View from the Sidelines

There can be a lot said in a neat moniker

How do we get nicknames or, more specifically, how do National Basketball Association players get their colorful monikers?

Thinking on this started several weeks before the NBA draft that occurred Thursday.

I understand why sportswriters use the alternate names – they would rather not keep using the player’s last name over and over in a story. Why not use something that stands for the player, and more importantly represents a sliver of that players’ personality.

Take the No. 1 draft pick this year, former Duke Blue Devil Zion Williamson, who was picked by the New Orleans Pelicans.

His college teammates nicknamed him “Zanos” after the Marvel Comics’ villain Thanos.

Sometimes I think they ought to rename players.

For example, former-NBA player Nick Van Exel tweeted earlier this month that he discovered ice coffee.

The 47-year-old Van Exel, who was known for his shooting streaks, buzzer-beating shots and speed, earned the alias of “Nick the Quick.”

“Just wanted to let everybody know - all my Twitter followers, everybody that’s in my phone, my friends, my family - real disappointed in y’all that y’all didn’t let me know about iced coffee before,” said Van Exel, who currently is the assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies. “Real disappointed, but since it tastes so good, I’ll forgive y’all.”

Seems Van Exel might be renamed “Coffee Quik” now (not to be confused with Nestle Quik, which is now called Nesquik).

On the other shooting hand, while on vacation the last couple weeks my wife, Dee, and I stopped at a restaurant east of North Bend.

I asked if they had ice coffee, a confection I really like with milk as the only addition.

“No, no ice coffee here, but I can bring you hot coffee and a cup of ice,” I was told.

I used some fake creamer to round it off.

Some NBA players have more than one nickname, which to me means they have either gone through a lot of iterations in their career or there is just no one saying that sums up the player.

Take the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, who is described as “The King,” “King James,” “(The) L-Train,” “LBJ,” “The Chosen One,” “The Akron Hammer,” and “Bron.”

I admit I had not heard of all those names.

To me he’s King James, one of the best, if not the best, ever to play the game of basketball.

Some basketball nicknames drive down to those who live here, like former Okanogan superintendent Richard Johnson, who has a doctorate.

Lots of us like to refer to him at Dr. J., which was the handle given Julius Erving, who played in the American Basketball Association before eventually playing for the Philadelphia 76ers.

(Of note, we also have in our county a Bill Gates, who is a basketball fan!).

Trent LaDoux put my nickname on me as “Stretch,” following a racquetball game many years ago.

My closest encounter with an NBA star with nickname was “Downtown” Freddie Brown of the former Seattle Supersonics. We sat next to each other to hear Joe Washington at Jazz Alley in Seattle (I was with former county prosecutor Barnett Kalikow, who spotted the player and, of course, his series ring).

I graduated with NBA center James Donaldson, who I photographed and chatted up from time to time at Washington State University.

Alas, no nickname for James as far as I know.

Al Camp is the sports editor at The Chronicle. Email him at

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