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What's in an NBA Nick-Name?  Part IV, A-D

Once upon a time in all sports, nick-names were the thing. Some came from the physical look of athletes, others from their place of origin, others still from their accomplishments on the court. Nowadays, NBA nick-names are not as colorful and definitely much less in evidence.  Herewith, a trip down memory lane on a nomenclature ride.

"THE ADMIRAL"  Former  San Antonio Spur star David Robinson was called this because of his Naval Academy roots and leadership skills on the court.

ALL-WORLD   Lloyd Free, National Basketball Association free soul, who learned his basketball on the sidewalks of New York, gave himself this nickname. Free was a little man in a world of giants who  considered his "rainbow shot," which went high in the air and down at the basket, worthy of the nickname he dreamed up.

"BAD BOYS"  The rough and tough style of play of the Detroit Pistons coached by Chuck Daly in the late 1980s-early '90s  that included Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, John Salley, and Dennis Rodman earned the team that name.

"BARON, THE" A strong-minded individual whose Kentucky teams rank among the greatest in the history of college basketball, Adolph Rupp's nickname came from his imperial manner and his record of success. "I know I have plenty of enemies," he once said, "but I'd rather be the most hated winning coach in the country than the most popular losing one." Rupp's teams made more appearances in the NCAA tournament than any other coach's; he produced more than two dozen All Americans.

"BIG DIPPER" His full name was Wilton Norman Chamberlain. He was born in 1936 in Philadelphia and grew up to be 7-1 and 275 pounds. Voted in as one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. His nickname was the Big Dipper, and he named his Los Angeles mansion Ursa Major, the astronomic term for the Big Dipper constellation.  There was a retractable roof over Chamberlain's bed  - Big Dipper watching Big Dipper.                                                                               
"BIG "E" At 6'9" and 230 pounds, Elvin Hayes was an intimidating performer in the NBA. The former University of Houston All-American, a fine shooter and rebounder, earned his nickname for his size, performance, and appeal.

"BIG FELLA"  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had this nickname because of his size. Others were "Cap" and "The Captain" for his leadership.

"BIG GAME JAMES" The former LA Laker star James Worthy rose to the occasion 
in prime time moments. 

BIG "O" THE Oscar Robertson was big at 6'5" and 205  pounds, but the nickname all of basketball knew him by came more from his big skills than his size. Robertson was a great shooter, a great passer, and a tremendous defensive player. Former Boston Celtic coach Red Auerbach once remarked, "He's so great he scares me. He can beat you all by himself and usually does." Robertson was selected to the All-Star team each year of his playing career and that was just another reason for his nickname--the Big "O" stood not for zero, but for oh!

"BIG SMOOTH" The large Sam Perkins played for several NBA teams always with grace and ease.
"BIG TICKET"  Kevin Garnett came into the NBA as a teenager and was called "Da Kid." His more permanent  nickname derived from the skills and showmanship he displayed over the decades.

"THE CHIEF"  Robert Parrish starred for the Celtics and took charge, hence the nickname.  He had a stern, no-nonsense look on his face reminding teammates of the Indian Chief from the movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."          

"CLARK KENT"  Kurt Rambis wore safety type glasses a la Superman's alter ego, hence the nickname. He was also called "blue-collar Kurt," for his lunch pail work ethic.   
CLYDE During the late 1960's and early 1 970's Walt Frazier of the New York Knickerbockers epitomized the cool, calculated precision of a daring basketball player. During his prime, the movie "Bonnie and Clyde," about a bankrobbing duo, was popular. Frazier's facial hair, his elegant dress off the basketball court, his flashy car and mod ways, earned for him the nickname Clyde. He would steal the basketball, pass brilliantly, perform best under pressure, display an unruffled manner--all of which were the sporting counterparts to the characteristics of the movie antihero Clyde.                                                                       
"DR. J." Agile and talented Julius Erving, one of the premier stars first of the American Basketball Association and then in the NBA, could do tricks with a basketball. Neither his first nor his last name conjures up images of a driving, talented, cool basketball player. Thus, the "Dr." stems from what he did with a basketball.
"DOLLAR BILL" Born July 28, 1943 in Crystal City, Missouri, Bill Bradley was a fine athlete almost from the start. An incredible high school basketball player, he could have probably gone to any college in America on a basketball scholarship. But he chose Princeton and paid his own way since Ivy League schools did not offer athletic scholarships. He led Princeton to three Ivy League titles, averaged 30.1 points a game and was a two-time All-American. The only junior, he was the captain of the 1964 gold medal winning U.S. Olympic team.
His contract with the New York Knickerbockers called for $500,000 for four year's work, but the nickname given Bill Bradley was not for the money he earned but for the money he saved. While other NBA stars drove flashy cars and sported ever more lavish wardrobes, Bradley lived simply and dressed even more simply. His apartment, one friend said, "looked like a Holiday Inn room before the maid shows up."
Bradley reportedly used paper clips when his cuff buttons gave out. There was a precedent for his behavior. While a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford for two years, Bradley lived out of what was called "a large and appallingly messy suitcase." He had more important things on his mind than style and consumer comforts. Bradley led New York to NBA titles and was the toast of New York. But in his time as a Knick, Bradley never did a commercial. He was very conscious even then of his image. He even had a special clause in his contract that said he did not have to do any endorsements.
"THE DREAM"  Hakeem Olajuwon starred for the Houston Rockets, a big man who dominated on both sides of the court with a combination of power and finesse. He is the all-time leader in blocked shots. 
"DUNKIN' DUTCHMAN"  Rik Smits, former NBA star, earned the nick-name, for his Dutch roots and seven foot plus size.


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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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