The best athletes are those we can remember by name. This magnificent seven of NBA ballers has the strangest names we’ve ever seen.
The 2014-15 Season in the NBA’s 68th year of existence, and thousands of players have graced the league over the decade. Most have been forgotten, some have been remembered for great play, and others have stayed relevant due to strange and memorable names. The following are members of the latter group.
#1: God Shammgod
Born God Shammgod in New York City in 1976, he went by the name of “Shammgod Wells” until enrolling at Providence College, where University administrators insisted that he either legally change his name to Shammgod Wells or revert back to his given game.
Unable to come up with the $600 necessary to change his name, he became known as God Shammgod, the only professional athlete in US history to be called “God.”
He spent only one season in the NBA, appearing in 20 games for the Washington Wizards in 1997-98, before going on to enjoy a long and lucrative career in the Chinese Basketball Association. Older NBA fans still occasionally ask “whatever happened to God?”
#2: Metta World Peace
The native of Brooklyn was born Ronald William Artest, Jr., and appeared under his given game for his first several years in the NBA. Then in 2011 he had an epiphany and decided to legally change his name to Metta World Peace, and the rest is history.
God Shammgod is the only American pro athlete named “God”
Metta World Peace to change his name to “The Panda’s Friend”
World B. Free’s legal first name is “Lloyd”
Metta (a Sanskrit word meaning “kindness” of “benevolence”) is his first name, while World Peace is his legal surname. World Peace later told members of the media that “changing my name was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world.”
Apparently he feels he has succeeded in spreading his message of kindness and peace, because it has been reported that Ron Artest plans to change his name again to “The Panda’s Friend.” One wouldn’t be surprised if online sportsbooks in the US started taking bets on how many name changes he’ll have in his career.
#3: World B. Free
Born Lloyd Bernard Free in Atlanta, Georgia in 1953, he was given the nickname “World” during junior high school, and it stuck. Free never legally changed his name, and once told a reporter from USA Today that “I’m still the same guy I was when I was Lloyd, though. I’ll say what I’m going to do, and then I’ll go out and do it.”
Free played fourteen seasons in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, San Diego Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers, being named to the All-Star team in 1979 and 1980. While World B. Free earned a reputation as one of the greatest players of his era, he is best remembered today for his unusual name.
#4: Popeye Jones
Born Ronald Jerome Jones in Dresden, Tennessee in 1970, the man who was to be “Popeye” was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1992. The story is that he was given the nickname “Popeye” by his mother, as the popular cartoon was on TV when the family brought Ronald Jerome home from the hospital.
Popeye never distinguished himself in the NBA (except for his endearing nickname) but was able to stick around as a competent role player for 10 seasons. He is now an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers. His son Seth is a defenseman for the NHL’s Nashville Predators, and is one of only several African Americans ever to have played in the NHL.
#5: Giannis Antetokounmpo
At only 20 years old, the “Greek Freak” is one of the NBA’s most popular young players. He was born in Athens to Nigerian parents, and despite being born there, did not gain full Greek citizenship until 2013.
Most American announcers prefer to call him by his nickname due to the difficulty of pronouncing Antetokounmpo, and he is called endearingly called “The Freak” due to his unusual athleticism and body control for someone standing 6’10.
In only his second NBA season, he is certain to become well-known for much more than his unusual name. Our accurate prediction for 2016? He’ll be in the All-Star game.
#6: Dionte Christmas
Anyone with “Christmas” in their name is destined for stardom. Dionte Lamont Christmas was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1986. Christmas played his college ball close to him at Temple University, starring for the Owls from 2005 to 2009.
Following his illustrious collegiate career he went undrafted in the 2009 NBA Draft, and spent the next four years playing professionally in Israel, Turkey and Greece. Last season he finally attained his dream of playing in the NBA, appearing in 31 games for the Phoenix Suns.
Disappointingly, he failed to catch on with a team for the 2014-15 Season. We all hope to see Christmas come again, however.
#7: Vassilis Spanoulis
The second native of Greece to appear on this list, Spanoulis first appeared in the Euroleague with Panathinaikos. After distinguishing himself as one of Europe’s most tantalizing young players he was signed by the Houston Rockets in 2006.
Spanoulis’ time in the NBA was short and unhappy, as he failed to crack the Rockets’ rotation and openly traded barbs with Coach Jeff Van Gundy, who remarked of Spanoulis: “Frankly, he’s been his own worst enemy.”
He returned to Greece after only one NBA season, and is now best remembered for his colorful and difficult to pronounce name.