The Step Back

Using neural networks to generate new and very good NBA nicknames


NBA Nicknames. You know how that goes. Someone has a name, but then someone else calls him something else, and then that something else sticks. That’s an extremely brief approximation of nickname development. I was called “Bacon” in college because I’ve had the same small, pixelated picture of bacon as my Facebook avatar for the last 12 years. This was important, I guess.

Nicknames are nothing new for the NBA. They go all the way back to the glory years of the late 1940’s with Buddy Jeanette and Bones McKinney. I’m assuming he got that name because he had bones. Things carried on through the 90s and early 2000s with some beautiful nickname work with Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, and “The Admiral,” and “The Big Ticket.”

Then things changed. Around the time LeBron was entering his peak, nicknames stopped being cute or clever and generally just became initializations. KD is not really a nickname. LBJ isn’t even a proper initialization. Porzingod is self-parody. I’m not sure I can tolerate this type of behavior any longer.

Read More: Tall dribblers, angry players and getting rid of the charge

I have a theory. The nicknames of the past were generally assigned by writers. There was little conversation about them. “The Dream” or “Dr. J.” was assigned, and it either stuck or it didn’t. Today, conversation spans more than just professional writers. It touches bloggers, and commenters, and social media voices. If someone doesn’t like a thing, that thing will be admonished against its own existence. It’s easier to destroy than it is to create, and it takes a strong sense of self-esteem to persist through this sort of culture.

I don’t have that, but we may have a workaround. A few days ago, Senthil “The Pencil” Natarajan posted on Twitter his use of neural networks to generate nicknames for NBA players.

This might be the answer we need. I have feelings, you have feelings, writers have feelings, but computers don’t. They’ll just pop nicknames like a gross of gogurt tubes under the treads of a tank. It’s a horrible mess, but it’s also amazing. I’ve decided to sort through a list of about 200 potential possibilities.

Cooker — Klay Thompson

This was the original suggestion of The Pencil, and it started us on this long, confusing road-shaped thing we’re on. It’s hard to disagree with Klay being Cooker. He cooks. When he gets hot, it’s hard to picture anyone getting hotter. Plus, for those looking for a different name than “The Splash Bros.” for Steph and Klay, one could do worse than “Chef Curry and Cooker.” It fits pretty well, and I’m going with it.

Big John Clame Dime — John Stockton

This one takes a bit of work, but it’s worth it. First you have to flip it like Lil’ Kev in The Wire. Second, you have to pretend “Clame” is just a fun misspelling of the verb “claim.” Thirdly, you have to accept that this is a grammatically incorrect sentence. You have to read it in your head as “Small John claims a dime.” Dime, of course, means assist. When you look at it that way, it makes perfect sense, and computers will kill us all by being too perfect.

Airplane Mavi — Jason Terry

Jason Terry was on the Mavs for a period of time, and his nickname is “Jet.” Sure, that’s fine, but it’s just another basic abbreviation of the man’s given name. To me, that means it needs a slight touch-up at the deft hand of a bunch of algorithms. Airplane Mavi also has a nice poetic meter to it. You could see it being set to song. It probably should be. I’ll get to work on that next.

Kipper on of the Hongie Woldis Big Shoter — Andrew Wiggins

I’ll break this one down a bit.

A ‘Kipper’ is a name for sailors of the Canadian Navy. Wiggins is Canadian and is a force. That fits pretty good.

‘Hongie’ means “a very attractive girl that is school smart but lacks common sense,” per Urban Dictionary. Wiggins is an attractive prospect, but doesn’t have the best shot selection,

‘Woldis’ translated from Icelandic means ‘wold’ which in turn means “a piece of high, open, uncultivated land or moor.” Wiggins need some polishing still.

‘Big Shoter’ He shoots a lot.

There you have it. Andrew “Kipper on of the Hongies Woldis Big Shoter” Wiggins. It’s perfect.

Trills — Ricky Rubio

R’s at the beginning of a word in Spanish are sometimes pronounces with a small alveolar trill. Both of Rubio’s names start with an ‘r,’ and he is, by many accounts, Spanish. That would mean his name would be pronounced with a trill, and that there would be more than one. That means there will be trills. Trills. He’s fun enough to watch that the name’s proximity to “Thrills” works as well.

J. Nerriblo Razzy Hova Catraw – Meyers Leonard

I don’t think this one needs explanation.

The Jests — Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

It’s got to be multiple players, and I can’t think of any two dudes in the NBA that are funnier together than the Toronto Raptors’ backcourt.

Those 15 minutes of jokes, japes, and jest will bring a smile to your face or you’re emotionally dead. I feel safe making that proclamation.

There’s also the name “Buttman” available from the neural networks that should probably go to Lowry as well for some reason.

Big Trimm — Miami Heat

I was thinking about giving this to James Johnson and then to Dion Waiters, but I realized this should just go to their team. They take players, trim off weight, and make them better. This is a common story for the Heat. It’s the most lucrative weight loss program in the country.

Beasy Woople — Michael Beasley

I just want to call him that.

Big Pax — John Paxson

I don’t want to call him that.

The End

There were plenty of names I really wish I could have found a way to use:

  • The Piffet Railtlent Doge Plani
  • The Bost
  • Whoo
  • Bably B. Siller finger
  • Big Dimper
  • Boddy The Darm
  • Bobbin’ Suba K
  • Black Mambil
  • Dr. Dunk
  • Sweet Derr
  • Nut
  • Big Shambo
  • The Bearbretermond Dinger

Fortunately when the computers do take over (and they will), they should be able to finish this job for us. Hopefully we survive long enough to see it.





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