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Why Are These Nicknames Different From All Other Nicknames?

Mar 31, 2010 – 7:45 PM
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As I've discussed elsewhere, the Bible is a great place to grab nicknames from. It's also the source of possibly the most durable of sports writing cliches -- "the Promised Land" -- but that's a story for another day.

Today, Omri Caspi and several million other Jews are on their third day of Passover, an eight-day holiday celebrating when the Lord took their ancestors out of the land of Egypt, where they were slaves. It's the inspiration for the song "Let My People Go," the movie Exodus, and the Bob Marley song "Exodus." Actually, if you like reggae, you will like Passover.

But by far the coolest thing about Passover is the Ten Plagues. When Pharaoh wouldn't listen to Moses, who by then had already turned a stick into a snake and talked to a blazing shrub, the Lord stepped in and let the Egyptians have it. He started off easy, destroying their ecosystem by turning all rivers into blood. No dice. So He made a bunch of frogs appear (which was somehow worse than rivers of blood), and that too left the tyrant unmoved. So the plagues got worse and worse, until something so awful happened that even Pharaoh had to relent.

I know, this is touchy subject matters. I wouldn't want to condone organized religion, fuse Church and State, offend any observant Jews, or defile the memory of the ancient Egyptians. However, the Plagues are solid gold from a nickname perspective. Behold, my suggestions for how this humble holiday could be turned into a sports-marketing bonanza:

1. John "Rivers of Blood" Wall. I know, Wall's not even pro yet, and at the moment, his stock is dripping downward. But I stand by my conviction -- an oddly religious one -- that in the wide-open NBA, John Wall will be both strange, terrifying, and a source of forward motion both elemental (speedy passing guard) and not quite right (the Dwyane Wade-like athleticism). His drives to the basket will be not simply bad, but evil; his presence, felt up and down the court.

Anderson Varejao2. Anderson "Frogs" Varejao. Again, it's one of this holiday's great mysteries as to why a bunch of frogs does more damage than rivers of blood. The answer lies in the original text, Exodus 7:1-4: "They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will go up on you and your people and all your officials." In short, they bounce around, flop about, and make life hard for the officials. That sounds a lot like the Cavaliers' energy player and chief irritant, Anderson Varejao.

3. Marreese "Lice" Speights.
This is a tough one, since of all the plagues, it's the one that sounds the most like an insult. Lice aren't awesome, or weird, they just make life unpleasant. However, I think "lice" works really well with "Marreese Speights" from a strictly sonic standpoint. "The Lice" also works. Also, lice are like fleas, and in a flea circus, the bugs run around a lot. That's kind of how I conceive of Speights' impressive motor -- the spirit of a smaller, zippier player in a big body.

4. There already was a "flies", or at least a Fly. James "Fly" Williams was a New York legend who, during his brief tenure in the ABA, rivaled Marvin Barnes for all-out craziness. He ended up a cautionary tale for just about everything involving the inner city and tons of raw basketball ability. Today, Williams might be best known for his role in Rick Telander's Heaven Is a Playground, in which he figures prominently. He also has a book of his own. "Flies" could also be mistaken for "Flight," as in James "Flight" White, who seems headed down a less dire version of Fly's path into obscurity.

DeJuan Blair5. DeJuan "Livestock Death" Blair. Now we're back on track. DeJuan Blair may not be the biggest dude on the court (well, at least not the tallest). But when he gets position in the paint, it doesn't matter that he's 6'7", and lacks the knees to up high at all. He can barely see past the armpits of, say, Andrew Bynum, but in the end, it's Blair who ends up with the rebound. They are lumbering, dumb, inefficient. He makes short shrift of them like that scene in Hud. Note: Russell Westbrook is the runner-up, and it works for him on the boards and on offense. Except they don't electrocute cows any more.

6. The next one is boils, and again, this one's pretty much taken. Bruce Bowen was nicknamed "The Rash" -- by former teammate Sean Elliot, no less. That tells you a lot abut Bowen, and the Spurs, but more importantly, it explains how all these awful, disgusting afflictions could be good nicknames. In many ways, it was the inspiration for this post. Thank you, Sean and Bruce, for bringing us all together.

7. Hassan "Hail" Whiteside. Guess what? Again, I don't care if Whiteside is still technically in college. I was told that "hail" and "white" is great wordplay, and Ziller hath professed that "Whiteside, Josh Smith on five-inch stilts, shall blow the league apart". Good enough for me, even if might have been a product of meter's constraints. We need someone who is really going to send shots flying back down with alarming frequency. Strangely, shotblockers seem to pick up nicknames fairly easily. Dwight Howard, Chris Anderson, and Josh Smith are set; Samuel Dalembert is inconsistent, but also has one of those names that really doesn't need any additions to make it stand out. Oh, and also, "hail" has a double-meaning, which works really well with "Hassan" ... because of Prince Hassan, distinguished Jordanian diplomat ... and then we've got "Jordan" in the mix ... okay, I'll stop here. Sorry that ended up being so long.

8. Monta "Locusts" Ellis. Locusts aren't like the other bugs in the Plagues. They hover, buzz, gnash their mandibles, and slash up crops, i.e. tall things or people. Monta Ellis is the prototypical slasher-with-chutzpah, adding writhing strength and menace to the usual balletic mix. Plus he's inconsistent, like locusts, which are only supposed to come around ever twelve years, and consumes possessions the way locusts eventually leave scorched earth in their wake. That second part was to protect against the inevitable Monta backlash; locusts have the worst plus/minus of all the Plagues.

9. Serge "Plague of Darkness" Ibaka. This one's tricky, since in the majority African-American NBA, "darkness" is always going to sound like race thing. So let's go ahead and make fun of that, with a rising young stud who happens to hail from the country that provided the setting for Heart of Darkness and a continent that, in the colonial days, was known as "Darkest Africa." Plus, all racial connotations aside, I think this does something to convey what an intimidating player Ibaka -- with his feel for the game, ridiculous bounce, and height -- could be in a year or two.

10. LeBron "Slaying of the First Born" James. Do you really need an explanation here? Have you ever heard the expression "give up his first born"? Well, how many [insert 2010 team here] fans have hinted at that in their drunker moments? Also, the Angel of Death did the deed and if I had to hire an Angel of Death from the NBA, it would be LeBron. Sorry, Kobe.
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