlain – The Big Dipper, Stilt
Chosen as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history of all time, Chamberlain had many achievements during his many years in the NBA. He was the only player in NBA history to score 100 points in a single game and average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds throughout his entire career.
With his long list of achievements, it would be an understatement to say he had a successful career as a player. While Chamberlain picked up a few nicknames throughout his career, he preferred to be called the Big Dipper. This nickname was inspired by good friends that witnessed him dipping his head as he walked through doorways. Other nicknames that referred to his height such as The Stilt or Goliath were not appreciated by the player.
- Dominique Wilkins – The Human Highlight Reel
Wilkins was highly known for his dominate dunking skills. He was powerful yet graceful all at the same time, and no one could throw down a windmill dunk like Dominique. Wilkins got his nickname for making plays worthy of a highlight reel after every time out.
- Larry Bird – Larry Legend, The Hick from French Lick
Although Bird came from humble roots, his competitive nature presented itself continuously on the court through legendary trash-talk. Larry Bird was a very confident player and rightfully so having both a successful individual and team career. Knows as one of the most clutch performers in league history, no one has performed as brilliantly in critical moments in games like Larry Bird.
- Charles Barkley – Round Mound of Rebound
Barkley‘s unusual combination of strength and agility allowed him to outplay and outrebound taller and quicker opponents. He was a beast on the boards even though he was only a mere 6‘4″ in height.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo – Greek Freak
Born in Athens, Greece this NBA star got his nickname “Greek Freak” thanks to his extreme athleticism abilities. He was the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in five major statistical categories at the end of regular season play.
- Paul Pierce – The Truth
Pierce acquired his nickname “The Truth” after playing the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001. Opponent Shaquille O‘Neal coined him the truth after Pierce scored 42 points in the loss against the Lakers.
- Dwayne Wade – Flash
Wade was also nicknamed by former teammate Shaquille O‘Neal. O‘Neal referenced a Queen song, singing he‘s the greatest in the universe, from the 1980 film Flash Gordon.
- LeBron James – King James
Thought to be comparable to Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson, James is ranked up there with the best of the best. Having accomplished both team and individual success where ever he‘s ended up, James has proven time and time again that he is the king of the court.
- Jason Williams – White Chocolate
Williams was nicknamed by a media relations assistant with the Sacramento Kings. His flair and pizzazz on the court were reminiscent of that seen in schoolyard street ball. Williams embraced the flashy white boy style of play he created for himself.
- Chris Andersen – Birdman
Mostly recognizable for his bird-like hairstyle and brightly colored tattoos of wings on his arms, Anderson embraces his nickname to the fullest.
- Tim Duncan – The Big Fundamental
Nicknamed for his focus on the fundamental skills of basketball, Duncan was considered one of the most consistent players in the NBA throughout his career. Duncan never had a flair for the dramatic when he was on the court, at one point he even considered himself to have a “boring” image, never showing his real emotions while on the court.
- Jerry West – Mr. Clutch, The Logo, Mr. Outside
West received many nicknames throughout his time in the NBA. Known for being reliable in a clutch situation came the nickname Mr. Clutch. Mr. Outside came about when West showed his strength as an outside perimeter player for the Los Angeles Lakers. West gained the nickname “the Logo” after the NBA incorporated his silhouette into their logo.
- Kevin Garnett – The Big Ticket
Named “The Big Ticket” when playing for Minnesota Timberwolves because he was the only reason fans came to watch the game. Garnett was a crowd pleaser and knew how to put on a show for his audience.
- Andrei Kirilenko – AK –47
Kirilenko started off his career in Russia where he was born. His nickname was a combination of his initials and the number on the jersey he wore when he played for the Utah Jazz. Coincidentally the city from which he was born is where the AK-47 was first manufactured. Fitting nickname don‘t you think?
- Oscar Robertson – The Big O
The NBA named Robertson the first big guard that paved the way for other oversized backcourt players like Magic Johnson. He was also recognized as having created the head fake and the fade-away jump shot.
- Anthony Webb – Spud
Webb was not only the shortest player in NBA history to ever compete in the Slam Dunk Contest but actually win it too. Webb‘s listed as being 5 feet 7 inches tall.
- Tyrone Bogues – Muggsy
Bogues‘ nickname was given to him by a teammate during his High School days at Dunbar High. Dwayne Woods, a teammate of Bogues commented that his physical style of play reminded him of someone being mugged.
- Darryl Dawkins – Chocolate Thunder
Known for shattering backboards with his powerful dunks, Dawkins was said to have been given his nickname by Stevie Wonder.
- James Harden – The Beard
Harden‘s nickname is one of the more obvious ones, while he is always sporting his infamous full beard. Has anyone ever seen him without it?
- Stephen Curry – Baby Faced Assassin
Curry‘s nickname was a combination of sorts, with his baby face good looks and the fact that he killed it on the court he became known as the Baby Faced Assassin.
- Earl Monroe – The Pearl
Monroe gained his nickname from a sportswriter covering a series of games during his collegiate career. 12 straight games in a row Monroe scored over 40 points, the writer deemed it as Earl‘s Pearls. Eventually, that changed to Earl the Pearl.
- Anfernee Hardaway – Penny
Hardaway‘s nickname came from his childhood days of living with his grandmother. She often called him pretty, but with her thick southern drawl, it sounded more like Penny.
- Tracy McGrady – The Big Sleep
McGrady earned the nickname The Big Sleep after he scored 41 points in a game even though he was asleep right up until tip-off. He was primarily known for his laid-back nature and talented scoring abilities.
- Nate Archibald – Tiny
Tiny is perhaps the most appropriate nickname for Nate Archibald. Coming in at 6‘1″ and only weighing 150 pounds, Archibald‘s small stature, quickness, and speed allowed him to blow by players on his way to the basket.
- Dennis Rodman – The Worm
Childhood friends deemed him the worm after seeing him squirm continuously while playing arcade games. I guess all that squirming eventually came in handy and aided him in perfecting his fierce defensive and rebounding skills.
- Glenn Rivers – Doc
While attending a summer basketball camp at Marquette wearing a Dr. J T-shirt, the assistant coach immediately gave Rivers the nickname Doc.
- Kevin Durant – The Durantula
Although he doesn‘t fully appreciate the nickname, Durant‘s long arms resemble that of the long arms of a spider.
- Kenneth Smith – The Jet
Smith was coined “The Jet” while still in High School by a sportswriter who was impressed by smith‘s cat-quick speed. The reporter was amazed by how Smith repeatedly broke down the opponent’s offense and jetted down the court to make several easy buckets.
- Glen Davis – Big Baby
At the age of 9, Davis was too big to play pee-wee ball and was made to play up with older kids. He was given the nickname Big Baby by his youth coach. At times when Davis felt as though he was being bullied by older opponents, his coach would just say, stop crying, you big baby.
- Walt Frazier – Clyde
Known for his many fashion styles, Frazier received the nicknamed Clyde after wearing a wide-brimmed fedora similar to that Warren Beatty wore while playing Clyde in the movie Bonnie and Clyde.
- James Worthy – Big Game James
Worthy gained the nickname “Big Game James” while helping the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA Championship. After collecting his third championship ring, Worthy had proven precisely why they called him Big Game. When James was in his prime, he was said to be untouchable.
- Brian Scalabrine – The White Mamba
Brian Scalabrine was a fan favorite. Although he didn‘t see much action in the NBA, his teammates loved him around. Having a corky personality and naming himself The White Mamba, a play on Kobe Bryant’s Black Mamba, Scalabrine was thought of as an average Joe and was loved by all wherever he went.
- Shawn Kemp – The Reignman
Kemp‘s nickname refers to the athletic dominance he rained down on the league in his prime years. Kemp was a powerhouse dunker and enjoyed doing it with a little flair.
- Ray Allen – Jesus Shuttlesworth
Allen received his nickname after staring in a Hollywood movie; He Got Game. Critics praised Allen‘s performance as Jesus Shuttlesworth, and the name carried over into his professional career in the NBA.
- Robert Horry – Big Shot Bob
Winning seven championships with 3 different teams says it all about Robert Horry. Considered one of the greatest clutch performers in NBA history earned Horry the nickname Big Shot Bob.
- Patrick Ewing – The Beast of the East
To say Ewing was a beast is probably an understatement. His nickname comes from a combination of his beastly playing abilities and his success during his collegiate years. Ewing led Georgetown to the Big East regular season championship, Big East Tournament championship, and was named the Big East Player of the Year all in the same season.
- Robert Parish – The Chief
Parish was awarded the nickname The Chief by his teammate Cedric Maxwell. Named after a fictitious character, Chief Bromden, in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest, this silent giant Native American reminded Maxwell of Parish‘s stoic nature.
- Larry Johnson – Grandmama
Larry Johnson‘s nickname was in no way related to his abilities on the court. Johnson stared in a series of shoe commercials, dressing up as an old grandma who was master of the basketball court all thanks to her new shoes. Grandmama became Johnson’s alter ego and also made an appearance on the show Family Matters where she teamed up with Steve Urkel to play in a basketball tournament.
- Steve Francis – Franchise
Francis received his nickname while starting his career off for the Houston Rockets. Known for his incredible crossover dribble, driving ability, and swanky dunks, Francis became the face of the franchise.
- Bryant Reeves – Big Country
Reeve‘s college teammate, Byron Houston, dubbed him Big Country after the team flew across the United States for a game. Coming from the small town of Gans, Oklahoma Reeves was amazed by his first flight ever.
- Shawn Marion – The Matrix
Known as one of the most versatile players in the NBA, his athleticism allows him to play and defend just about any position. Marion received his nickname in the preseason of his rookie year from former NBA player Kenny Smith. Matrix is a suitable nickname for a man who can do just about everything.
While nicknames can give you a sense of pride at times, they can also be funny or even critical.
Most of the time players embrace the nicknames given to them and can go as far as to get tattoos to have the feeling that they will last forever.
How about you? You might not be an NBA superstar but have you ever been given a basketball nickname that you never want to forget?
How did you find our list of the top NBA nicknames of all time? Which names would you add to our list?