TrueHoop turned me on to Chris Broussard's article about the top 10 basketball nicknames, and I was very tempted to post my own "best of" list in response. I mean, how did "King James" make the Top 10 when iconic nicknames like "The Big Dipper" and "Mr. Clutch" didn't even receive honorable mention?! Also missing were some of my all-time favorites, like "The Microwave," "Clyde the Glide," and "Larry Legend."

But since I did a rebuttal post last week, I decided to discuss something more original: pickup basketball nicknames.

Why nicknames are necessary in pickup basketball: According to recent scientific findings, 99.9 percent of today's pickup basketball players are men. Why is this important? Because, generally speaking, men are lazy. Mind you, this is not a critique; we genuinely enjoy our laziness. It makes life simple.

However, this means that a guy usually doesn't bother to introduce himself to the other players in his pickup league. Or, if introductions are made, names are forgotten almost immediately, thus rendering the introductions meaningless (which is part of the reason we instinctively avoid them). As a result, the only way to talk to your buddies about the games -- which is an absolute necessity in serious pickup leagues -- is to identify the other players using nicknames.

How to create a nickname: Remember what I said about men? Since you're probably too lazy to reread the previous two paragraphs, I'll summarize it for you: we're lazy. That's why, barring very special circumstances, we expend very little energy inventing nicknames. Avoid anything too fancy or thoughtful. Most nicknames are created using the time-honored formula of: Defining Characteristic + The Word "Guy." That defining characteristic may be physical or related to his basketball skills. For instance, let's say your league has a guy who's covered in body hair and a guy who shoots jumpshots almost exclusively. They'll be known as "Hairy Guy" and "Jump Shooting Guy," respectively.

Never underestimate the laziness factor. A nickname also must be easy to say. My buddy Mr. P made up a nickname for me once. Since I often play full-court defense, he started calling me "Ninety-Four Feet of Pain." Ultimately, the nickname was too difficult to say and never caught on. And for that, I'm grateful.

Types of nicknames: There are two types of nicknames in pickup basketball: 1) specific nicknames and 2) generic nicknames.

The specific nickname focuses on a characteristic that is specific to one particular player and probably cannot be applied to others. For instance, let's say there's a guy in your league who has a glass eye (and yes, you will remember this fact but not his name). He, then, would become known as "Glass Eye Guy."

A generic nickname usually identifies a characteristic that can apply to multiple players over time. For instance, let's say there's a guy who has limited skill but plays really hard. He may become known as "Hustle Guy." But if another guy who comes along later who also plays really hard, he might also be called "Hustle Guy" (or "Hustle Guy Number Two" if the first guy is still in the league).

Specific nickname examples: Here are some specific nicknames from my pickup league.

1. Backwards Hat Guy: If you play basketball and wear baseball caps, you've probably tried to play basketball while wearing a baseball cap. It really doesn't work all that well, does it? Yet there's a guy in our league who wears a backwards baseball cap week after week, and has done so for years. The cap has never come off; it's on when he gets there and it's still on when he leaves. I've always wondered whether he's hiding a third eye under that hat.

2. Bandana Guys: By now, you've probably seen those commercials for Nike's Air Force 25 shoes. Now imagine you saw that group of guys walking into your pickup league, only there's no dramatic music, instead of NBA all-stars they're a bunch of topless white dudes, and they're all wearing identical bandanas. Regardless of your stance on homosexuality, you have to admit that's pretty gay.

3. Gheorghe Muresan: Basically, this guy is tall, lanky, has a scraggly goatee, and, well, he looks like Gheorghe Muresan. Ironically, he wears a Clyde Drexler jersey every week. I've never seen him wear anything else. For all I know, he doesn't own anything else. Every once in a while someone will call him "Drexler," but it's not complimentary and it's usually accompanied by a sarcastic laugh.

4. Michigan Guy: The first time this dude showed up to the league, he was wearing a full compliment of Michigan University apparel. I'm talking official replica jersey, shorts, sweatbands...he even had team socks. It didn't help that he was wide-eyed, seemingly mute, and a truly horrific basketball player. The following week he showed up in an official Chicago Bulls uniform, which was too much for even the nicest guys in the league. The ensuing mockery sent him home early and, three years later, he hasn't worn any official gear since. Or gotten any better, for that matter.

5. Partial Hand Guy: This guy is missing about one-third of his shooting hand, yet, amazingly, is one of the best three-point shooters in the league. Since it isn't easy to ask someone why their hand is deformed, we don't know the story behind his missing digits...and we probably never will. However, whatever mutilated his hand also must have damaged the nerve endings in his arm, because he regularly uses his stump to club people on defense. Have you ever gotten clobbered with a huge, lifeless hunk of meat? Take my word for this: it doesn't feel good.

6. Super Mario: Have you ever wondered what the star character of the Super Mario Brothers video game would look like if he was a real person who played basketball? Okay, probably not. But if you did, you could come to my pickup league and see it. The sad thing is, when I first joined the league this guy's nickname was "Magic" because of his ability to hit baby hook shots and make nifty passes. Then he got bacterial meningitis, fell into a coma for six months, and came back a shapeless, flabby shell of his former self. Remember: every pickup basketball player has a story.

7. Fat Shaq: A fat guy who used his size to bully his way inside and snatch lots of rebounds. Very little skill or finesse, but in pickup basketball, size counts for a lot. And yes, I realize the name "Fat Shaq" is an oxymoron.

Generic nickname examples: Here are some generic nicknames that are in continual use in my league:

1. Asshole: Every pickup league has a resident asshole, someone whose behavior is so vile and obnoxious that he is universally disliked. Maybe he calls too many fouls on offense, maybe he commits too many hard fouls on defense, or maybe he does a lot of both. But whatever the case, people in the league hate him from the bottom of his hooves to the top of his pitchfork. And the great part about this nickname is that it's like "Prince" or "Madonna"...when you mention "Asshole" everybody automatically knows who you're talking about.

2. Crazy Defender Guy: This is the guy who devotes all his time and energy to defense. He doesn't follow the Dwyane Wades or Kobe Bryants of the league; he follows the Raja Bells and the Bruce Bowens. He knows all their dirty tricks, too, from stepping on your foot before the play starts or grabbing your jersey when you try to run off of a pick. He's relentless and never gives up an open shot, and everybody hates playing against him.

3. Hustle Guy: This guy works hard. He may not be any good, but you can always count on him to play defense and dive for loose balls. He's usually more self-aware than most pickup basketball players, so he doesn't make any mistakes. You won't be upset if he's on your team.

4: Midget Guy: This nickname doesn't have to refer to an actual midget, just someone who's at least a foot shorter than everybody else.

5. Tattoo Guy: This is a generic lable that can be used for any guy with a tattoo. However, since tattoos have become increasingly popular -- even among middle-aged white guys -- you might have to add a descriptive modifier. For example, your league might have a "Forearm Tattoo Guy" and an "Upper Back Tattoo Guy."

6. The Girl: Just as Halley's Comet only passes by the Earth every 75 years or so before returning to the mysteries of deep space, a lone female players periodically shows up at my pickup leagues. She might play a session or two before returning to something like volleyball or kickboxing. Of course, if she's reasonably attractive, most guys will go out of their way to learn and remember her name, but in private discussions and game recaps she will still be referred to as "The Girl."

7. Three-Point Shooting Guy: This guy has one specialty: the three-point shot. Chances are, he doesn't have a single meaningful skill beyond that, but, since the three-pointer is worth two points in pickup ball (twice as much as any other shot), Three-point Shooting Guy is considered either dangerous (if he's on the other team) or invaluable (if he's on your team). He has absolutely perfected the art of running around and getting open for the three-pointer, and he'll gun it even if he's five feet or more behind the arc (and he'll usually hit it). Of course, all it takes it a commitment to defense (a rare occurrence in pickup ball) to render this guy ineffective. Once people figure out how to defend him, the Three-point Shooting Guy usually departs to find a league where nobody plays D (and there are plenty of them).

Example Conversation: "So last night I was on a team with Super Mario, Michigan Guy, Hustle Guy, and Backwards Hat Guy. Horrible team. The other team was stacked with Three-point Shooting Guy, Crazy Defender Guy, Fat Shaq, Partial Hand Guy and The Girl. Fortunately, Hustle Guy shut down Three-point Shooting Guy and I was able to shut down Fat Shaq. It was close the whole way, and the game was tied at 20-all when The Girl hit an improbably three-pointer to win the game. Man, I hate playing with Super Mario and Michigan Guy. They suck."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Fat Shaq isn't an oxymoron, it's just redundant. An oxymoron is opposites, like jumbo shrimp or skinny Shaq.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
my favorite nickname is "street clothes," which is used for the guy who showed up for a pickup game wearing khakis or sandals or something like that. it's usually heard in sentences like, "let street clothes shoot," and "don't even guard street clothes."

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Good stuff. Don't forget "Old Man". Every court has one: some old guy in vintage Chucks and a headband that hasn't been washed since the Nixon administration. Old Man doesn't move fast but he's always in the right spot to grab the rebound or hit the cutter or get open for his deadly set shot straight out of "Naismith on Basketball." Immensely frustrating to play against, and playing with him you understand how we won WWII.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Fat Shaq: Oxymoron or Redundancy?

Blogger JD said...
Great article. Me? I'm usually called by the name of a white player since I'm usually the only white guy there. I used to be called JJ for JJ Reddick. My playing time was cut to 0 for a few months recently and so was my haircut time. I'm back now with shaggy hair and now I"m Steve Nash or Dirk, depending on which group of black dudes is there.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
old but good ...
(not sure if you've seen it)

kinda the same thing you were talking about.

Anonymous John said...
fat manute bol would be an oxymoron

Anonymous Chris said...
Have one to add sunglasses guy. There's a guy where i play and he always wears sunglasses no matter if it's sunny or not they've gotten knocked off a whole bunch of times but he just puts them back on.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Fat Shaq is not redundant. Shaq has the nick name Shaq Diesel for a reason. It suggest big and strong. Something hard like muscle as compared to fat. So Yes it is a oxymoron. Just like calling a very big person "Tiny". Fat Shaq is a great nick name.