Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” Probably true, but we’d like to think an athlete’s nickname reveals his character—or at least his girth, in the case of Charles “The Round Mound of Rebound” Barkley. It’s not much of a stretch, too, to suggest that a player experiences the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat when it comes to being nicknamed—often sticking long after his playing days are over. As ol’ Thomas Paine once said, Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. Our title for best sports nickname in Indian Country is up for grabs, but here are a few of our favorites.
The MLB All-Star center fielder is heading West, after being dealt by the Philadelphia Phillies to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31. The Native Hawaiian is a speedy threat on the basepaths and in the field.
Jack “The Throwin’ Samoan” Thompson
The first round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1979 out of Washington State University, where he earned his nickname, is from Tutuwila, Samoa. Although he didn’t have any notable achievements in the NFL, we believe he could still probably throw us around.
Clarence “Taffy” Abel
The hockey hall-of-famer Abel, Chippewa, was a two-time Stanley Cup-winner from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. With a legendary sweet-tooth, Abel earned his nickname for all of the taffy candy he ate. “Sweetness” might have been better?
Gino “The Maniwaki Mauler” Odjick
Sometimes known as the Algonquin Mauler, but always as Sir, Odjick is a former NHL enforcer from Maniwaki, Quebec. The six-foot-three, 225-pound First Nations skater was, as Maxim once noted, as being one of hockey’s toughest bastards. The man could throw down, for sure, and even protected Pavel “The Russian Rocket” for a time while playing for Vancouver.
The first Inuit to play in the NHL, the feisty Tootoo hits opponents like a freight train. And he’ll now be doing that in a Winged Wheel sweater, as the Detroit Red Wings signed him away from the Nashville Predators on July 1.
Reggie “The Riverton Rifle” Leach
The Métis Rifle from Riverton, Manitoba could do it all in the NHL: score goals and drop the gloves. In 1974-75, Leach teamed with notorious hard guys Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber to score 45 goals and earn the respect of the tough fans in the City of Brotherly Love. While helping the Philadelphia Flyers repeat as Stanley Cup winners, Leach scored eight goals in 17 postseason games.
The Winnebago New York Yankees pitcher told ESPN the Magazine how he got the nickname Joba: “I’ve known myself as Joba since I was born. My niece was unable to pronounce Justin, so she’d call me that. Nobody knew my real name until I graduated from high school, when my dad put it in the yearbook. Now there’s nothing that could make me switch back. It’ll never happen. No, sir.”
Eddie “Baby” Allen
Allen, a member of the Skokomish Indian Tribe, fought out of Washington state in the 1930s. For his earliest bouts, he brawled as “Little Skookum” (“Little tough one”), which later became “Baby.” Despite the fine nickname, bantamweight Allen wasn’t so dominating in the ring, ending his pro career with a 3-5-4 record.
Finally, there’s one guy who really doesn’t need a nickname: Wacey Rabbit. The young Rabbit, Kainai Tribal Nation, is a minor league hockey player. Originally from Lethbridge, Alberta, he plays for the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. Skate, Rabbit, Skate!