Decade’s Best: Nickname

by Khalid Salaam

With the upcoming terrorist trials soon taking place in NY, Khalid Sheik Muhammad has been in the news again. Someone recently asked me if my name ever causes me problems and if I wished I had an American name. I responded by explaining to him that my name has never really been an outright detriment and that I loved my name as anyone loves their name. Now I knew where he was going with his line of questioning and I could have just let it go as is, but this guy caught me on a day when I was feeling awesome so I took it up a notch. I asked his name and he said it was John, to which I replied that his wasn’t American either. Unless your name is Navajo-based, it’s not American. That’s not my opinion, it’s simply truth.

I tell that story to say that given names are obviously important but are more a window into the mentalities of our parents. You can only understand so much in regards to someone’s name. To judge their character by their name is folly for the ignorant. But nicknames, that’s a whole other situation.

Nicknames are essentially given to someone (and occasionally given to oneself) to describe a personality or physical characteristic not evident by their actual names. Actual names are what your parents see in you, nicknames are who you are. Trying to select the best NBA nickname for this decade is not easy. Think of all the amazing nicknames in the NBA right now—Diesel, Big Ticket, The Answer, Birdman, etc. Now of course guys like Shaq, Garnett and AI are attached to the 90s as well, so those players are disqualified by default. I wanted it to be a guy whose presence in the League is based in this decade only. And I won’t do any initials, obviously — that’s not even a nickname, that’s just your name in iniCaron Butlertialized form. It’s the opposite of a nickname because it tells you nothing.

Also, anybody with a shortened name is out too. So no T-Mac’s or J-Smoove’s or BDiddy’s made my list or were even considered. That’s just lazy. SLAM started a nickname contest a few years ago in an attempt to destroy that very thing. My criteria are simple—the name has to denote something non-obvious that captures the essence of your game or personality. And that trait, whatever it is, has to be true. If you can’t jump then the words ‘air,’ ‘sky’ or ‘high’ can’t be anywhere in your nickname.

So my choice for best nickname of the 00s is Tough Juice aka Caron Butler. C’mon, give it up, that’s an inspired choice is it not?? It’s one of those names when you hear it the first time it makes you pause and ponder. It’s interesting, it’s accurate and it’s unique. Butler’s game is physical and his personality is a little intense. When Eddie Jordan gave him that name, everyone around the League co-signed it with ease because everyone knew that it fit. Tough Juice, it’s perfect.


For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.