Nicknames have been intertwined with sports since the beginning of time it seems, going all the way back to when Ty Cobb aka ‘The Georgia Peach’ himself torched the base paths in Detroit. Whether it is a rhyme like Stan ‘The Man’ Musial, a simple “Mr. Hockey’ for Gordie Howe, or even a complicated label like ‘The Splendid Splinter’ for Ted Williams, nicknames seem to attach themselves to the best in the game. For some like ‘The Kid’ Ken Griffey Jr, one nickname will follow them throughout their career while others like ‘The Babe’/‘The Great Bambino’/‘The Sultan of Swat’/‘The Titan of Terror’/’The Colossus of Clout’/’The King of Crash’ seem to hog all of the good nicknames. Either way, it seems that the best of the best earn themselves nicknames but some are definitely better than others. With that being said, here are my fifteen best nicknames in sports history.
The Rocket- Roger Clemens
Clemens was in a league of his own for many years with the Red Sox, his blazing fastball coupled with a devastating splitter made Roger a strikeout machine. It was as though his fastball generated enough thrust to become a rocket itself. His 4,672 career strikeouts are good for third best all-time and those strikeouts along with some impressive Yankee lineups earned him a career record of 354-184. Also, to be brutally honest if Clemens had any type of offensive support from Red Sox teams in the 1990s he could’ve pushed 400 wins. Close to 400 wins would shatter the live-ball era win record of 363 (Warren Spahn) and be good for third all-time behind Cy Young (511) and Walter Johnson (417).
The Wizard of Oz- Ozzie Smith
Ozzie Smith was an absolute vacuum at shortstop. In fact, his nickname pays tribute to his defensive abilities. During Smith’s 19 year career he set shortstop records for assists and double plays (the double plays record was later broken by Omar Vizquel), he was named to 15 All Star Games and won 13 Gold Gloves. The Wizard was also well known for his backflip routine in the middle of trotting out to his spot in between second and third base.
15.) Megatron- Calvin Johnson Jr
Megatron was a fantasy football cheat code and well, a freak athlete, and although he recently called it quits on his career, the nickname ‘Megatron’ was about as fitting as nicknames come. Calvin was more or less a Transformer on the gridiron and with one of the best deep ball arms in the game Matt Stafford the Georgia Bulldog and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket connected quite a few times for six. In 2011 and 2012 Calvin Johnson Jr led the league in reception yards with 1,681 yards in ‘11 and 1,984 yards in ‘12 which broke Jerry Rice’s season record of 1,848 yards in 1995.
14.) The Legion of Boom- Seattle Seahawks Secondary
A core-four made up of outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas III, hard hitting strong safety Kam Chancellor and secondary cornerback Brandon Browner wreaked havoc for passing offenses around the NFL in 2014. The elite secondary had some choice words for ‘mediocre’ wide receiver Michael Crabtree after the 2015 NFC Championship Game and led their Seattle Seahawks team to Super Bowl 48. During Super Bowl 48 the Legion of Boom or ‘LOB’ made Peyton Manning look like a Pop Warner placekicker and led a rout of the Denver Broncos 43-8. One of the most entertaining parts of the ‘LOB’ was the swagger they walked around with, they knew they were the best, they knew they could beat you and after they talked the talk they most certainly walked the walk.
13.) The Steel Curtain- Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Line
The Steel Curtain was perhaps the most dominant defensive-line in the history of football. For the Pittsburgh Steelers in the ‘Steel City’ during the 1970s they had a dynasty where they took home four Super Bowls (IX, X, XIII, XIV) in a six year span, and the backbone of that dynasty was The Steel Curtain. Made up of defense tackles ‘Mean Joe’ Greene (another good nickname), and Ernie Holmes as well as defensive-ends L.C. Greenwood, and Dwight Clark. The nickname ‘Steel Curtain’ was a play on a term coined by Winston Churchill, the ‘Iron Curtain’ which split Europe into two main pieces after World War II up until the end of the Cold War.
12.) Mr. October- Reggie Jackson
Being known for other-worldly production in a certain month is a feat in itself but when that month is the most important month in baseball, it embodies the idea of ‘clutch’. Since the MLB Postseason takes place in October, playing your best ball in the late fall can’t hurt your team’s chances on a World Series run. Reggie Jackson earned that nickname from his time with the Yankees. During the 1977 World Series, Jackson clobbered 5 home runs in six games while batting 0.450. Jackson without a doubt took home the MVP honors for the the 1977 Fall Classic and also took home a nickname that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
11.) King James- Lebron James
Royalty for the game of basketball, King James is obviously one of the best players to ever play. Although winning didn’t come early in his career, King’s usually get their way as did James when he sold out to Miami in order to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The trio of James, Wade and Bosh won two championships in four years, giving Lebron his first two rings and first two finals MVP honors. In King James’s relentless pursuit to be the best, he has worn the crown well and most recently knocked off regular season record breakers, the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors.
Proving that the King himself doesn’t plan on going anywhere, although 2016-2017 will be quite the test as the Monstars from Space Jam had a reunion in Dub City but if movies have taught me anything it is that the good guy wins in Space Jam and typically in most movies.
10.) Prime Time- Deion Sanders
Prime Time was truly the first shutdown cornerback and he could consistently with no questions asked, take an opposing wide receiver out of the game entirely. In Deion’s 14 year career, he had 58 interceptions for a plethora of teams which included the Falcons, the 49ers, the Cowboys, the Redskins, and the Ravens. Sanders, other than being known for his ability to excel at intercepting passes was incredibly fast (Sanders ran track along with playing football and baseball at Florida State) with a great closing speed when defending passes. Anytime Deion Sanders played was appointment television hence the nickname, Prime Time.
9.) The Black Mamba- Kobe Bryant
A Black Mamba is a cold-blooded, venomous snake that is extremely lethal, a bite from a black mamba typically causes death within 7-15 hours. Unlike other nicknames, Kobe actually gave himself the nickname of Black Mamba. Mr. Bryant got the idea after watching the movie ‘Kill Bill’ oddly enough. In the film, black mamba was a codename for an agile and aggressive assassin, and Kobe after researching the reptile, wanted his game to be just like the description of a black mamba. Since the nickname took off, Kobe has released ‘Black Mamba’ shoes and after his retirement Los Angeles held a ‘Mamba Day’ on August 24th (8/24 both were numbers worn by Kobe during his career). An assassin in basketball is a complement for a great long range shooter and being cold-blooded means that you’re clutch so The Black Mamba is a perfect nickname for a generational talent and winner like Kobe Bryant.
8.) Iron Mike- Mike Tyson
No other boxer shot up the ranks in the boxing world faster than Mike Tyson. Iron Mike made his boxing debut at the age of 18 years old and was known for incredibly powerful punches along with unquestioned accuracy and an underrated defensive repertoire. In Tyson’s first 28 professional fights (all of which he won) he won 26 of them via KO or TKO, and 16 of those fights ended in the first round. At 20 years old, Iron Mike became the youngest heavyweight champion ever and won his first 37 professional fights until finally being upset by Buster Douglas in 1990 (great trivia question). As for the nickname itself, in the boxing industry ‘iron’ is definitely intimidating because as we have all heard, iron sharpens iron and nobody wants to hit or get hit by iron. Due to Tyson’s brute strength, many other boxers feared him and his Peek-a-Boo style of fighting made it even more of a nightmare to go face to face with him in the ring.
7.) Shoeless Joe- Joe Jackson
Known mostly for his infamous involvement or noninvolvement in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, Shoeless Joe Jackson remains to be one of the best players to ever lace up the cleats (or maybe not because of the whole shoeless thing). Joe Jackson was one of the best hitters in his generation which is saying a lot due to the fact that he played in an era with Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Babe Ruth said that he modeled his swing after that of Shoeless Joe Jackson, that is some high praise from arguably the best player to ever play. One of my favorite stories about Shoeless Joe was that after Jackson was banned from baseball, him and his wife opened and operated ‘Joe Jackson’s Liquor Store’. One day, Ty Cobb walked into his store and Jackson didn’t acknowledge him at all, Cobb and Jackson were close during their playing days. Finally, Ty Cobb beside himself asked Joe if he knew who he was and Joe responded that of course he did, but rather he wasn’t sure if Cobb wanted to know him since many baseball players were disgusted with the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Shoeless Joe got his nickname after getting blistered feet from new cleats, and after getting fed up with the poor fit of the cleats he took them off before an at-bat and he finished the game in his socks, he hit a triple…. in his socks.
6.) The Great One- Wayne Gretzky
Many believe Wayne Gretzky to be the best hockey player ever, and the fact that he still holds 60 records in the NHL definitely backs that idea up. The Great One scored 92 goals in a single season and also notched 163 assists in a different season. During Gretzky’s career he totaled 894 goals and 1,963 assists giving him 2,857 points and an unreal plus/minus of 518. It is one thing to be widely known as the best hockey player but it is another to have your nickname spell it out. It definitely doesn’t hurt your ego to be called The Great One every now and then.
5.) Sweetness- Walter Payton
Whether the nickname sprouted from his grace on the field or his personality I don’t know, although if I had to guess it would be for his personality. The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is given out at the conclusion of every NFL season to a player in order to honor their charity work and/or volunteering habits. Either way, ‘Sweetness’ is a smooth nickname for this nine-time Pro Bowler, two-time MVP and one-time Super Bowl Champion (XX). Payton got his nickname while playing college football for Jackson State, and during his time at Jackson State he accounted for 46 points in one game scoring seven rushing touchdowns with a pair of two-point conversions. Jackson State defeated Lane College 72-0 that day. Obviously Payton is most widely known for his time playing for the Chicago Bears sporting the number 34, but maybe he is just as well known for being a class act.
4.) The Answer- Allen Iverson
A.I. got the nickname of The Answer by simply being the answer to the 76ers prayers and the answer to his high school friends and family’s prayers. Although in basketball, an answer is something much more, once somebody makes a big play you typically need an answer of some sort. Iverson was THE Answer and was a one-man team during his years in Philadelphia but for the most part, he was a one-man team everywhere he went. Iverson still managed to drag an otherwise unimpressive 2001 76ers roster to the NBA finals only to lose in five games to a Laker team with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The Answer won the NBA MVP award for the 2000-2001 season. Iverson is easily the best basketball player ever to never win an NBA Championship, although not for lack of trying. The former Georgetown Hoya was an eleven-time NBA All Star and led the league in scoring four times.
3.) Pistol Pete- Pete Maravich
I’m not sure whether or not it is the subject or alliteration but I have always thought that the nickname ‘Pistol Pete’ was insanely cool. Maravich is extremely well known for his ball handling ability and his incredible collegiate numbers. The LSU Tiger during his three seasons set the NCAA Division I record for most points ever with 3,667 points giving him 44.2 points per game, all before the addition of the three-point line. Maravich still took long range shots and according to shot charts from his time at LSU, if the three-point line had existed, his PPG as a Tiger would have been an astounding 57 points per game. After being drafted third overall in 1970 into the NBA, Pistol Pete played for the Hawks, the Jazz and the Celtics. Boston Celtics great and Basketball Hall of Famer, John Havlicek said that Pistol Pete was the best ball-handler of all-time.
2.) Phi Slama Jama- University of Houston Basketball
From 1982 to 1984 the University of Houston Cougars made the NCAA Final Four behind the above-the-rim playstyle and the dynamic duo of Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. The nickname itself is a play on words for a fraternity which makes perfect sense for college hoops team especially one that was known for their slam dunks and athleticism. Phi Slama Jama helped increase the college basketball following with their extremely entertaining play style. Although some coaches such as John Wooden were not fans of dunking and dissuaded their players from doing it, University of Houston coach Guy Lewis encouraged his players to dunk because it was an extremely high percentage shot. The members of Phi Slama Jama were influenced by ABA great Julius Erving. Clyde, Hakeem and company preferred fast breaks to running plays and dunks to jump shots, in general Phi Slama Jama felt that athleticism could make up for mechanical deficiencies. The University of Houston Cougars in the early 1980s went down in history as one of the best and most exciting collegiate basketball teams ever.
1.) Murderer’s Row- New York Yankees Lineup
The 1927 New York Yankees are probably the best team ever, they boasted an unprecedented offensive lineup paired with a great pitching staff and ended up sending six players to Cooperstown, New York to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The nickname Murderer’s Row was given to the batting order of the scary good and scary dangerous ‘27 Yanks. Headlined by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig batting third and fourth, the two combined for 107 home runs, 339 runs batted in and 410 hits. Supporting characters Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri weren’t known for their power but combined for another 407 hits during the 1927 season on their way to Hall of Fame careers. As if the lineup wasn’t scary enough, they had to have a nickname like ‘Murderer’s Row’. As an opposing pitcher, getting both Ruth and Gehrig out back to back is about as daunting as tasks come. The historic offense outscored their opponents 975-599 en route to a 110-44 record, as a team the ‘27 Yankees batted 0.307, and slugged 0.498. The cherry on top of their offense was their pitching which led the league in ERA at 3.20. Ruth had a historic season, blasting 60 home runs which was the single season homer record until 1961, when New York Yankee Roger Maris hit 61 in a 162 game schedule (the ‘27 Yankees played a 154 game schedule). Although Ruth sent more souvenirs into the stands, his teammate Lou Gehrig took home the MVP honors, hitting 47 home runs of his own but besting Ruth in RBIs with 175 (Ruth had 164) and batting average with 0.373 (Ruth 0.354).
So what did you think of my list? I know that I left some nicknames off but it was really taxing to narrow it down to fifteen, I had a few other groups that it was tough to leave off of this list, for example the Fab Five (University of Michigan Men’s Basketball Team) or the Fierce Five (the 2012 US Women’s Gymnastics Team). Either way, nicknames are a great part of sports and a very underrated one at that. Comment below or tweet us @N2KSports to let me know your favorite nicknames in sports history.
Cover Photo via USA Today
Various Photos via Dirty Water Media, Keyword Suggestions, Pintrest, Cover 32, Locker Dome, Yanks Go Yard, Esquire, Champs Sports, YouTube, Reference, Jaden’s Adventures, Bill McCurdy, Wally Cronin, MUT Head, Smittys Sports Machine, Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, Covers and Sioux City Journal
Various GIFs via Gifrific, Giphy and Tumblr