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Call Me by My One Name: The Definitive Ranking of One-Name NBA All-Stars

From the newest member (Luka) to those on their way out the door (D-Wade and Dirk), here is a definitive list of basketball players so good you need to hear only one word to know who is being talked about

A word cloud containing names of NBA players including Steph, Dirk, Boogie, Luka, and LeBron Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this season thinking about a game-winner Patty Mills hit in late October. It’s not so much the shot itself that’s stuck with me as what Mills said about it afterward. He revealed that it’s a play that the Spurs have run for years, but “usually with Tim, Tony and Manu.” Tim, Tony, and Manu. No surnames or further explanation necessary.

It reminded me of a scene from Doctor Strange, when Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular character is introduced to a fellow wizard (warlock? Mystic? Magic guy? I’m still a little fuzzy on the appropriate appellation) who goes by just one name: Wong. It throws the good doctor off a bit at first, until he starts considering the precedent and possibilities: “Wong. Just Wong? Like Adele? Or Aristotle. Drake. Bono. … Eminem.” By the time he finishes the thought, he’s come around on the concept.

Like singers, philosophers, musicians, and rappers, some of the best NBA players are most commonly referred to by one name. Tim and Manu might be gone, and Tony has faded into Charlotte’s shadows, but many others around the league enjoy the same status. Of that select group, which players have names and games that sizzle, and what would the pecking order among them look like? What follows is my attempt to answer the questions that no one (except me) thought needed to be asked in order to assemble the first One-Name All-Stars.

In the service of this most important endeavor, I crafted a super-scientific/not-at-all arbitrary category-based points system:

Name Recognition

How quickly/easily would the average fan be able to identify the player based on his one name? Has my mom heard of him? Because my mom has not heard of many people and still isn’t entirely sure what I do to earn a living wage. Beyond that, how original is the name? Uniqueness matters. Conversely, generic names are hurt here. Ben Simmons made our top-25 list from the first 25ish games of the season, but neither “Ben” nor “Simmons” is particularly notable on its own. No one calls him B.S., and he doesn’t have a nickname. Of course, merely being distinctive is not enough. As a Philadelphian, I will always love Dario, but the homie will not appear below. As in politics, the more famous the player, the more exposure he’s had to the public, the higher his name recognition is likely to be. Considering that this is a name-rankings column, this is the most heavily weighted category. Max score: 20

Entertainment Value

This is sort of a catch-all Q Score. How much do we enjoy watching a particular one-name player on the court? And how integral is he to the league zeitgeist off it? Potential bonus importance: Is he apt to do weird shit? Because I tend to like weird shit. Max score: 15

Talent

Self-explanatory, though it should be noted that this is present-day skill level. That hurts some of the soon-to-be retirees. Max score: 10

Staying Power

This could be interpreted in two ways. For the old heads, how long have they been a one-name presence in our NBA-loving lives? For the younger guys, what’s their potential for the foreseeable future? (The baseline here is three out of five, which is what most of the mid-career guys received.) It might seem like I’m leaving myself a lot of wiggle room, but I assure you, like the rest of the methodology here, the science is sound. Max score: 5.

The mathematicians among you have already calculated that the highest possible score is 50. Well done. But please keep in mind that everything is relative. If a top-tier player doesn’t get a perfect score in a certain category, that’s because he’s being judged compared with his fellow One-Name All-Stars. Call it the zero-to-LeBron scale.

One final point about this unassailable process: Initially, I was going to piggyback off the “Tim, Tony, Manu” quote and keep it to first names only. But then I started thinking about how we talk and write about the NBA. Some people might call Kevin Durant “Kevin” or “Durant,” but mostly he’s known as “KD.” Russell Westbrook is forever “Russ.” First or last names, name shortening, and initials are all allowed. I’m also permitting the limited application of nicknames in certain instances, since they have become more synonymous with the players than their birth names. Also, the nicknames are cool, and cool is to be rewarded. What we’re looking for here is the ONE name we most associate with the athlete. As my editor Chris Ryan texted me when I explained this piece to him, this all makes for some “interesting parliamentary procedure.” So stipulated. Onward.

T-24. KAT

Name ID: 10
Entertainment Value: 9
Talent: 9
Staying Power: 4
Total: 32

T-24. Jokic

Name ID: 9
Entertainment Value: 10
Talent: 9
Staying Power: 4
Total: 32

There were a number of candidates who just missed the cut and could have appeared in this space, including DeMar, JJ, Rudy, Ricky, Gordon, Kristaps, J.R., and singing sensation Oladipo, among others. KAT squeaked in because he’s been a lot better in a post-Jimmy world and also because he lucked into a name that makes his initials perfect for this exercise.

As for Jokic, he’s the kind of thicc that makes the gang at NBA Desktop swoon, and his playmaking is mesmerizing. I could watch that full-figured big man sling passes all day. (He also has glorious slow-mo post moves.) But the main reason he’s here is because Steven Adams evidently did not know he even had a first name, which makes him an automatic One-Name All-Star.

23. Boogie

Name ID: 12
Entertainment Value: 12
Talent: 8.5
Staying Power: N/A
Total: 32.5

The first of our nickname qualifiers (and the first of many Warriors). In a vacuum, Boogie should be higher. He might have the best name in the entire league, and he’s always good for off-court entertainment. The fact he wanted to fight KD in the hallway of the Smoothie King Center last year, only to go to the Warriors and play peacemaker when Draymond was barking at KD, is peak Boogie. Alas, blowing out his Achilles hurts his score. We can’t be certain what kind of Boogie we’ll get when we he returns or how the injury might impact him in the short- or long-term. The way he was lumbering around the court in a recent workout does not make me optimistic. He looked like he was in desperate need of WD-40.

22. PG

Name ID: 11
Entertainment Value: 11
Talent: 9
Staying Power: 3
Total: 34

We would have also accepted PG-13 here, though somewhere along the way it seems like he (or maybe we?) dropped the number and kept the initials. Either way, PG/PG-13 isn’t the flashiest moniker—which is why it’s so perfect for Paul. He is somehow the pedestrian superstar, the guy who does it all at both ends of the floor without puffing out his chest or pointing two thumbs back at himself. It’s possible to watch a Thunder game and not fully appreciate PG’s dominance until you check the box score later. In both name and style, he’s the counterbalance to his flashier, more famous teammate. I’m glad he and Russ stayed together—and I love how they brought in fellow One-Name All-Star Nas when they renewed their vows over the summer.

21. Blake

Name ID: 15.5
Entertainment Value: 12.5
Talent: 8.5
Staying Power: N/A
Total: 36.5

I almost hesitate to write this, because I don’t want to trigger the Ringer curse, but when Blake is healthy, Blake is good. He’s an incredible passer, and he’s shooting the 3 better and more frequently than ever before. He also pushed Detroit out to a hot start this season (though it’s since cooled off a bit). But the question with Blake is the same as always: Can he stay on the court? He has a long injury history, and he’ll be 30 in March. And even if he does remain healthy, how much longer will he want to play before making the inevitable pivot to an entertainment career? Blake has said all the right things about Detroit since being traded, but you have to wonder whether he misses L.A. and all the ancillary interests he could pursue there. I’m sure Motown is great, but it’s just not the same as being a one-namer among fellow ONAS in Hollywood.

20. Klay

Name ID: 14
Entertainment Value: 12
Talent: 8.5
Staying Power: 3
Total: 37.5

We’re big fans of Klay here at Ringer HQ. His name is perfect for someone who reads the newspaper before games and sometimes short-circuits after them. Just look at him. If he isn’t a born Klay, no one is.

19. Jimmy

Name ID: 12
Entertainment Value: 14.5
Talent: 8.5
Staying Power: 3
Total: 38

By his own admission, Jimmy gives zero fucks about what anyone thinks of him. The puddle of Timberwolves egos he left behind in Minnesota is a testament to that truth. (Quick aside about that: On a recent podcast episode with JJ Redick, Jimmy revealed that he shot only once in the infamous scrimmage that led him to force a trade. What a yarn. By the time he retires, legend will have it that he used Andrew Wiggins as a basketball and dribbled him the full length of the court.) Meanwhile, he got off to a super-hot start in Philly and was embraced by a town that is sometimes slow to warm up to people. And best of all for our purposes here, his name inspired a clever and fearless Sixers employee to play “Jimmy” by Boogie Down Productions after he made a basket in his first home game with the team. I was there and nearly fell out of my seat. Because the song is about a dick. Which is perfect.

18. Draymond

Name ID: 14
Entertainment Value: 14
Talent: 7.5
Staying Power: 3
Total: 38.5

There was a debate within the One-Name All-Star selection committee about whether we should go with Dray or Draymond here. The full, formal name won out, but if you prefer the abbreviated version, we won’t argue. Just don’t argue with him. That’s something KD, LeBron, Tristan Thompson, and even Steve Kerr have all learned the hard way. I’m so here for Dray/Draymond versus everybody.

17. The Brow

Name ID: 15
Entertainment Value: 10
Talent: 10
Staying Power: 5
Total: 40.5

In the original draft, we had him listed here as AD. But like PG, that isn’t the sexiest name, and it didn’t feel quite right. After a lengthy ONAS selection committee review, we switched it to the Brow, which is a good name and a weird name, but not a name that bumps him any higher up the list. The problem here for AD/the Brow is that he still plays in New Orleans. On paper, that combination—one of the biggest talents in the NBA playing in one of America’s best cities—should zoom him to the top of the One-Name All-Star charts. But in practice, as evidenced by the Pelicans’ not-great attendance figures, he’s overlooked. Whether we go by facial hair or initials won’t matter much until he makes a break for a better NBA outpost with a brighter spotlight.

16. Luka

Name ID: 14
Entertainment Value: 15
Talent: 8
Staying Power: 4
Total: 41

The only rookie to make the cut. As my colleague Megan Schuster mentioned on NBA Desktop, it’s unlikely that people would be this lathered up about him if his name were Jake instead of Luka. Luckily, that is not the case. (That’s good parenting by the Doncic family.) Luka is just 19 and already dazzling us with incredible plays. He’s so talented that Dave Joerger simultaneously roasted his rookie big man Marvin Bagley III and the Kings front office while openly gushing about Luka. Five years from now, Luka might be the ONAS champ. Maybe even sooner. After all, Luka is the only player on this list to have his theme song performed live at an NBA game this season by international recording superstars Ice2Ice.

15. Kemba

Name ID: 17.5
Entertainment Value: 12
Talent: 8.8
Staying Power: 3.2
Total: 41.5

Unlike a lot of entrants, Kemba has been Kemba, full stop, no last name needed, since college, when he won a championship with UConn. That helps. So does the season he’s having. He’s failed to score in double digits only twice, and he’s had eight games with 30 or more points. That includes a mid-November performance during which he put 60 on the Sixers and followed it up by hanging 43 on the Celtics. He so completely cooked Philly in that game that Jimmy said he was really glad it didn’t go to a second overtime because he was certain Kemba would have gone for 70.

14. Embiid

Name ID: 17.5
Entertainment Value: 15
Talent: 9.5
Staying Power: N/A
Total: 42

He could have qualified as Joel or Jo (or, among the superfans in Philly, even JoJo). But those are closer to cute. Embiid is something else. It’s a man’s name best suited for someone who’s having a killer, MVP-caliber season and has made no apologies for buying up real estate in the heads of his overmatched opponents. He’s even dunked on his own general manager (figuratively and literally). The problem here, to the extent that there is one, is that he’s been near the top of the league in total minutes all season. That’s a lot for a guy who goes as hard as he does and regularly hits the floor with the kind of force the Kool-Aid Man uses to break through walls. As with Blake, I refuse to forecast his durability for fear of jinxing him, which hurts his score. Hopefully he stays healthy [crosses fingers, knocks on wood, lights a prayer candle] because when he’s available he’s one of the best one-namers in the league.

13. Dame

Name ID: 17.5
Entertainment Value: 12.6
Talent: 9
Staying Power: 3
Total: 42.1

In addition to being a gifted scorer, and a surprisingly good rapper, Dame has lately taken to breaking NBA reporter news. The man is a polymath. He’s also the only ONAS whose name has its own temporal period (Dame Time!).

12. CP3

Name ID: 19
Entertainment Value: 10
Talent: 8.3
Staying Power: 5
Total: 42.3

In a weird way, the more famous CP3 has gotten, the more his celebrity has diminished the usage rate of the nickname he’s carried throughout his career. He’s gotten increased exposure by endorsing State Farm, and he poked fun at himself and how he’s perceived in that Madden commercial with Harden—but both of those turns on TV were more about him being Chris Paul, pitchman, than CP3, point god. It’s sort of a double-edged sword. But while Chris Paul’s status is growing off the court, I’m glad CP3 still exists in some form to do the dirty work when necessary—like attempting to get in one fight, and actually getting in another for real, at Staples Center with two different teams in less than a year. Even Draymond couldn’t pull that off.

11. Harden

Name ID: 18
Entertainment Value: 12
Talent: 9.4
Staying Power: 3
Total: 42.4

This one was tough. There was some lobbying behind the ONAS scenes to list him under the Beard in the same way that AD made the cut as the Brow. But as the reigning league MVP, an executive decision was made to go with something more professional. Either way, we can’t understate how many great, GIF-able moments Harden has given us, from the (in)famous side-eye to that time he ruined poor Wesley Johnson and left the internet vultures to pick at what was left of his carcass. He’s fun.

10. Kawhi

Name ID: 18
Entertainment Value: 12
Talent: 9.5
Staying Power: 3
Total: 42.5

There are lots of dudes named Chris, James, and Anthony in the league, but only one Kawhi. He is a top-tier ONAS talent for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that he’s a two-way terror on the court—like that memorable moment two seasons ago when he nailed a 3 at one end of the floor, then raced to the other end to swat Harden. Your mileage may vary on Kawhi’s quirks, but they’re a big part of why he landed so high on this list. He’s made weird his brand, from recently refusing to discuss Christmas to signing on as New Balance’s newest pitchman. And when Gregg Popovich questioned his leadership (or lack of same), Kawhi clapped back with four simple words delivered in typical monotone: “It’s funny to me.” You could almost hear him laughing.

9. D-Wade

Name ID: 20
Entertainment Value: 12
Talent: Still playing!
Staying Power: 5
Total: Doesn’t matter

And thus begins a run of three players who had their total scores waived by the ONAS committee and were grandfathered into this list thanks to career achievements. D-Wade will retire as a 12-time All-Star who won three NBA championships, a Finals MVP and was named All-NBA eight times. He also helped melt the minds of New Yorkers everywhere— thereby immediately scrambling the jets on The Ringer’s overloaded take tarmac—when LeBron let it slip that if they hadn’t said goodbye to each other in L.A., it would have happened at the Garden.

But his greatest achievement for our purposes might be his name evolution over the years. As a young player, he was best known as Flash—only to graduate to the more age-appropriate D-Wade. And now he’s set to ride off into the South Beach sunset later this season, perhaps to spend time rocking in his new chair. That is a man who’s comfortable with the passage of time—and himself.

8. Dirk

Name ID: 20
Entertainment Value: 10
Talent: Back in the day, so much.
Staying Power: He’s basically the knight from the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Total: A one-name Hall of Fame legend.

Five years ago, maybe even three years ago, he would have been ranked a lot higher. But the fact he’s still eligible to be on this list as an active-duty One-Name All-Star is incredible. I covered Dirk in Dallas in the early 2000s, when both of us were fresh-faced 20-somethings and just getting started. Neither of us are fresh-faced anymore, but there’s something to be said for being washed and knowing it. Dirk has leaned into it, joining in on the joke about being old and stiff. After sitting out the start of the season, he just recently returned to the court. I could not help but marvel at the way he made his way back up the floor after hitting his first shot of the season. That’s what would happen if we had the ability to apply 1/2 podcast speed to a person. The giant German is a work of art. He’ll be 41 in June. I hope he plays until he’s 50.

7. Melo

Name ID: 20
Entertainment Value: All of it.
Talent: N/A
Staying Power: 5
Total: Melo lives in a world behind numbers (or actual employment).

Even though he’s lately done his best on-court work in an empty gym, Melo is still technically a member of the Rockets. Much like Dirk, he’s moving a lot slower these days. But for as quickly as his career cratered, he’s spent his entire time in the league as a one-name brand. There was young Melo, who flourished in Denver. The Melo who forced his way to the Knicks. The Melo who warred with Mike D’Antoni in New York and mocked Phil Jackson, whom he said wanted to trade him for “a bag of chips.” In Oklahoma City, after the worst season of his career ended with a quick first-round playoff knockout for the Thunder, we got a defiant Melo who said that coming off the bench or changing how he plays was “out of the question.” And finally, in Houston, where he was supposed to be a better fit, we got a scapegoated and humbled Melo. And, of course, there is always Hoodie Melo—even at the beach. He’s a one-name icon.

By the way, I was wrong. Luka isn’t the only ONAS with his own theme song. I apologize for the error.

6. Russ

Name ID: 19
Entertainment Value: 15
Talent: 9
Staying Power: 3
Total: 46

Russ is a bit of a divisive figure at The Ringer. Some people around here are for Russ, others against Russ. But no one here or anywhere else can ignore Russ. He makes sure of that.

From fashion to the floor, Russ goes full speed at all times. He has an incredible talent of pissing off guys he plays against and guys who are just watching him play. You never really know what you’re going to get with him from moment to moment, either. Just consider what happened during a notable stretch late last week. Last Friday afternoon, he ran into Michelle Obama and posted a picture with the former first lady while holding her new book. (Did he have the book on him? Did she gift him a copy? I have a lot of questions about that whole encounter.) Then, just a few hours later, he was screaming some very special holiday greetings across the court at Jamal Murray: “I’ll fuck you up.” ’Tis the season.

5. Kyrie

Name ID: 19.5
Entertainment Value: 15
Talent: 9
Staying Power: 3
Total: 46.5

At last check, the only person selling more sneakers these days is Kyrie’s former teammate LeBron. He starred in a surprisingly watchable movie as his alter ego, Uncle Drew. And best of all, Kyrie willingly (and hilariously) played the villain earlier this season, when he took the ball from Jamal Murray’s career-high game and fired it into the stands out of spite. He’s also still really good at basketball.

4. Giannis

Name ID: 18
Entertainment Value: 15
Talent: 9.5
Staying Power: 5
Total: 47.5

In the beginning, while we were still figuring out who Giannis was and what he could become, he was best known as the Greek Freak. He was a curiosity, someone to puzzle over before turning our attention back to more conventional One-Name All-Stars. No longer. Giannis has blossomed, and in the process his given name has superseded the nickname. These days, everyone is aware that he’s both Greek and a freak. It goes without saying—and so saying Giannis is all that needs to be said. Suddenly, he’s the front-runner for MVP, according to Basketball-Reference’s tracker, and he’s grown so swole over the years that it almost looks fake. But it is not fake, despite the wild conspiracy theory floated by my Ringer colleague Pat Muldowney, who would have you believe that Giannis’s hard work in the gym is really the result of lighting magic and the use of heavy weights as props.

3. KD

Name ID: 19.99
Entertainment Value: 15
Talent: 10
Staying Power: 5
Total: 49.99

KD has won two Finals MVPs and a regular-season MVP. He’s been to nine All-Star games and made eight All-NBA teams. He’s led the league in scoring four times. And in his third season with the Warriors, he’s turned in yet another stat-stuffing performance for the defending champs. (Only Giannis is ahead of KD on the MVP tracker.) KD is a generational talent. He has also been more likely at times than other, more careful One-Name All-Stars to let his guard down and tell us what he really thinks. Sometimes he takes heat for that, like when he got into it with Draymond, or when he said that all the stuff swirling around LeBron-led teams—from the attendant hype to “fanboys in the media”—makes it so that certain players think twice about wanting to play with LeBron. Maybe his tell-it-as-he-sees it inclination bothers some people, but I find it entertaining as hell, and there’s a good case to be made that it’s raised his overall profile. I love that he doesn’t mute what he’s thinking—even and especially if he just did your fucking podcast. If this really is the end for him in Golden State, here’s hoping that he winds up with the Knicks. Unfiltered KD in NYC is a tantalizing prospect.

2. Steph

Name ID: 20
Entertainment Value: 15
Talent: 10
Staying Power: 5
Total: 50

Steph just sneaks past KD here. There are differing opinions on KD, but pretty much everyone loves Steph (despite him recently going Full Muldowney and saying the moon landing was fake—only to then reverse course and insist he was kidding and make a joke that no one got or laughed at—and getting dunked on by the Kings). He has an unassuming name to go with an unassuming appearance—which only makes the contrast with his uncanny on-court ability even more striking. A dude named Steph who rocks dad sneaks and crushes fools on the floor is some singular shtick.

1. LeBron

Total: Infinity

He’s been LeBron since he was a kid—and now he’s got kids (Bronny, Bryce, and Zhuri) who are potential future One-Name All-Stars. Siring a ONAS dynasty is impressive. And just when you thought he couldn’t be more of a marketing monster, LeBron joined the Lakers and became L.A.Bron. Even among fellow dignitaries, the King is ONAS royalty.