by Paul Knepper
Ron Artest has reportedly filed court documents to change his name to “Metta World Peace.” The enigmatic Lakers forward is just the latest in a long line of ballplayers who have officially or unofficially adopted a new name for any number of reasons.
The first person to come to mind after hearing about Artest is naturally World B. Free. The former NBA sharpshooter was born Lloyd Bernard Free, but in December of 1981 decided to officially incorporate his nickname “All World” into his name.
Former Dolphins wide receiver Mark Duper and boxer Marvin Hagler are two other athletes who legally adopted their nicknames, becoming Mark Super Duper and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Two New York pitchers, Boof Bonser of the Mets (originally named John) and the Yankees Joba Chamberlain (originally Justin) officially replaced their given first names with their nicknames.
Of course, there’s an endless list of athletes known exclusively by their nicknames, though they haven’t legally changed their name, from superstars like George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Vincent “Bo” Jackson, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods and Lawrence “Yogi” Berra to role players like A’s center fielder Covelli “Coco” Crisp, former slam dunk champion Anthony “Spud” Webb and his teammate with the Atlanta Hawks, Wayne “Tree” Rollins.
Julius Erving, known primarily as Dr. J, has the greatest nickname lineage of any athlete. Celtics coach Glenn Rivers’ friends called him “Doc” when he was a kid because Erving was his favorite player, and the name stuck. Legendary hip-hop rapper/producer Andre Young took the stage name Dr. Dre because he too idolized the original high flyer. It’s hard to imagine that former Mets phenom Dwight Gooden would have been called ”Dr. K” had there not been a Dr. J first.
Brazilian soccer players are often referred to by one-name nickname, the most obvious example being Edison Arantes de Nascimento, commonly known as Pele. There’s star midfielder “Kaka,” (real name Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite), the great scorer “Ronaldo” (real name Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima) and two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho (real name Ronaldo de Assis Moreira.) Brazilian basketball player Maybyner “Nene” Hilario followed his fellow countrymen and dropped his last name, legally changing his name to just Nene.
Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., was the first prominent Muslim athlete to change his name for religious reasons when he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964. Seven years later, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., known as Lew Alcindor, announced that would be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar going forward. Former Vikings running back Bobby Moore became Ahmad Rashad and one-time LSU standout and one-time Denver Nuggets guard Chris Jackson adopted the name Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
UCLA running back Sharmon Shah changed his named to Karim Abdul-Jabbar while in college. Two years later he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins and in 1998 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sued Karim for profiting off of his likeness. Kareem pointed out that in addition to the name, Karim also went to UCLA and wore the same number 33. The court ordered the football player to remove the Abdul-Jabbar from the back of his jersey, at which point he changed his name again to Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar.
A couple of athletes have changed their names in order to avoid confusion. Prior to the 2002 draft, Duke standout poitn guard Jason Williams said he wanted to be known as Jay, to avoid being confused with then Grizzlies point guard Jason Williams and former Net Jayson Williams, who was facing manslaughter charges at the time. Angels pitcher Ervin Santana changed his name from Johan to Ervin in the minor leagues so as to avoid being confused with then Twins ace Johan Santana. According to Santana, “I just came up with Ervin… Ervin Santana, that sounds good.”
Some athletes have changed their names in search of a fresh start (like Puff Daddy becoming P. Diddy after his acquittal on gun possession and bribery charges. He’s since dropped the P. and is just Diddy and his given name is Sean Combs, but rap names are a whole other article.) Albert Jojuan Belle was known as Joey growing up and began going by Albert after a stint in rehab. Looking for a “fresh start” San Francisco Defensive back William James Peterson Jr. dropped the Peterson Jr. from his name when he signed with the Eagles in 2006.
During his college career at UCLA, running back Maurice Drew changed his last name to Jones-Drew in honor of his grandfather who had recently passed away. The late center originally named Brian Williams legally adopted the name Bison Dele while playing for the Detroit Pistons, in honor of his Native American and African ancestry.
Some name changes just didn’t stick. Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson changed his last name to his self-proclaimed nickname, Ochocinco, in August 2008, for no discernible reason other than self-promotion. This past January Chad said he would be changing his last name back to Johnson. In 1993, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Michael Jackson changed his name to Michael Dyson, only to change it back after the first game of the season.
Former female tennis player Renee Richards was born Richard Raskind and it took a lawsuit to enable her to play on the women’s tour after undergoing a sex change. The New York City basketball player known as Shammgod Wells couldn’t afford the cost of changing his name when he enrolled at Providence College and was forced to use his given name God Shammgod.
Midway through his hall of fame basketball career, Nigerian center Akeem Olajuwan added an H to the front of his first name. Speaking of African born basketball players, I believe every athlete who changes his or her name in the future should consider a Congolese name. No country produces better names than the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
There’s Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, commonly known as just Dikembe Mutombo, Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka and new Bobcats forward, the 7th pick in last night’s draft, Bismack Biyombo. Neighboring Cameroon may give the Congo a run for its money with Bucks forward “Prince” Luc Richard MBah a Moute and one time Portland Trailblazer Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.