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Re-Naming Matisse: the commenters weigh in, brilliantly, on nicknames for Matisse Thybulle

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I am in awe of the creativity displayed by the community in thinking up fantastic nicknames for our young talent Matisse Thybulle. For a full list of their phenomenal ideas, and for proper credit to the inventors of all these wonderful suggestions, please see the comment thread on my previous nickname article, as well as comments on other recent pieces where the topic was revisited. Apologies for not crediting everyone properly here; it’s just too difficult what with the blindness and all, but your comments are dated so your priority on these great ideas is preserved. Below are some of my favorites, categorized by concept. Kudos to all who participated, please keep them coming, this gives me a remarkably large amount of joy and I can tell from both the comments and from discussions with friends that I am not alone!

Group 1: The Basics

  • Matisse: some said that with a name as great as Matisse, no nickname is required. True, as far as it goes. With a dessert as delicious as coffee ice cream, no mix-ins are required. But is it better with Oreo cookies in there? Damn straight it is! And so I want nicknames. Of course we will call him Matisse, early and often, but let’s do more.
  • Tisse: This is an excellent shortening, reminiscent of Doninique “Nique” Wilkins, and some say it’s all we should add. I disagree. If I have a friend named Alexander Montmorency Blodgett, and he’s a partner at a law firm but he used to work a summer job laying down railroad ties the old-fashioned way, I’m probably going to call him Alex sometimes but that isn’t going to stop me from also calling him “Hammer” or “Spike” or “Sledge”! Why would it?!
  • MT: Normally I would disdain initials as a nickname; I mean, it’s better than the brutal tyranny of A-Rod/J-Lo/T-Paw/J-Rich, but still pretty unimaginative. But in this case I’ll make an exception, as the commenter suggested that MT stands not only for his name but for “Master Thief.” Master Thief is spectacular; it combines his steals but also references Masterpiece (see below) and the sound of his name, Matisse. Great stuff. Case against: it sounds like “empty”; this was an old joke about MTV; calling it “empty-V.”
  • MVT: Once we’re looking at initials, a friend pointed out, let’s look at all three! Turns out Matisse’s middle name is “Vincent.” Beat writers, can you please do me a favor and, next time you’re chatting with Matisse, ask him if my suspicion that his middle name is in honor of Vincent Van Gogh is correct? In any case, obviously Matisse would have to continue to improve for this to be reasonable, but “MVT” sounds an awful lot like “MVP,” and they really are his initials, so I think MVT is solidly in the nickname mix looking ahead.

Group 2: Art

The man is named for a famous artist, perhaps for two of them! So many possibilities; among my favorites are:

  • Artist: Sometimes the straight path is the best path. Or tweak it a bit and go Artiste, which honors Matisse’s French (or at least Haitian) heritage. Or even L’Artiste, but that’s probably at least one step too far. Same with “D Artist” which slips in a reference to his defensive wizardry.
  • Masterpiece: I love the way this name references both the sound of Matisse’s name and also the art idea.
  • Wildcat: Henri Matisse was a leader of a group of artists known as the Fauvists; due to their bold colors and brush strokes. Fauve is usually translated from the French as “Wild Beast” or similar, but sometimes “Wildcat” is used. I mentioned last time that Matisse the player seems more like a cat than a bull or other animal, and oddly while there are a zillion teams called the Wildcats, I can’t think of any players with this name, so why not? Few will appreciate the art reference, but that’s OK. Anyway, this brings us to our next category...

Group 3: Animals

Animals are always a great source of nicknames; indeed most sports teams are nicknamed for animals. Oh, and a quick note to those who say all great nicknames emerge organically rather than being thought up in a process like this one. Um, how to put this politely... that turns out not to be the case! I can say with great confidence that most well-known sports nicknames were thought up by journalists, publicists, and the like. Do you think “The Sultan of Swat” emerged organically?! The Boston Strangler? ”Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy? I doubt it! Certainly many wonderful nicknames like “Dr. J” did indeed come from the person’s own life rather than from fans and writers like us. But many, many others didn’t. And if ideas are going to come from fans and writers, I say, why not you and me?!

Anyway, you guys had a ton of great animal-themed ideas.

  • Broad Street Bull: This is a transcendent bit of genius, referencing the legendary Philly hockey team, as well as the city’s main thoroughfare that runs near the Stadium complex, together with the last syllable of Thybulle’s name. There is a great deal to be said for long nicknames that are mostly used in shortened form, especially three syllables down to one, like “Doctor J” being the nickname but friends mostly calling him “Doc.” Plenty of people are already calling Matisse “Bull,” and Bull as short version of “Broad Street Bull” is extremely appealing.
  • Matador: A number of commenters showed enthusiasm for The Matador. It really is kind of perfect, not only because it starts with Mat, references bulls, and means “killer,” but also because the matador allows the bull to go past so he can attack as the creature rushes by; a signature element of Thybulle’s game! Of course the problem, as noted in my original article, is that “matador defense” is a term for just waving the opponent by, allowing free passage to the hoop. But maybe Matisse the Matador can change that. “Liberal” in the political realm used to mean “Libertarian”; words can change their meaning over time, especially their meaning within a particular context like politics or basketball. Let’s give Matador a new lease on life!
  • Ballhawk, Hawk for short: Self-explanatory; Matisse is a superb ballhawk, and Hawk is a great nickname anyone would bear with pride. Andre Dawson and Ken Harrelson were known as Hawk in baseball, and no doubt there are others, but I can’t think of a basketball Hawk so I’m here for Matisse “Hawk” Thybulle. Of course there’s a team called the Hawks, so maybe that’s a deal-killer unless we trade him there, which will happen over my dead body so consequently I’d be unable to use the nickname in that event....
  • Raptor: Speaking of team names, the general name for hawks and other birds of prey like eagles is “raptors” and given Matisse’s astonishingly high ratings in defensive RAPTOR from 538, one wag suggested he be called Raptor. Again, I don’t see it happening without an intolerable trade.
  • The Matisse Falcon, Falcon for short: Birds of prey are very appealing choices for a player of Matisse’s type, and so one fan went old-school with this Bogart-inspired nickname, sure to be instantly shortened to Falcon. Alternatively we can go more modern and call him “Millenium Falcon” or, in a generational nod, “Millenial Falcon” (though he’s so young he may technically be Gen Z). All these amuse me so I wrote them up, but I don’t see them catching on.

Group 4: Superheros

As Disney/Marvel have taken over the culture, superhero nicknames have become increasingly prevalent in the sports landscape. I mentioned in the original piece that stretchy superheroes like Plastic Man and Spider-Man were attractive for Matisse. Plastic Man was the nickname of stud defender Stacy Augmon. Basketball Reference lists two nicknames for Matisse, of which one is Spider-Man; presumably given to him in high school or college. But apparently Donovan Mitchell has that one locked down. The other Matisse name on bball-ref is “The Disruptor,” which is super-appropriate but which may be a bit long and unwieldy. A quality FanPost reminded us that the other famous stretch-man is...

  • Mister Fantastic!: This would be a fine nickname if Matisse turns out to be as good as I think he’ll be, but maybe feels a touch arrogant, definitely so now when he’s just a rookie backup.
  • Doctor Octopus: Also another animal name, I like this one quite a lot. In general I think choosing an octopus moniker for Matisse is a shame, as any defensive player could be given such a name, why waste it on a guy with the very special name Matisse?! But here’s the thing: Doctor Octopus — Doc Ock for short — references Dr. J, but in a way that is subtle enough not to be obnoxious. And Doc Ock has a great sound and feel. Which brings us to:
  • Dr. D: Shouldn’t really be in this category but it’s my article and I’ll put it where I want! This is a really sharp play on Dr. J, while also referencing Thybulle’s superb defensive skill. Dr. J was one of the best wings ever at combining steals and blocks, and it’s my hope and expectation that Matisse will be as well. It’s the kind of name that is so simple I could imagine it sticking; I fully appreciate people’s argument that some possibilities seem too contrived or mannered. What I’ll say about that is: it’s absolutely true that can be an issue, sometimes the name folks are going to use is just “KD” and there’s nothing clever fans and writers can do to change it. On the other hand, who the heck would have thought the nickname “Time Lord” for Robert Williams was going to stick? A Doctor Who reference; seriously? Based on an incident where he showed up late for something? So, you never know; sometimes it’s Dr. D, and sometimes it’s a subtle reference to the Fauvists!

The case against these last two is kind of the same as the case for them. The obvious ultra-short version of these is “Doc” (as occurred with Doctor K, Dwight “Doc” Gooden). Is Philly ready to call another basketball player Doc? Perhaps not....

Group 5: Thievery

We already mentioned Master Thief of course, but that’s just the beginning.

  • Icepick, Ice for short: I’ve made my case for this one: he picks off passes, he ices the pick, he cools off hot scorers, he’s cool under pressure, he’s a slender but deadly weapon. I didn’t receive a lot of love for it in the comments, though many thanks to Dave Early for using it in his game review last week! It seems some people find it too graphic and violent-sounding. In my house growing up we had a wood-handled icepick, we used it for chipping ice off the inside of our freezer and such. So to me an icepick is a real thing, a tool, like a hammer or a knife; “Hammer” and “Blade” and such are pretty normal, non-horrifying sports nicknames. But I guess for anyone even a little younger than me, who grew up with frost-free freezers, maybe the only time they’ve ever seen an icepick is in a gangster movie, when a vicious killer is using it to dispatch a stoolie quietly. Or maybe it’s worse than that, I got the impression from comments that some people thought the word “icepick” referred to the object I grew up calling an “ice scraper”; the plastic thing you use to get ice off your car windshield; that would indeed be a crappy nickname! I guess if people have started using the word “icepick” to refer to ice scrapers, then the nickname won’t work, but I’m not aware that has occurred. Or maybe I just didn’t write it up skillfully enough, when I told non-Philly hoops fans about the idea in person, they really liked it; indeed their only concern was whether Matisse was a good enough player to deserve such an awesome name. I assured them he is! Anyway, I see the community is not sold on Icepick, but I still love it and reserve the right to use it in the hope that people will see the light.
  • Artful Dodger: Combines the thief idea with the art idea; perhaps too long and clever to catch on, but I salute it regardless!
  • MaThief: As mentioned apparently his teammates came up with this one; in writing it seems contrived, but screamed at the television as he races his latest stolen ball downcourt for a slam it feels just right. Try it yourself!
  • Matisse Three-Ball: Not a thievery reference, but I’ll put it here as it alludes to his style of play. Obviously this isn’t going to “be his nickname” but if he keeps hitting over 40% from distance, you’ll hear me yelling this on a frequent basis. And as I mentioned, the Hubie Brown malapropism “Thumbull” or “Thumball” will live on — perhaps, Sauce Castillo style, for years to come.

Group 6: Physical Attributes

We didn’t get much here, other than Icepick having a slenderness element. Some fo0lks complained that The Slim Reaper had been wasted on an ungrateful Kevin Durant. “Happy Stealmore” was a cute suggestion, puts together his smile and his thievery, but clever as it is, it’s still a reference to an Adam Sandler movie, so I’ll curb my enthusiasm. Though I will say this: back when I could see a little better, I played in a pickup game at my friend’s gym in NYC and Adam Sandler was in the game, and he was super nice, humble and funny. So props to you, Adam Sandler!

I guess in these days of political correctness we’ll see fewer and fewer nicknames that reference people’s appearance, and thinking about all the nasty nicknames kids gave each other at my summer camp, I’d say that’s a step in the right direction for society! One of my friends had a big head, slender neck and red hair, making his head look like a light bulb, and we all called him “Bulb.” Which of course he hated. We totally liked him and all, we were just mean.

In the end, we don’t have to choose; we can enjoy many of these! For me Landry Shamet is Land Shark, and also Shamu, and also Shamwow, and Shamwet, and Shamw3t, and occasionally ShamGod. I love all those Landrys; I mean, he’s not really all that good a player, I’m very glad to have Tobi instead, but I still love the guy, and I feel no need to limit myself to a single nickname for him.

So, let’s enjoy our wonderful new player Matisse, and all his great appellations. But that said, here are my special favorites:

  • Tisse — no doubt this will be hugely used; great sound and feel
  • MVT — So easy to chant
  • Broad Street Bull — works well in an article — “The Broad Street bull led the Sixers to victory tonight with impenatrable defense and four three-pointers”; but mostly we’ll just say “Bull”
  • MaThief — As I say, I may never write it again, or say it in conversation, but I will shout it out, early and often
  • Icepick — it’s my baby and I love it

But if a real old-school nickname is going to catch on for him, the way people really called Roger Clemens “Rocket” or Hakeen Olajuwon “Dream,” I say it’s going to be either:

Artist — a friend says he can easily imagine Kevin Harlan using this one, and I agree;

or, and I confess I think this would be far cooler and better: Matisse “Matador” Thybulle.

Let’s make it happen!