The National Basketball Association (NBA) had its first Nickname Game last night (Fri Jan 10 2014) between the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets. It is a great marketing tool, with controversy in fan reaction and no clear future for direction. I thought I’d suggest options for a policy that might be used for nickname jerseys, not just in the NBA but also in other professional sports leagues.

Some pros

  1. Funner, with cool nicknames on display.
  2. Sell more jerseys.
  3. More interesting, just to switch up things.

Some cons

  1. Disrespect for real name.
  2. Lame nicknames since many are given in jest, or just initials that aren’t really nicknames.
  3. Confusion of identity for fans who don’t know players’ nicknames well.

Background

Wearing nicknames on your jersey is a pretty “harmless” action in terms of consequences, as far as I’m concerned. You choose you nickname, and you still have a number that stands out more and makes you more identifiable so it doesn’t affect the game in terms of confusion among players looking for their counterparts to guard or identify. As a result, why not leave it to the players to choose when they wear nicknames? That way, nobody is forced into anything, like having to use initials for the sake of the requirement? However, there should be some rules put in to avoid pitfalls of the negative reasons, and even some reasons for the nickname jerseys that might get out of control.

The Policy

  1. Let players choose when to wear nickname jerseys, but cannot switch during games, only between games.
  2. Let players choose one nickname to start the season, or any time after if not at the start.
  3. Let players change nickname only once during the season (playoffs included), after which they cannot switch back to the old nickname till at least next year.
  4. No two same nicknames on the same team, but allowed on opposing team.

Reasons behind policy

By letting players choose when to wear nickname jerseys, they have the full opt-in ability. For those thinking the team effort would be better for team spirit and unity, well, the players will take care of that themselves the way they wear pink gear for breast cancer. If the team wants a team effort and players don’t have a name ready, that’s their responsibility to their team, not to the league. I get the feeling they’ll respond better to their teammates than league officials.

Players do not get to switch during games so as to avoid confusion for the fans, and distract from the team playing the game well. If the players want to solidify a nickname identity, they can wear their nickname jerseys more often. The more often they do, the more likely their sponsors will like make and sell their nickname jerseys having faith it might take off given the player is promoting it. For the purists who think players will sell their names for more cash from nickname jersey revenues, you can judge each player on his actions. Point is, it’s not your name being sold.

To keep players from experimenting with their nicknames, though, and confusing everybody, a cap of two names per year should be allowed. Players start with one, at the start of the year or any time after when they are ready. They can then change name just one more time during the season, playoffs included. This should stop players who are attention hogs and/or with ADD who will change their nicknames every shift if they could.

The nickname change should be a serious consideration, which is why players cannot go back to their original nickname for the rest of the season. That will also avoid more confusion for everybody, trying to keep up with players’ nicknames like it was Prince, aka “the athlete formerly known as…”. That second change should be plenty distraction and annoyance for people, to be honest, and I could even do without that option in the policy.

Should a player tire of his nickname, he can always choose to go back to his regular last name on his jersey… which is what he has always been obliged to do.

Now, as for similar nicknames like similar last names, no duplication should be allowed on the same team to create confusion. Two identical last names are punctuated by a first initial to identify the players clearly, so no identical nicknames should be allowed, either. However, should a player on the opposing team wants to use the same nickname, whether he had earned it in life or just for gamesmanship, he should be allowed to. Just remember the two nickname per year criteria, with only one permanent change, that will prevent too much gamesmanship of this nature.

I suggest the similar nickname policy because it’s hard to “police” who legitimately has what nickname, and who has it first. Sure, nicknames like King James (LeBron James) and The Big Ticket (Kevin Garnett) are pretty easy to document and make a case for who really has them and had them first. The lesser known players would be harder to verify, and it would be a bigger disruption to the game than just a little gamesmanship of two opposing players showing up with the same nickname. Let them prove who is the real “whatever nickname they choose”!

Any other points someone wants to ask me to consider?

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