The 20 Greatest Sports Nicknames
Today’s Wrant is going to be a fun one and the longest one I have written. One of my favorite parts of watching sports is the nicknames that all the greats go by. Today I will rank my Top 20 favorite nicknames.
- Detroit Pistons – “The Bad Boys”
“I hate Bill Laimbeer” was probably the most uttered phrase in NBA locker rooms in the late 80s. The Bad Boys were led by Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman, and boy were they nasty. They would push, punch, trip, and elbow to get the edge on their opponents. Michael Jordan said that he learned what playoff basketball was about from the Bad Boys. They won the NBA Finals in 1989 and 1990, defining the era’s grit and grind mentality. The Bad Boys embraced the hate they got, and gave us a nickname for the ages.
- Boston Celtics – “The Boston Three Party”
What do you get when you already have Paul “The Truth” Pierce and you trade for Kevin “The Big Ticket” Garnett and Ray “Jesus Shuttlesworth” Allen? You get to trade three great nicknames for a Legendary Nickname. Coined by Scott Van Pelt in an ESPN commercial, the Boston Three Party would go on to win the 2008 NBA Finals and cement their legacy as one of the greatest “Big Threes” in NBA history.
- New York Yankees – “The Bronx Bombers”
Even if you live under a rock, chances are you have seen the classic NY logo of the New York Yankees. Every town, village, and commune in America has at least one fan of the Bronx Bombers. There are few ballparks more iconic than Old Yankee Stadium, constructed in 1922 and situated in the heart of the Bronx in New York City. Players like Babe Ruth, Mikey Mantle and Lou Gehrig were so prolific at hitting Home Runs that the team became synonymous with the term, earning the nickname of the Bronx Bombers. Speaking of the Yankees…
- George Herman Ruth – “Babe”, “The Great Bambino”, “The Sultan of Swat”
I could probably write a whole article on the Great Babe Ruth’s many nicknames. The man who famously cursed the Boston Red Sox after he was traded earned every nickname he was given. His 714 Home Runs are third all-time in MLB history, has the second most RBIs in League history with 2,214, and he has 7 World Series Championships. One of the greatest to play the game, The Sultan brought baseball into its status as “America’s Pastime”.
- Dikembe Mutombo – “Mount Mutombo”
Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo (Yes, that is his full name) is second all time in the NBA with 3,289 blocks. Selected by the Denver Nuggets 4th overall in 1991, Mutombo quickly earned fame as one of the NBAs most prolific shot blockers. With his iconic finger wag and “NO, NO, NO” opposing players would think twice about going into the paint with Mount Mutombo planted firmly in front of the basket. Dikembe earned 4 defensive players of the year, and, perhaps more importantly, earned a spot on my list of Greatest Nicknames.
- St. Louis Rams – “The Greatest Show on Turf”
In 1999, QB Trent Green went down for the season, causing many to believe that the St. Louis Rams would be a bottom dwelling team. Enter Mr. Kurt Warner, grocery bagger extraordinaire, who proceeded to throw for 41 touchdowns to Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt, lighting up defenses with an awesome aerial attack. Adding the production of Marshall Faulk, who had 2,429 yards from scrimmage, The Greatest Show on Turf went on to defeat the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV and set numerous NFL records. The core would last for two more years, losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. The following season Kurt Warner was traded, and the Greatest Show was permanently canceled, but not before ushering in a new era of Passing to the NFL.
- Vince Carter – “Half Man-Half Amazing”, “Vinsanity”
What do we watch the NBA for? Set plays run to perfection? Precision passing? Well, yes. However, at every fans core, we all watch for the Slam Dunk. Who doesn’t jump out of their seat when a fast break dunk is jammed down? If you watched Vince Carter, you were out of your seat constantly. Winner of the 1999 Rookie of the Year award, this 8 time NBA All Star was electrifying on the court. His most notable dunk came in the 2000 Olympics, were he jumped clear over 7’2’’ Frederic Weis and slammed it home. He won the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, with his famous “It’s Over” dunk, going between the legs and telling the camera “it’s over”. It was. One of the most prolific dunkers in the games, Vince Carter is truly Half Amazing.
- Cincinnati Reds – “The Big Red Machine”
The 1970 MLB season saw the Reds field Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Pérez. This foursome led the Reds to the World Series and the creation of the Big Red Machine. Supported by Dave Concepción, George Foster, César Gerónimo and Ken Griffey, Sr, the “Great Eight” of the Reds went to 5 World Series and won in 1975 and 76. They dominated the 70s with 953 wins, steamrolling opponents with the precision of a well-oiled machine. Rose may never get into the Hall of Fame, but he can take solace in the fact that he contributed to the creation of one of the best sports nicknames ever.
- Usain Bolt – “The Fastest Man Alive”
You might have missed Usain Bolt. He’s usually a blur. Setting the World Record for the 100 meter at 9.58 seconds, Usain Bolt is the real life Flash. He also has the World Record in the 200 meter at 19.19 seconds. Every time he finishes a race, I’m surprised the track isn’t on fire. He has turned running into an art form, winning a total of 23 gold medals in the world’s most prestigious competitions. After winning his seventh straight title in the 100 and 200, Bolt proclaimed “I'm now a legend. I'm also the greatest athlete to live,” and I find it hard to disagree with the Fastest Man Alive.
11A. University of Houston “Phi Slama Jama” and 11B. University of Louisville “Doctors of Dunk”
The early 1980s saw the rise of a faster paced style of basketball, characterized by fast breaks and players flying through the air to flush the ball down through the hoop with authority. The University of Houston had Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler leading the charge for the World’s Tallest Fraternity “Phi Slama Jama” while Rodney and Scooter McCray were earning the nicknames of the “Doctors of Dunk”. These two schools wowed audiences with their fast paced style. The teams met in the 1983 Final Four, flying up and down the court with Houston winning 94 to 81. At one point, Houston dunked six times in a row, finishing the game with 14 total dunks, unheard of in that era. Today’s game of basketball has been heavily influenced by the style of these two high flying teams.
- Los Angeles Rams – “The Fearsome Foursome”
In 1963 the Los Angeles Rams acquired Rosey Grier from the New York Giants and quickly became one of the most feared defensive fronts of all time. Along with Lamar Lundy, Deacon Jones, and Merlin Olsen the Fearsome Foursome wrecked the backfields of opposing offenses. Deacon “The Secretary of Defense” Jones is credited with coining the term “Sack”. In his words: “You take all the offensive linemen and put them in a burlap bag, and then you take a baseball bat and beat on the bag. You’re sacking them, you’re bagging them. And that’s what you’re doing with a quarterback.” The Los Angeles Rams won Seven Straight division titles, and the Fearsome Foursome won a place in Nickname History.
- Julius Erving – “Dr. J”
Dr. J earned his nickname in the “Basketball Mecca” of Rucker Park. He started his professional career with the Virginia Squires of the ABA and was traded to the New York Nets. When the Nets joined the NBA, they were forced by the New York Knicks to pay $4.8 million for “invading the New York NBA market”. The Nets offered to give them Erving, which the Knicks refused, which is widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in Knicks history. Dr. J went to Philadelphia, where he would team up with Moses Malone in 1983, winning the NBA Championship. His Baseline Layup and Rock the Baby slam dunk are considered two of the NBA’s most iconic moments. Dr. J brought the concept of the “slam” dunk to the mainstream, and his legacy still stands today.
- Denver Broncos – “Orange Crush”
What do an Orange flavored soft drink and a punishing Broncos defense have in common? Not much. Unless the soda was holding teams to 10.6 points a game and securing a place in Super Bowl XII. Denver was a force to be reckoned with, and the Orange Crush was causing headaches for Running Backs everywhere. Led by Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson, this defense earned the nickname by crushing RBs and QBs into submission, and also earning them a spot in the Nickname Hall of Fame.
- David Ortiz – “Big Papi”
Remember how Babe Ruth cursed the Red Sox? Big Papi is the man who broke the curse. Down 3 games to 0 in the ALCS, in the bottom of the 12th inning of Game 4 David Ortiz hit a walk off 2 run homerun. The Red Sox would go on to win the next 3 games and earn the right to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, who they dispatched in a 4 game sweep. He would go on to win two more World Series, winning the World Series MVP in 2013. His 23 walk off hits and 541 Home Runs cemented him as a Boston Legend, and gave him one of the all-time great nicknames.
- Mike Tyson – “Kid Dynamite”, “Iron Mike”, “The Baddest Man on the Planet”
His style is impetuous, his defense is impregnable, and he is just ferocious. Widely regarded as one of the greatest Heavyweights to ever compete, Mike Tyson was a force to be reckoned with. Posting a 50-6-2 record, Iron Mike recorded 44 of his wins by Knock Out. Tyson was the first heavyweight boxer to simultaneously hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles. He is one of boxing’s most outgoing personalities, calling out opponents before fighting them. The Baddest Man on the Planet is still outgoing, and it seems that he still may be able to get in the ring and go a few rounds.
- Houston Rockets – “Clutch City”
“Don’t ever underestimate the Heart of a Champion”. The words of Rudy Tomjanovich after the Houston Rockets second title run in 1995 is now associated with Houston, Texas. In the 1994 playoffs, Houston fell down 0-2 to the Barkley led Phoenix Suns, causing the newspapers to dub the team “Choke City”. The Rockets came back to win in seven games, eventually going on to win the Finals. In the 1995 season, Houston was the sixth seed. They beat the 60 win Utah Jazz in the first round, and the 59 win Suns in the second round becoming the first team to overcome both a 2–0 and a 3–1 series deficit in a seven-game series during the same postseason. In the Conference Finals, they beat the 62 win San Antonio Spurs led by League MVP David Robinson. Then, in the Finals, they swept Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic, becoming the first sixth seed to win the Finals, and turning “Choke City” into Clutch City.
- Wayne Gretzky – “The Great One”
Here’s a mind boggling stat: If you took away all of Wayne Gretzky’s goals, he would still be the all-time points leader in the NHL. With 2,857 points, he has almost 1000 points than second place. He holds 40 regular season records and 16 post season records. People who have never watched Hockey know the name Wayne Gretzky. He has so many accomplishments that Wikipedia has to have a series of articles on his hockey career. When he retired in 1999, he was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, making him one of the only players to have the waiting period waived. The NHL retired his number 99 jersey league wide, making him the only NHL player with that honor. Calling him The Great One might be an understatement, but there is no word in the English language that can accurately describe the accomplishments of Wayne Gretzky.
- Hakeem Olajuwon – “The Dream”
It’s no coincidence that two of Hakeem’s teams (Phi Slama Jama and Clutch City) have already been on this list. The 7 foot tall Nigerian born basketball player made the game look easy. He led the Houston Rockets to the Finals three times, winning two in 1994 and 95. He ended his career as the all-time leader in blocks, with 3,830, a record that still stands today. He was a 12 time NBA All Star and won the MVP in 1994. In college led the University of Houston to 2 Finals appearances. His Dream Shake regularly stymied opponents, most famously in the 1995 Western Conference Finals when announcer Bill Worrell exclaimed “Olajuwon has David Robinson just bamboozled!” He moved around the court effortlessly, despite being 7 feet tall, which earned him the moniker of The Dream. He can still be seen around Houston, where many regard him as a Living Legend.
- Brett Favre – “The Gunslinger”
Brett Favre and reckless throws, name a more iconic duo. The ultimate NO NO NO YES quarterback, Brett Favre was the jean wearing every man that every fan could connect with. Throwing for almost 72,000 yards and 508 touchdowns in his career, Favre was electrifying to watch. He made an NFL game seem like a backyard sandlot game, throwing on the run and making plays that would make you check your eyesight, because you weren’t sure if you saw it right. The word Gunslinger invokes a vision of the fast and loose cowboys of the Wild West, and that’s how Favre played, often outdueling his opponent on the draw. He led the Green Bay Packers to a 2 Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI throwing for 246 yards and 2 touchdowns while finishing with a passer rating of 107.9. Favre was the player you wanted making the last throw, because he would take any chance, no matter how ridiculous. Sometimes this would result in an interception, but the reward was always greater than the risk. The Gunslinger made the game fun, and as fans that’s all we ever want.
- Michael Jordan – “Air Jordan”, “His Airness”
You see it everywhere. The Jumpman Logo. Few nicknames are as iconic as Air Jordan. You know the stats. 6 rings, 5 MVPS, 14 time All Star, Rookie of the Year, I could go on and on. He has two Slam Dunk Contest wins, with his famous free throw line dunk highlighting his appearances. He has many iconic moments in his career: The Flu Game, The Shot, The Shrug, The Last Shot. Two Three Peats. He knows Bugs Bunny. This man ruled the 90s. Seriously, look at pictures from the 90s. If you don’t see a Chicago Bulls hat or jacket in the majority of them, I’ll be shocked. Every young player wanted to be Mike and every NBA player wanted to beat Mike. He was the epitome of dominance. He wasn’t just a player; he was a brand. He was His Airness. He was the Jumpman. He was Air Jordan.
Thank you dear readers for indulging with me. I love discussing sports nicknames and the history behind them. If you have any interesting nicknames and stories behind them, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Officials Depot on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.