[ITW] NBA All-Star Names: “A nickname means more than it seems”

Both basketball fans Vincent Reculeau and Adrien Pommepuy embarked on a great adventure: writing a book. “NBA All-Star Names”, published by Amphora, looks back on the most iconic and original nicknames in NBA history. We were able to talk with Vincent (writing) and Adrien (illustrations) about this project and their love for nicknames.

BasketSession: Can you tell us about the genesis of this book?

Vincent: We didn’t know each other at all. Despite our common region and our common profession. We met via the Basket Retro site, for which we collaborated a lot on articles, and we got on well.

Adrian: I’ve wanted to do a book for a very, very long time. I think we had already discussed this possibility with Vincent, then I suggested that he make a perpetual calendar. I thought it would be a less difficult and less engaging format than a book. So, I offered him something very illustrated and very colorful, I was surprised that he immediately said yes.

V: So I said yes, while being horribly scared. I consider myself very slow in writing, I like to have the right word. So writing a long or fictionalized text really scared me, but I said yes because it was about short portraits, it was less scary.

From your perspective as basketball fans, in professions that have nothing to do with writing, what does it mean to you to release a book?

V: It’s just a dream. 30 years ago, I wrote a mini magazine for my college buddies that told the story of my junior basketball team. Today, I’m writing a book about the stars that made me dream. It was a great adventure, where everything was aligned: the meeting with Adrien, a great collaborative work, a passionate editor, a celebrity who followed us with his eyes closed… it’s the skewer of happiness. “Believe in your dreams” is sometimes a silly phrase. But, there, we believed in it and it worked.

HAS : It’s kind of the same thing. I’m happy to offer this to the teenager that I was, who dreamed of basketball and who dreamed of what I tried to do with my illustrations. I am very happy to have satisfied this part of myself.

Vincent, you talk a lot about nicknames on your Twitter account (@WonderfulOhYeah) for a long time. Where does this passion come from?

V: I find that a nickname is very telling. It means more than it seems. There is a whole mythology in it, which allows us to go beyond basketball. I love basketball, but I also like the sides, the little stories. And nicknames are just a window that allows you to see the big story through the small. I was struck by an article by Patrick Chaillou in Maxi-Basket, in the 80s, which was called Crazy Nicknames. In this article, it presented many nicknames of the players of the league, with superb illustrations.

There are the nicknames, but also the drawings of several hundred players in the book. How big was this challenge for you, Adrien? And how do you transcribe a nickname visually?

HAS : 329, exactly! It’s true that it’s not bad… When I floated the idea at the beginning, I don’t think I was aware of the mass of work that it represented. We were very enthusiastic, then we quickly realized what awaited us. It’s October, and there’s the inktober — the challenge of doing one illustration per day on an imposed theme. I did that too, except it was over two years. I don’t think I’m the same illustrator anymore after this challenge. Then, to illustrate them, I based myself a lot on the text that Vincent had written in advance. I tried to bounce off his interpretation of the nickname. It wasn’t always obvious, but I tried to make a connection every time.

How did you choose the nicknames that would make the final list? We imagine that some decisions were difficult, both in the selection of players and nicknames.

V: At first, I really wanted only one nickname per player. Then I realized that was not possible. I had about 390 and I had to make a cut with the Amphora editions. It was a little tough, but I took care of the final selection. To avoid certain sacrifices, we have grouped nicknames. For example, we grouped together three “Jet” and there were three “Hot Rod”, the “stopper” too.

HAS : Overall, we wanted the top 100 players. But it was also important to have players who were close to our hearts. For Vincent, there are I don’t know how many pivots from the 80s and 90s. Me, I rather chose guys who had no hands, but a lot of energy to bring. We also wanted to pay tribute to some players who were at the end of the bench, but who still managed to stay for years in the NBA. It is not given to anyone.

“Nicknames are a window to see the big story through the small.”

What is each of your favorite nicknames?

HAS : The most emblematic: Magic. Even more need to say his name (Earvin Johnson). We say “Magic” and we know who we are thinking of. It replaced everything else. However, it only comes from a commentator who called it that, but it stuck so well that it stuck.

V: It’s a rarely used nickname, but one that I love: “The Round Mound of Rebound”, for Charles Barkley. The round mound of the rebound, in French. I love rhyme, it’s poetry for a guy who clearly wasn’t always a poet in the field.

What nickname do you find the funniest?

HAS : That of Corey Maggette, “Bad Porn”! It’s the meaning that makes me laugh: makes stats, but without the victory at the end. It’s very colorful, but I think it works and it makes me laugh out loud. I think the person who put it out had a great sense of humor. I don’t know if we receive him well as a player, but in any case, we appreciated him. (laughs)

B: For me, it’s Larry Nance’s: “The High-Ayatolla of Slamola”. It’s a bit like Barkley’s, delirious. It plays on syllables, on religion, it is long. It is a delirious find and therefore funny.

What do you think is the best story behind a nickname?

HAS : I’ll go on “Black Mamba”. It’s a bit easy, but it came at a time when Kobe was struggling. If he gave himself this nickname, it is also to overcome hardships. It probably motivated him and it must have helped him keep a goal, to always try to be a better person. I think he was. I think it’s a great story.

B: A great story is that of “Spud” Webb. His grandmother called him that because, in the maternity ward, his head looked like a satellite — and Spud also means “potato” in English. It’s a somewhat demeaning nickname at first, but with his 1.69m, he takes off a few years later to win the dunk contest.

Adrien, which nickname did you prefer to illustrate or the one you are most proud of?

HAS : I think it’s Thomas Pesquet’s, the last one. In particular because there was this challenge of making the portrait of someone who would see it. It was also necessary to link his passion for basketball and the fact that he is an astronaut to his nickname taken from a musical reference – Major Tom. It was a big challenge, for which I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m pretty proud of what I did.

Thomas Pesquet rightly wrote your preface. It was a surprising announcement. How did this happen?

V: When I started on Twitter, I wasn’t specifically talking about nicknames, I was talking about vintage NBA. My credo was the archives of magazines from the 80s and 90s. I was followed by quite a few people and, to my great surprise, while brushing my teeth one day, I saw a notification: “Thomas Pesquet you follows”. It does something. I thanked him, he didn’t answer me, but there was a little like from time to time, even a comment once. When the question of the preface arose, of course we needed a distinguished guest to bring a certain notoriety and validate us. So I contacted him, Adrien was laughing.

HAS : I didn’t believe it. I was always there, to say “Wouldn’t you like to think about an option number 2 for a bit?”.

V: I said to myself that by making the request with the heart, naively, it was not impossible. We didn’t send him a file, but a private message, with Adrien’s first drawings and the texts with the nicknames related to the space. The timing wasn’t terrible, it was a fortnight before his second space mission. Then I came back with a second request when he returned six months later. And once we announced our signing with Amphora earlier this year, he replied to the message and accepted.

HAS : Like us, he experienced this very distant relationship with American basketball, around the same years. He must have recognized himself a little bit in what was offered to him and what was shown to him. You can feel it in his superb preface. I think it humanizes him enormously. He’s a person I didn’t particularly relate to basketball. He goes into space, but, in fact, he is a human like us. It’s a huge gift he gave us.

[ITW] Fred Weis: “We wrote this book because I wanted it to come out”

We want to give thanks to the writer of this short article for this remarkable material

[ITW] NBA All-Star Names: “A nickname means more than it seems”

You can find our social media pages here and other related pages herehttps://nimblespirit.com/related-pages/