04 January 2022

Real Ass Sports Names by Lard Alec

I have a document on my desktop titled “Real NBA Names,” though, in truth, it is something else entirely. For starters, it should be called “Real Sports Names (Mostly Basketball*),” but, titular inaccuracy aside, it is more than just a museum of bygone nomenclature. Owing to its scale (43 pages as of this writing), my daft list (list of lists really—there are subcategories within, e.g., “NBA Names of the 70s”) has transformed into a kind of deep history, a record of both my obsessive improvidence, as it grows to the approximate size and shape of my life, and, I dare say, the century that gave birth to it. For me, it is like The Warren Commission, but true.  

It all started**, as you might have guessed, during the early pandemic. Back in the spring of 2020, I was watching old NBA games on YouTube***, zinged and zapped out of my jitters by player names from wayward 80s Nets games. I gave people such as Otis Birdsong a long, hallucinatory look, as though seeing things for the first time. I felt like Thomas Pynchon’s Doc Sportello, frequently wondering if I’d merely thought my thoughts or had said them aloud. Did I intone “Otis Birdsong” to myself as my wife passed the TV room and gave me a worried look? Who knows? But at some point, I started writing things like Otis Birdsong down on a yellow legal pad while the rest of my family was working or in school or wherever they were.

Otis Birdsong led to Chubby Cox to Bruce Flowers and then somehow back in time to Bronze Age standouts like Pep Saul, Ray Lumpp, and Dick Groat. From there, it was all Whitey Skoogs and Easy Parhams and Belus Smawleys, with their putrid field goal percentages and occasional brilliantined profile pictures in underlit, 50-degree gymnasiums of olde. What was it like, I wondered, to pay your hard-earned Chicago meat-packing money to go see Wally Osterkorn or Bob Tough do inexcusable things to a basketball some 70 years ago?

I’ll never know, but the lists themselves, if read slowly and avidly, induce something like hypnotic transport—into history, or beyond it, who can say?  I read each aloud before emailing them to nonplussed friends. And here and there, I catch a whiff of Schlitz, Pall Malls, and peanuts, and hear the dog-track acoustics of perfunctory pregame lineup announcements, while the gathering multitudes harumph and chatter in anticipation of another 30-rebound performance from a 6’4” power forward who will be out of the league in three years because of an off-season forklift injury. To travel down litanies such as these is to stumble over the tripwires of history and induce a psycho-nautical glimpse of the past via the craggy outcroppings of appellations like Leo Mogus.

At one point early in my endeavors, I even drafted fictional player names, e.g., Julius Swann and Frank Bigtonski, as a means of reckoning with the poetry of an era. With a little research, though, reality won out. I never could have dreamed up Hank Finkel or Walt Hazzard, let alone hung a life on those names, so I stopped trying. Wah Wah Jones, Campy Russell, Foots Walker. They’re just lying around, waiting for someone to find them, disbelieve them, and then accept with a personal nod their righteous actuality.

Here are a few, in no particular order, and indeed spliced together from several sub-files—all hoopers, in this case—; perhaps you’ll find something you can use for your newborn, your pet rabbit, or your Twitter burner. If not, you can just enjoy the fact that these names once wore sneakers and dreamed of greatness, despite themselves.

Irv Bemoras
Lew Hitch
Max Zaslofsky
Dick Bunt
Kleggie Hermsen
Mo Mahoney
Bob Tough
Blackie Towery
Hoot Gibson
Johnny Lacknowski
Marv Winkler
McCoy McLemore
Bob Boozer
Stu Lantz
Tom Boerwinkle
Happy Hairston
Bingo Smith
Zelmo Beaty
Corky Calhoun
Phil Lumpkin
Larry Steele
Slick Watts
Tal Skinner
Butch Beard
Gary Brokaw
Len Kosmalski
Campy Russell
Foots Walker
Cliff Meely
Clem Haskins
Truck Robinson
Tom Kozelko
Hawthorne Wingo
*I’ve indexed ABA, NCAA, and MLB names too.
**And with some general inspiration, no doubt, from the delightful Deadspin segment called “Remembering Some Guys.”
***Actual live sports were all cancelled.