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Basketball card

Top 5 NBA Nicknames

What’s in a name? It’s a question often asked, from Shakespeare to talentless blog writers like myself. A good nickname can elevate a mediocre player to a higher status and can help fans and collectors feel more connected to the players they admire.

The NBA knows a thing or two about great nicknames. The sport rose to prominence thanks to some Hall of Famers with awesome nicknames, like Magic and Dr. J. So for today, I’m going to run through my top five NBA nicknames, both past and present, as well as listing the current prices for one of each player’s rookie cards. When applicable, I’ll also do a little bit of price history, just to see what is happening in the market for each player.

#5 Paul Pierce aka The Truth

I want to remind anyone reading that I’m a Boston guy, so this post could be a little Celtic heavy, but I promise it won’t be all Celtic players. Having said that, I think I would have liked Paul Pierce‘s nickname even if he weren’t a Celtic. One reason is because Shaq gave him this nickname. Another is the odd nature of the name, you typically don’t see many abstract nicknames like “The Truth”.

The Pierce rookie in focus is his 1998-99 Topps Chrome rookie card. I’ve written about this card before, but the image on the front is such a great dunking image that I wanted to cover it again. It is also an affordable ungraded card, and I like to highlight cards that the average collector could fairly easily add to their collection.

The one unfortunate thing about this card is that Pierce is mean-mugging the camera for his photo on the back. I’m not sure if he’s angry, or if he’s down wind of a fart, it could go either way.

1998-99 Topps Chrome Paul Pierce Rookie card (#135)

PSA has ample history with all grades of this card, but I’ll only focus on the PSA 10s. The last five PSA 10 sales have all been in a pretty tight range, between $685 and $755, with a median of $718. But, as I noted in my earlier post, these cards have exploded in value in two years. Going back to August, 2018, the same PSA 10s were selling for under $100, and going for about $85.

Going from $85 to $700+ in two years is an enormous spike in value, and it will be difficult for Pierce cards to maintain that sort of momentum. It will be very interesting to see if this card holds up at these lofty prices once we get finally through the Covid card craze.

#4 “Pistol” Pete Maravich

This nickname might not fly today (although AK-47 worked for the Russian star Andrei Kirilenko, so who knows), but oh man was Pistol Pete Maravich the real deal. His college basketball stats are out of control. The guy averaged 44 points per game while at LSU, and this was before the 3-pointers existed. He also had a great nickname, paying tribute to his crazy ball handling skills and his ability to score from just about anywhere on the hardwood.

In my opinion, Maravich doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves for his ability to score, or maybe people just don’t know their hoops history.

Kobe’s 81-point game was dominant, no question about that. But nearly as impressive as Kobe’s 81 points was the time Maravich dropping 68 points on the Knicks on February 25, 1977. One crazy stat about that game is he most likely would have broken 70 points had he not fouled out with three minutes to go in the game… oh and remember there was no 3-point line back in ’77.

Little known fact, but Maravich played his final games as a Boston Celtic, and overlapped with Larry Bird during Bird’s rookie season. Maybe this post will only cover Celtic players after all.

The Maravich rookie is one of the earlier big star rookies for basketball collectors and if you’ve been collecting for even just a short period, you might recognize the image, or at least the look from the famed 1970 Topps set, with a taller and skinnier design compared to today’s standard card dimensions (2.5 inches by 3.5 inches).

The the photo of Maravich on the card shows him taking a knee in an all white uniform with a basketball resting on his left leg. The image is set against an all green background and the text in the bottom right has his name, position, and team in yellow lettering overlaid on top of the image of a basketball. It is a very nice looking vintage card and it is a highly sought after card among collectors, especially high-grade copies.

1970 Topps Pete Maravich Rookie card (#123)

The PSA 10 copies of the Maravich rookie are extremely rare, and the PSA site only lists one sale over the past three years, and that card sold for $130K. Not too shabby!

The PSA 9s are easier to track, as there tend to be PSA 9 sales fairly frequently. The median price for the last five PSA 9 Maravich cards is $8,600. Surprisingly, the PSA 9 Maravich rookie hasn’t appreciated like so many other cards I’ve looked at since starting this blog.

If we go back to the summer of 2018 and look at the median sale price for the three sales that took place that summer, we’d arrive at a price of $6,000, indicating the Maravich rookie isn’t even up 50% from 2018. It is possible the market for Maravich rookies hasn’t caught up to the rest of the market, especially since his card is from such an iconic set.

All in all, I think this is a terrific card for really any basketball card collector, and while I’m priced out at both the PSA 9s and 10s, I would love to perhaps add a PSA 7 or 8 to my collection.

And before I move on to my next nickname, let me just leave you with a Shaq quote about Maravich:

If you tell me Pistol Pete Maravich wasn’t a great player, I’ll punch you in your face.

Shaq on Maravich’s greatness (Desert News, June 7, 2000)

#3 Glen “Big Baby” Davis

Nobody puts Big Baby in a corner! Glen Davis was an absolute fan favorite while he was on the Celtics. He was like a baby Shaq. Both big men even played at LSU… what are they feeding those guys?

Davis was always smiling, he was a hustler, and he could throw his weight around and make it work to his advantage. He also won a championship with the 2008 Celtics. But his was just a hilarious nickname that must have stuck with him from college or even younger, because of his chubby face and body. The baby fat never left him, but if it had he might not have been so memorable. So I hope he still likes and uses that great nickname.

Davis has many rookie cards to choose from, and none are that expensive, but the one I’ll highlight is from the 2007-08 UD SP Authentic set, his autograph rookie (#116) that was short-printed to 999 copies.

2007-08 UD SP Authentic Glen Davis Rookie Signatures /999 (#116)

Its actually a really nice rookie card with an on-card autograph and you get a great shot of Big Baby in all his glory. His facial expression is pretty funny, but I like it because it shows his likable character so I’m a big fan of the image choice for this card.

There are actually only two copies of the card I found on eBay. One is a steal at $8 with free shipping (here), and the other was going for $25 with $3 shipping. If you like Big Baby, grab the $8 before someone else does. Man, for just $8 I might take it off the market right now.

#2 Daron “Mookie” Blaylock

There is something about the way “Mookie” just rolls off the tongue. It just sounds cool A.F. The band Pearl Jam thought so too, so much so they almost named the band after Mookie. But Mookie Blaylock also knew how to play ball, he was a solid offensive threat and was a tenacious defender who led the league in steals two years in a row.

The Mookie rookie card comes from the 1990-91 Hoops set, which was one of the defining sets of the junk card era, and nearly all these cards can be had for dirt cheap. The Mookie rookie is no exception.

1990-91 Hoops Mookie Blaylock Rookie card (#193)

The Mookie rookie is card #193 in the set and shows Mookie bringing the ball up court in an pretty nice vintage blue Nets uniform. This card can be easily purchased on eBay for under $5 and I doubt there are many PSA high grades, and even if there are they likely don’t go for much, so I’ll skip the PSA research for Mookie’s rookie.

#1 Vinnie Johnson aka The Microwave

Vinnie Johnson was a two-time NBA champion with the back-to-back champion Detroit Piston in the late 1980s. He was a very dangerous point who, in my eyes, had the best nickname in the NBA.

I remember frequently opening up basketball cards in front of my dad when I was younger and whenever I didn’t know who a player was, I’d ask the old man. His knowledge decided their fate: good pile or bad.

One time I asked him about Vinnie Johnson and he told me his nickname was “The Microwave”. When I asked him why, he said, “because he could heat up in a minute”. That response lit me up and I thought it was so freaking cool, so I moved him to the good pile, bonus points for the nickname. So to me that is the clear winner for best nickname.

The Microwave’s rookie card comes from the 1981 Topps set and features a photo of him in the traditional 80’s Seattle Supersonics uniform playing defense. He’s also rocking nice early 80’s tube socks and it looks like he’s wearing a very early edition of Adidas’ Stan Smith shoes. Johnson’s card is card #99 in the set, and because he wasn’t a huge star, his cards are easy to find on eBay for around $10.

1981 Topps Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson Rookie card (#99)

Even the high-grade PSA 10s for Johnson are very affordable, and sell in the $40-$50 range. He wouldn’t be at the top of my list for the next rookie card, but he certainly tops my list for best nickname.

I left some notable nicknames off my list, but those listed above round out my top five. Post a comment below or send me an email and tell me which players would be atop your list for best nicknames.

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