Dear Mr O'Neal,
I regret to inform you that as of this afternoon, we will be removing you from your office as the NBA's official nickname bestower.
On checking back through our records, it is not obviously apparent by whom you were appointed to this vitally important and influential position. We have also been disappointed in the recent standard of your work. Your position is not going to be made redundant and we will be actively recruiting for a more talented replacement. You would be more than welcome to re-interview for the post, but don't hold your breath.
We trust you will accept our extremely generous severance offer of nothing. After all, you are already worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The NBA fans
P.S. Shaq... You're fired!
I think this letter needs to be sent as soon as possible. Does anyone have any objections? I am a strong believer in giving credit where credit's due, but the NBA, which used to be filled with great nicknames, has gone slowly downhill in this regard and a lot of that is down to the big guy. Do we have to take on board his suggestions? Surely not, especially when they are so lame.
The league used to have "The Round Mound of Rebound", "The Microwave", "The Worm", "The Glove", "The Glide", "The Admiral" and "Dr. J". Even the simple nicknames were cool. Zeke, MJ, Spud, Chief, Zo, Sir Charles (him again). The list goes on... "The Iceman", "The Human Highlight Film", "The Mailman", "The Stilt", "The Dream", "Grandmama", "The Reignman". I don't know where these names came from, but it was a lot better in the days before everybody deferred to Shaq.
Some nicknames are not basketball related. Usually the product of a proud grandmother or other close relative, names like Mookie, Rip, Penny, Pooh and even Redz do not really count, so will be disregarded for the purposes of this conversation.
In terms of "proper" nicknames, what do we get these days? The Matrix? What's that…some kind of grid or something? You may as well call him "The Paradigm" or "The Venn Diagram". The Truth? An accurate representation of fact. How exactly does this sum up our franchise's hero? (Or anti-hero, depending on your stance). Flash? Why, because he's the "saviour of the universe"? No, apparently because he is quite fast. How creative.
I have to admit that the whole "you can't handle the truth" thing was quite insightful, but I don't think that played into Shaq's thinking at the time. Like most hip-hop artists these days, what he was saying might have sounded cool at the time, but is actually pretty devoid of meaning when you analyse it.
Most of the names Shaq has come up with are for himself. "The Big Aristotle", "Shaq Fu", "Shaq Diesel", "The Shaq Daddy". Anyone can come up with a nickname for themselves. Heck, if it's that easy, I'm going to start calling myself "Well-Endowed Man" or "The Handsome Genius".
The trouble with the modern nicknames is that they are not named after a tangible object that you can identify with. The Answer, Vinsanity, The Truth. They are all fundamentally arbitrary when you think about it. Where are all the "Tractor" Traylors? (Now that's a good modern one). If you aren't going to come up with anything evocative, keep it simple - J.O., T-Mac, J-Rich and K-Mart are all perfectly acceptable. Bron-Bron is unacceptable. What the heck is that?
I'm sure Shaq and Co. have done their best, but the NBA needs to market itself better and these names are not having a positive impact upon merchandising or the global game. There are plenty of creative wells out there to tap into. The WWE does a great job - for example Triple H is also "The Game" and "The Cerebral Assassin". Shaq would have called him "Big Wrestler" or "The Evil" or something equally bland.
What about And1? They do a better job of making their guys identifiable. The Professor, Hot Sauce and Main Event are all going to stick in the mind more than "Dirk Nowitski", "Amare Stoudamire" or "The Truth" and therefore the NBA could (and you won't hear this very often) learn something from And1 in terms of marketability. There are other options too. I'm sure Eminem is available for a fee. Or perhaps Darryl Dawkins could be coaxed out of retirement.
Looking at this pitiful modern nomenclature I can't help feeling I could do better. In fact, I probably have. Over the last few years I have written about Shammond "Shambles" Williams, Vin "Gin Taker" Baker, Jiri "Raquel" Welsch, Marcus "Clanks" Banks and Mark "Kobe's Grandpa" Bryant, (plus - my favourite - when I was writing about the Jets, Reggie "Mousey" Tongue). I suppose it would be just as easy to come up with flattering names, as it would be derogatory ones.
What we all really want to see is a return to the classic nicknames of the pre-Shaq era, names which really define a player's personality. For example, Kendrick "The Fly Swat" Perkins, Raef "The Sniper" LaFrenz, Marcus "The Venus Fly-Trap" Banks and Mark "The Cloud" Blount. In terms of throwback-style nicknames, I quite like "The Green Monster" and "The Jolly Green Giant", which I have seen suggested for Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins, but I was never quite sure which was which. How about Antoine "The Amp" Walker (because of his "volume" shooting)?
I still can't think of a suitable nickname for Pierce though. I have heard him called a lot of things over the last few months, but "The Truth" or even "P-Squared" were rarely amongst them. Perhaps in this modern era, where the art of teamwork and "proper basketball" has long since departed, the golden age of the nickname is also, sadly, on its last legs.