Hoops monikers, older than the NBA as “Mr. Basketball” George Mikan proves, will become a formalized part of gear this season as the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets place nicknames on the backs of jerseys for two games played between the teams on March 12 and April 8. Should the promotional gimmick pass muster with fans, look for the nicknames to appear on the backs of a team near you next season.
LeBron James becomes “King James” on his jersey, and teammate Ray Allen, in homage to the character he played in Spike Lee’s 1998 filmHe Got Game,” will play under his nom de basketball: “J. Shuttlesworth.” Shane Battier, whose serious demeanor doesn’t quite lend itself to a nickname, will feature the word “Battle” on his back. Prior to a bureaucrat mistaking that name for Battier during his father’s enlistment in the Army, “Battle” was his family’s name.
The Nets, one of the most marketable though not one of the most competitive teams in the league, will presumably feature “The Big Ticket” (Kevin Garnett) and “The Truth” (Paul Pierce) on the new-look uniforms.
The nickname jerseys, akin to the NFL’s throwback uniforms or Sunday duds for Major League Baseball, break new ground for the NBA. Larry Bird never played with “Basketball Jesus” on his back. “Magic” didn’t appear above “32” on the shoulders of his West Coast nemesis. Julius Erving’s shirt didn’t say, “Dr. J.”
Fans didn’t need a reminder regarding their nicknames. If you’re good enough, everybody knows you on a first name, if not on a nickname, basis.
So why is the NBA going XFL? The nickname tank-tops cost $110.