Ever since the great Dr James Naismith first attached a basket 10 feet off the ground, basketball culture has grown, matured, and developed. Part of this culture has involved the uses of nicknames assigned to certain players. These names are always related to something about the respective player. Sometimes it can be how they play, such as Michael “Air” Jordan, referencing Michael’s athleticism and ability to jump and hang in the air. Sometimes it can be a name given to them by another player, like when Shaquille O’Neal dubbed Paul Pierce “The Truth” after dropping 42 points on the then World Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Some nicknames on the list have appeared due to positive things about that player, but over time have become a parody of themselves.
A nickname is usually worn with pride. It usual symbolizes something positive about your game. However, there are however some painfully cringe-worthy exceptions. So without further ado, here is my list of five worst nicknames.
5. Karl Malone - The Mailman
At 6 foot 9 inches and weighing it at 250 pounds, Karl Malone was one the most physically dominant players we have ever seen. He had the physique of LeBron James, and the rest of the league felt its prowess during the 80s and 90s.
With career averages of 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Utah Jazz, Malone was a force on the court for nearly two decades, earning 14 All-Star selections, 2 MVPs and retired as the second highest scorer in NBA history. He was the received on the quintessential pick-and-roll duo that was Stockton and Malone. It was this production that lead to him being dubbed “The Mailman” because he always delivered.
Except when it mattered most.
In game one of the 1998 NBA finals, the Jazz were facing the Chicago Bulls for the second straight year. Malone was at the free-throw line with the game on the line, the Scottie Pippen whispered in his ear, “The mailman doesn’t deliver on Sunday.” Malone missed both free throws, and Michael Jordan hit a game-winner at the buzzer.
Malone appeared in three Finals during his career, and came out the loser in every one of them. He never managed to deliver Utah a championship during his tenure there and has gone down in history as the greatest player to never win a ring.
4. Glen Davis – Big Baby
Glen Davis was certainly entertaining to watch. His bubbly personality and clumsy style of play made him a very polarizing player for someone who only averaged 8 points and 4.4 rebounds throughout his short NBA career. Weighing in at nearly 290 pounds he certainly wasn’t the nimblest player on the court. In fact, it’s because of his size that he got his nickname.
When Davis was just 9 years old he was 5 foot 6 inches tall and weighed roughly 160 pounds. Due to his sizable stature, he couldn’t play pee-wee basketball, so instead played as a senior. When Davis felt like he was being bullied by the older players his coach was known to say “stop crying, you big baby.”
This sounds really tough on Davis. He was expected to play against much older, more physically mature players who would undoubtedly use this to their advantage. However, once he got to the pro’s his babyish reputation came with him.
Davis was incredibly fortunate to end up on the 2007/8 Boston Celtics team that went on to win the NBA title in the best season turnaround in NBA history. This team featured many hall of famers such as Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and it was the latter which brought out the baby again in Davis.
During a regular season game vs Portland, Garnett yelled at Davis during a timeout telling him to get more involved. After play had resumed, Davis was seen on the bench, visibly upset with a towel on his head.
Davis is an NBA champion and at one point was averaging 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds for a championship contending team, but he has never managed to live down his nickname. He’s even admitted now that he didn’t take his career that seriously, that certainly is quite childish.
3. Steve Francis – The Franchise
Steve Francis to me symbolizes one of the worst periods of basketball that the NBA has seen. During the early 2000s, the league was dominated by players who shot first and ask questions later. They had seen Michael Jordan eviscerate players in one on one scenarios during the 90s, and they wanted to replicate that.
Players like Francis, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Stephon Marbury were notorious for trying to get theirs and seeing their teammates as just another means to score the ball. This era promoted selfishness, not teamwork and I am very thankful that we do not live with that style of play in today’s NBA.
Francis was a protagonist during this era. He was named “The Franchise” due to a combination of his name (Francis) and the fact that he was thought to be the main building block of his team (The Houston Rockets).
Unfortunately for him but fortunately for the league, this didn’t work out.
Francis was traded to the Orlando Magic after just five seasons with the Rockets and then bounced around a few other teams before retiring. NBA teams and player learned from this that ball handlers that look to shoot a lot of bad shots will not get you success, and Francis is a prime example of this.
2. Phil Jackson – The Zen Master
Phil Jackson, although he was a player, is remembered more for his coaching than his playing. With 11 rings to his name he is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time and is widely regarded as one of the best basketball minds of our time.
Jackson earned his nickname “The Zen Master” because of his holistic approach to basketball that was influenced by eastern philosophy. He was a firm believer that the sum of the team working together on the court was greater than the sum of the individual parts. His 11 rings were a testament to his style.
But recently things have gone awry.
For the last two seasons, Jackson hasn’t lived up to his nickname of the Zen Master. To be honest he hasn’t been the master of anything. As the newly appointed president of basketball operations for the ever-struggling New York Knicks, he was seen as the guy who could turn them around from being a laughing stock both on and off the court.
But alas, nothing has changed.
In fact, Jackson seems to have actually contributed to the constant comedy. Jackson had achieved so much success by implementing the triangle offense with his players. This system allowed his best ballers to maximize their touches close to the rim for easy scores or to make cutting passes. It was a sure-fire….when he had Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant as the main scorer.The triangle collapses when used with lower quality players, and it’s Jackson who has taken most of the blame.
On the surface, it looks like Phil Jackson should be even more appreciative of the players that have won him titles, and every game he fails to bring success to Madison Square Garden is another dent in the legacy of the so-called “Zen Master.”
1. Brian Scalabrine – The White Mamba
The internet is probably going to destroy me on this one, but I just don’t like Scal’s nickname. Given to him by Bull’s broadcaster Stacey King, many a meme and tribute has arisen in praise of this slow, plodding power forward who never averaged more than 6.3 points per game.
I guess it’s just a huge parody of his playing career, given that his ‘side-kick’ is the Black Mamba aka Kobe Bryant. Maybe I need to lighten up a bit.
Scalabrine is the GOAT. He could average 50 points a game if he wanted to. We are all witnesses. When Larry Bird said that Michael Jordan was “God disguised as Michael Jordan”, he was really referring to our Lord and Saviour that is Brian Scalabrine. All hail. Peace out, good night.
All stats researched from Basketball Reference.