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A daring exploration of NBA names, 1946-present

What’s in a name? Dan Grunfeld has no idea, but he does a great job of pretending in this colorful categorization of some of the most praiseworthy names in the great history of the NBA.

Ronald Martinez - Getty Images

I do not have an awesome name like Shaquille O'Neal. Or Jean Claude Van Damme. Or Rollie Fingers. Or Coco Crisp. Or, standing triumphantly atop the summit of the awesome-name-mountain, his flagpole driven deep into the cold dirt: Wolf Blitzer!

Unlike men, all names are not created equal, so my name is simply Dan Grunfeld. While it's a strong family name that I'm certainly proud to have, it's not exactly the type of eye-grabbing moniker that sets US Weekly headlines ablaze. It lacks considerable glamour, and maybe if I'd called myself something a little sexier since birth -- Danny Grace would have worked well -- things might have turned out differently for me.

Today, Dan Grunfeld is a basketball player, which isn't bad, but a guy with a snazzy name like Danny Grace might have garnered enough respect in the world to become a million other wonderful things. An astronaut, a talk-show host, or a big-wave-surfer with a killer reality show all seem plausible, though I ultimately picture Danny Grace as the moody yet sensitive front man of the popular emo rock band "Shrimp Fried Tears," who would probably be coming to a city near you sometime soon. Danny Grace just sounds like that type of dude, and for those interested, specific tour dates TBA.

Regardless of my own unremarkable title, I can't deny that names matter. They don't determine your destiny, of course, but a great name can put a little tangy mustard on the hot dog of life. There's a reason why Thomas Cruise Mapother IV became Tom Cruise, and there's also a reason why uber-dork Steve Urkel, after stepping into that terrific porto-potty-time-machine thing in the basement, emerged as the ultra-suave lady-killer aptly known as Stefan Urquelle.

Names can set the tone in life, whether they're awesome, funny, random, boring, unfortunate or anything else. No matter what, they should be celebrated, because as human beings, we carry them with us wherever we go. For famous athletes and other celebrities, it goes beyond that: their names often become a meaningful part of our pop culture lexicon.

For these reasons, and because the NBA season is coming up, and because I love NBA basketball, I've taken it upon myself to celebrate the unique and memorable NBA names -- past and present -- that color the league's landscape. To do this, I've created many different "All-NBA Teams," operating within absurdly liberal guidelines and using no other criteria besides the names themselves, to categorize some of the NBA's best and brightest.

Most of these teams are inter-generational, and all of them are meant to honor the players that comprise them. Because the variety of teams span many different topics -- some more ridiculous than others; none particularly worthwhile -- I've also included brief squad descriptions for your convenience. I've listed the teams in no particular order, with players assigned positions that might not suit them perfectly, indicating that there is indeed no real structure to this tomfoolery. So, if you please ...

The Louis Skolnick/Duncan Pinderhughes All-NBA Nerdy Name Team

Again, I'm Dan Grunfeld, so I'm in no position to criticize anyone's name. Certainly, that's not my intention, and instead, I'd like to honor select NBA players from different eras whose given names might not, at first glance, scream "world-class-athlete!" There are no judgments being made nor literary wedgies being given here, because at the end of the day, a name is still a name, and these guys are all ballers. Even if it sounds like they should be watching Weird Science together in one of their mom's basements while in the midst of an epic D&D bender.

PG-Vernon Maxwell

SG- Kennard Winchester

SF- Perry Worthington

PF- Clarence Weatherspoon

C- Olden Polynice

Just missed the cut: Pervis Ellison, Kenneth Wilburn.

The All-NBA "We Barely Escaped Having Nerdy Names and Instead Have Quite Distinguished Names" Team

Certain names appear nerdy on the surface, but in reality, they just evoke a regal grandeur that makes a guy feel special, you know? I mean, I have no practical experience with this, and you probably don't either, but just get in touch with anyone you know with the last names Kensington, Buckingham, or Von Strauss, and they'll fill you in, you peasant.

PG- Russell Westbrook

SG- Lancaster Gordon

SF- Worthington R. Patterson

PF- Chandler Parsons

C- Channing Frye

Just missed the cut: David Vanterpool, John Francis Robert Pelkington Jr., Charles Shackleford.

The All-NBA "Shouldn't The Last Name and the First Name Be Switched Around?" Team

Remember the first day of school, when your new teacher would go through roll call and read every name like there was a question mark after it -- "I'm Ron Burgundy?" -- as a way to seek confirmation from you, the student, that your name had actually been pronounced correctly (which it clearly hadn't been)? Those were good times, and I can only imagine how exaggerated the imaginary question marks were for this next bunch of rascals, as their flummoxed teachers internally debated whether the names on the sheet were, as he/she suspected, reversed. "Isn't the last name actually the first name, and vice versa? And furthermore, isn't my teacher's aide, Jeanine, an incompetent jackass for messing up my attendance sheet?" I say yes, on both counts.

PG- Jarrett Jack

SG- Walker Russell

SF- Xavier Henry

PF- Kornel David

C- Joakim Noah

Just missed the cut: Randolph Morris, Elmore Spencer.

The All-NBA Puntastic Nickname Team

Puns are great, aren't they? I mean, who doesn't love a double meaning created by manipulating words, all for the sake of clever comic relief? Since I do, I'm very encouraged by the recent trend of punny nicknames for NBA players that whimsically incorporate their real names into a crafty label that says something more about them and their games. Since it's an emerging nickname trend, all these players are current, and I've included descriptions so the puns are clear. And also, because I'm a pitbull of a nickname critic, I've tried not to be too ruff on these guys. Right? Right? Anyhoo, let's get on with it.

PG- Jeremy Lin. "Linsanity." He made the crowd in New York go insane. That's just factual.

SG- Kevin Durant. "The Durantula." Long limbs and terror-inducing. Seems about right.

SF- Steve Novak. "Novakaine." Those cold-blooded three-balls at the perfect time always leave the opponent numb. (Editor's Note: Steve is an old friend of mine and a great guy, so I particularly stand by this puntastic selection).

PF- Jon Brockman. "The Brockness Monster." I read somewhere that Jon earned this name because he is rarely seen on an NBA court, but I don't buy that. He's had a nice career and plays his butt off, so I think this nickname stems from the fact that Jon is a beast around the basket. Respect.

C- Serge Ibaka. "Serge I-Block-A." Corny: yes. Accurately depicts his shot-blocking prowess: yes. Puntastic: hell yes.

Just missed the cut: Brian Scalabrine ("Veal Scalabrine"), Robert Traylor ("Tractor Traylor"), Steve Nash ("Hair Canada").

The All-NBA Anatomical Name Team

Admittedly, this is the point in the proceedings where people start to worry about my mental health, but alas, we push forward. For me, there's no better way to do that than with a handpicked team of NBA players whose names make anatomy enthusiasts everywhere proud. The human body must be cherished, after all, so let the cherishing commence. (Warning: this team plays extreme small ball.)

PG- Maurice Cheeks

SG- Jason Hart

SF- Luther Head

PF- Foots Walker

C- BJ Armstrong

Just missed the cut: Tim Legler, Shane Heal, Wiley J. Peck.

The All-NBA Animal Kingdom of a Name Team

Why must we pay homage to animals through NBA names? Oh I don't know, maybe because it was recently discovered that the pattern in which harvester ants send foragers out of the nest to collect food exactly mirrors the Internet algorithm responsible for monitoring bandwidth and managing data congestion?!? That do anything for ya? Basically, the way some ants collect food is as naturally efficient as how information flows on the Internet, and this just blows my mind. It shows how innately awesome animals are, and how lucky these players are to honor them every time they make someone's acquaintance. So without further ado, The All-NBA Animal Kingdom of a Name Team.

PG- Rory Sparrow

SG- Rick Fox

SF- Larry Bird

PF- Bison Dele

C- Matt Fish

Just missed the cut: Jeremy Lamb, Joe Wolf, Brandon Bass, Brian Cardinal, John Salmons, Pig Miller.

The All-NBA Exploring the Wonders of Nature Team

This team is dedicated to all the outdoorsy basketball lovers out there who slap on hiking boots over thermal socks, zip up their Patagonia fleeces nice and tight, attach their Nalgene bottles to their belt straps with a karabiner, house some trail mix and a CLIF Bar, then hit the nature trail for a fun and fulfilling all-day hike for the ages. This one's for you, kid. Also, please try to remember to shower regularly. We'd all appreciate that. Thank you.

PG- Royal Ivey

SG- Perry Moss

SF- Gene Stump

PF- Cherokee Parks

C- Tree Rollins

Just missed the cut: Scott Brooks, Bruce Flowers, Tyrone Hill, Austin Rivers, Loren Woods, Landry Fields, Rod Thorn, Derrick Rose.

The All-NBA "Does My Name Make Anyone Else Here Hungry?" Team

If my last name was an article of food, would I order it all the time and declare it my favorite, or would I rebel against it and shun it forever? I guess I'll never know, but if my boy Juan Pablo Lasagna is any indication, I'd say Option A. Not like he ever had a chance. (Warning: this team also plays small ball.)

PG- Von Wafer

SG- OJ Mayo

SF- DJ Strawberry

PF- Morris Almond

C- Glen Rice

Just missed the cut: Spud Webb.

The All-NBA Most Colorful Names in the Game Team

The members of this team like to eat Skittles. And their favorite character from Entourage is Ari Gold. And they love watching the second round of the NBA Draft, all because of Adam Silver. And they never argue a call if it was made by Violet Palmer. And you get the point.

PG- Jo Jo White

SG- Blue Edwards

SF- Norman Black

PF- Sidney Green

C- Stuart Gray

Just missed the cut: PJ Brown, Red Holzman.

The All-NBA Inanimate Objects as Names Team

I tried to close out this activity by creating a team that has the least amount of real-world relevance as possible, and at the risk of sounding like a braggart, I believe I've done it! These fellas have names that contain random, everyday objects. Yep, that's about it. Somehow, I believe there's something charming in this. I may need help. My wife agrees.

PG- John Wall

SG- Raja Bell

SF- Eddie House

PF- Cedric Ball

C- Greg Kite

Just missed the cut: Gene Rock, Gerald Glass, Randolph Keys.

Well, there you have it: a truly daring exploration of NBA names, past and present. I commend all NBA players mentioned herewith, because not only have they made it to the pinnacle of their sport, but also, their names have provided all of us (but most likely just me) with a great amount of joy. If there's a moral to the story I've crafted here, which is highly unlikely, I suppose it would be that all people should be proud of their names, and themselves, no matter what. Some names are cooler than others, some are nerdier, and some are more outdoorsy, but no matter what, it's always up to the individual to make their name work for them.

Thanks to all these NBA players for doing just that, and thanks to my dear personal friends who live with extraordinary names -- most notably Taj Finger (anatomical), Carlton Weatherby (dangerously straddling the nerdy/distinguished line), and Thanasi Panagiotakopoulos (just the longest damn name in town) -- for doing the same. You are heroes. Good day, good luck, and good names to you all.