Since its beginnings, the NBA and its players have permeated American culture. We adore great ballers for many reasons: their grit, their style, their imposing frames, their swagger, their absurd athletic ability and more. These towering figures have gained a mythological allure in society.
Basketball heroes have inspired innovations in fashion (especially in shoe styles and marketing) and hip-hop music; though the link between basketball, kicks, and rap music is culturally seamless. Julius Erving became the first NBA player to endorse a sneaker in 1976 when he signed a deal with Converse. “The Dr. J” remains a staple of the brand and blazed the trail for the happy marriage between ballers and shoe endorsers. The Nike “Air Jordan” is the most iconic shoe in history. Dozens of prominent NBA players have followed suit with their own shoe endorsements — Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in particular have enjoyed booming success as shoe brand ambassadors.
Shoes aside, however, there are many lanes in which basketball holds an uncanny influence. NBA players hold so much clout that their imprint can be seen across many different aspects of our culture. Sometimes their impact is shocking. Sometimes the things we associate with basketball players are flat-out strange.
In this list, we’re delving into the most uncanny things that (may) have been named after NBA players. We’ll try to look past the normal eulogies, like courts being named after influential players or shoe brands modeled after ballers. Let’s explore the odd stuff:
15 15. Pokémon Named After Kevin Durant?
Kevin Durant is a one-foot-tall bug and steel type Pokémon that reared its head stateside in 2012 with the release of Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2. Its original Japanese name is Aianto; though “Durant” is a more witting name for the west.
Durant (Pokémon) ranks low on this list because there’s insufficient evidence to suggest that the little critter was named after the NBA All-Star. It’s probable that “Durant” came about as a sensible combination of “durable” and “ant” — Durant is a steel type after all.
It’s not without scrutiny that we accept the Pokémon is unrelated to the baller. It is odd that Durant is a namesake with a prominent American sports figure. Given how uninspired this insectoid Pokémon is, however, it seems Durant bares little resemblance to Kevin Durant.
Durant is extremely weak to fire attacks. Perhaps Kevin should be wary next time he laces up against Miami.
14 Red Hot Chili Peppers Song "Magic Johnson"
It’s not uncommon to hear references to NBA players in hip-hop. The lifestyle of a baller is swanky, hard-boiled on the court, and often flamboyant off the court. It’s an aspired way of life for many emcees. Making it as an NBA commodity, for many players, is a result of overcoming tremendous environmental adversities; as many great players have been forged in violent and impoverished backgrounds. As such, big-time ballers represent a beacon of hope and inspiration for many hip-hoppers.
The LA-based band The Red Hot Chili Peppers were one of the first popular rock outfits to cut a song explicitly about an NBA player: “Magic Johnson” from their 1989 album Mother’s Milk. The band is reputed for their Lakers fandom, and Johnson’s wizardry on the hardwood is celebrated openly in “Magic Johnson.” Some lyrics from the track:
13 The Bosses in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game
The verdict is still out on whether or not it was done by design, but Tom Clancy’s The Division features a host of bosses with names that will be familiar to NBA fanatics — names like Cpl. Stojakovic and Cpt. Bryant. Could it be a coincidence? Bosses Hardaway, Barkley and McGrady suggest that it’s not.
Message boarders for The Division sniffed out the pattern soon after the game was released in March. It seems at least one of the developers over at Ubisoft has a healthy appreciation for basketball legends.
The 2016 third-person shooter is an open world affair that has met mixed reviews, but it’s terrific that NBA legends are getting a shout-out in a popular modern game that has nothing to do with basketball.
12 "Reggie Miller" By Lil B
Like we have discussed, it’s common for NBA players to be referenced in rap and hip-hop. There are many great rap songs about basketball stars. Furthermore, Reggie Miller is a fabled clutch player who’s worthy of being the focal point of a work of art. That said, there’s something off-kilter about Lil B’s song “Reggie Miller.”
I’d expect you to be aghast if you’re not familiar with Lil B’s body of work. The Berkley-based rapper is infamous for his eccentric, half-baked style. The production is chintzy, the rhymes are constructed haphazardly, and Lil B is as saucy as ever — not the most fitting tribute for an all-time great shooter. It’s peachy, though, that Lil B gathered inspiration from an often-overlooked great of his time. I’d hope that if Lil B touches on Reggie Miller again, he does so with more grandeur and tact.
11 Crop of Young Talent Named After Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was not ranked in the top 1,000 most popular baby names in the United States until 1997, as per SB Nation’s study of the NBA’s impact on baby names. Kobe Bryant, who’s named after a steakhouse, was so dynamic and captivating upon breaking out in the NBA in the late nineties that he made his name fashionable.
Today, Kobe remains in the top 500 most common baby names in the U.S.; though the rank has fluctuated depending on the Lakers’ success. Naturally, an influx of basketball-inclined talent named Kobe has emerged in recent years.
Among other Kobes in the wings, there’s guard Kobe Paras; a 6'6 freshman guard playing for Creighton. There’s also Kobe King — one of Wisconsin’s finest high-school players— who’s committed to play at Wisconsin after his graduation in 2017. Kobi Simmons, a McDonald’s All-American in 2016, plays for Arizona. Where are all of these Kobes coming from?
10 Larry Bird Kush
LBK is known for its citrus flavor imbued with a hint of grapefruit. It’s designed to provide an energetic and focused high, sentiments that Larry Legend himself could probably get behind.
Bird was a smack-talking chatterbox on the court, but he’s been reserved recently. Therefore it’s unknown what his stance on marijuana is. With or without his approval, though, Larry Bird Kush is thriving.
9 Jeremy Lin OG
Remember the halcyon days of “Linsanity?” Jeremy Lin, an unsuspecting, undrafted Hardvard kid, propelled the Knicks into relevancy in early 2012. For a brief stretch, the Palo Alto native posted some of the best numbers in the NBA. It was a feel-good story that proved greatness could come from unlikely sources.
Linsanity captured our collective imagination and led to a slew of products being branded under Lin’s banner. Even weed, as rappers Rick Ross and Stalley demonstrated on Instagram.
Linsanity OG was gaining traction as a popular herb strain in California during Linsanity. Lin, however, being a devout Christian and denouncer of drug use, deployed his legal team to squelch the diffusion of Linsanity OG.
“Their enthusiasm for Jeremy Lin got ahead of their understanding of the law,” said Pamela Deese of the Washington, D.C. firm Arent Fox.
Marijuana is now legal in California and we’re far-removed from the dusk of Linsanity. Don’t expect Linsanity OG to make a comeback.
8 Metro Station in LA Named After Kobe
Kobe Bryant was showered with a procession of gifts, accolades, and gratuities throughout his farewell season in 2015-2016. One courtesy that stands out: A Metro Station in Los Angeles was renamed the Kobe Station for a day — the day of Bryant’s final game in the NBA.
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority declared that Pico Station, which is two blocks away from Staples Center, would take on Kobe’s name to commemorate Bryant’s prestigious career. It’s a fitting location, given droves of Laker fans arrive to home games via the Pico Station.
Although the name change was temporary, it showed how important Bryant was to the city of Los Angeles. After all, the Pico Station is named after one of the most prominent people in California’s history: Pico Pio. Only an athlete of Bryant’s stature could unseat such an important figure, if even for a day.
Metro even shared their memorial on Twitter.
7 Carnegie Deli's "The Melo" Sandwich
The world-famous Carnegie Deli honored Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony by dubbing a monstrous, $21.95 sandwich “The Melo” in 2011. It’s a distinct praise to have a sandwich named after you, but there’s really nothing mellow about this particular “snack.”
“The Melo” is an unholy mountain of corned beef, bacon, salami, pastrami, and tomato slathered in Russian dressing. The inclusion of rye bread is the most modest feature of this garish tower of meaty opulence. Because, y’know, white bread would run up the calorie count too high.
Carnegie Deli staffer Sandy Levine told TMZ in 2011 that “The Melo” was priced at $21.95 so that if the eatery sold 3,000,000 Melos, they would match Anthony’s reported $65 million salary.
The exact figure is unreported, but I’d like to think that such a lavish treat would never reach three million buys. Do you think Anthony himself would eat one? There’s no way the superstar could stay in pristine shape if he was scarfing down “The Melo” regularly.
6 "Quitness" Beer Inspired by LeBron Leaving Cavaliers
You may remember “The Decision 1.0,” when LeBron James seized the spotlight to declare his departure from his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. You may also remember the wound in Ohio left in his wake.
The Ohio faithful were understandably bitter about the ordeal, a feeling that was expressed by Great Lakes Brewing Co. when they released “Quitness” ale in July 2010. The first batch of “Quitness” sold out just three hours after its release.
The Brewing Company revealed that "Quitness" is a dry hopped India pale ale that leaves a bitter aftertaste, perfectly describing the mood of Cleveland sports fans these days.
The team and city were hobbled by LeBron’s exit. “Quitness,” a play on James’ “We Are All Witnesses” Nike campaign, served fans to swill away their resentment and sadness. Thankfully, they would not have to suffer for long before “The King” made his triumphant return.
5 "King Gose" Beer Celebrates LeBron's Return
You can check the pulse of Ohio’s sports fans by noting the names of beer releases. Beer is a holy consort for sports fans across the nation, but chilly brews are sacred in Ohio.
Hoppin’ Frog Brewery released a special-edition gose called “King Gose Home” in 2015 upon Lebron James announcing his return to the Cavaliers. Gose is a sour style of German beer that has resurged in recent years after being overlooked for decades.
In an interview with Draft, Hoppin’ Frog brewmaster Fred Karm said that “King Gose Home” has salty and sour properties. Karm continued: “That’s the way people who watch and love LeBron feel now that he’s back in Ohio. It took me one minute to come up with the name.”
The prophet James went on to usher his ilk to an NBA championship in 2016. Breweries all over Ohio churned out brews in reverence.
4 The Black Mamba Named Kobe
Kobe Bryant owns one the NBA’s most badass nicknames ever: “The Black Mamba.” The black mamba is a notorious species of tree-dwelling snake native to sub-Saharan Africa. Black mambas are feared for their power, speed, and venomous bite. The slithery creatures are graceful and unpredictable, making them the most dangerous snake in Africa. All told, it’s a fitting nickname for Kobe.
During Bryant’s bloated farewell tour in 2015, the Atlanta Hawks teamed up with Zoo Atlanta to pay tribute to “The Black Mamba” by renaming the zoo’s black mamba “Kobe.”
3 The Giraffe Named Dikembe
Kobe Bryant was not the first baller to have his name bestowed upon a zoo animal. That distinction belongs to Dikembe Mutombo, who enjoyed the adorable honor of having a baby giraffe at the Denver Zoo named after him in 1993.
In his second NBA season, Mutombo vaulted the Denver Nuggets to success in ‘93 thanks to his enormity and shot-blocking ability. The future three-time All-Star averaged 4.1 blocks per-game that year, establishing himself as a huge (and I mean huge — Mutombo is 7’2) thorn in the side of opposing paint-penetrators and centers.
Mutombo was a menace on the court, but his giraffe namesake was no joke, either. According to the Denver Zoo website, "Dikembe (the giraffe) can devour a head of lettuce better than the all-star center could block a shot."
Standing at 16 feet, Dikemebe the giraffe would school Mutombo under the basket if the gangly creature picked up some basketball fundamentals.
2 Mookie Blaylock and Pearl Jam
The Red Hot Chili Peppers were not the last rock band to draw inspiration from an NBA player. In fact, before the acclaimed band Pearl Jam became Pearl Jam, they played under the moniker Mookie Blaylock; who was a dogged and effective NBA point guard in the '90s.
In a 2008 interview with The Missoulan, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament revealed how the Seattle band got rolling as Mookie Blaylock. Ament disclosed that while the band was recording their first album, they would take breaks to buy and open packs of basketball cards in their studio. The band was about to embark on a 10-show tour and didn’t have a name, so they decided to call themselves Mookie Blaylock in light of opening Mookie’s card. His name stood out, apparently.
Ament said: “Mookie was cool about it, too—he didn't sue us. I actually got to meet him later on and shoot around a little bit. We also made a Pearl Jam T-shirt with a picture of him on it. I guess we owe Mookie a lot."
By 1991 Pearl Jam was Pearl Jam, but they released a record named "Ten" in honor of Blaylock’s jersey number. Mookie is reportedly a fan of the group.
1 Larry The Twitter Bird
Unbeknownst to most Twitter users, the iconic Twitter bird has a name: Larry. Larry the bird — wait, Larry Bird?
The name and homage make sense, given Twitter co-founder Biz Stone is a Massachusetts native who grew up during Larry Bird’s heyday with the Boston Celtics in the '80s. The social media mogul resided in Wellesley, Massachusetts during his adolescence and moved on to attend University of Massachusetts Boston in the early '90s.
Twitter brass haven’t made a big deal of Larry the bird’s label despite his steady habitation of the internet. We see the bird every day, but knowledge of Larry’s name, let alone its origins, is rare. Stone himself, however, admitted in 2011 that Twitter’s feathered mascot is a tribute to the all-time great baller.
Larry Bird doesn’t have an official Twitter account. While Larry the bird represents sharing and mass dissemination, Larry Bird is thoroughly old-school and doesn’t have time for any of that.
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