Here’s a great drinking game that only has four steps:
Turn on a local broadcast of the next Trail Blazers game.
Wait for Craig Smith to enter the game.
Every time Mike Rice says “Rhino” or “Horn” take a drink.
Hook yourself up to a dialysis machine because you might just drink your weight in PBR.
Animal nicknames in the NBA have existed ever since Bill Mlkvy, a.k.a. The Owl without a Vowel, was selected in the 1952 draft (OK I looked that one up, but seriously, could you ask for a better moniker?)
The animal alias phenomenon has only grown stronger over the years. Professional basketball has given us The Kangaroo Kid, Mighty Mouse, Birdman, The Black Mamba, The White Mamba and most recently, to the horror of Blazer fans, The Durantula.
There’s something about athletes that naturally connect them to a creature counterpart. Perhaps it’s their physical abilities that remind us of feats that can only be achieved by wild beasts. Perhaps it’s the visceral emotions that manifest themselves in expressions and gestures reminiscent of our primatial past. Or perhaps because it’s just fun to engage in a little bit of anthropomorphism.
Whatever the reason, it’s about time for the rest of the Blazers to hop on board the Rhino train and get in touch with their sprit animals.
Here are my recommendations:
LaMarcus Aldridge: The Black Swan
Ok hear me out. I’m not suggesting they should have cast the L-Train in a tutu and leotard next to Mila Kunis—although that might have made the movie even more psychologically disturbing. Instead, Aldridge is the Black Swan not only because of his graceful moves and feathery touch, but because for so many years his critics saw him as the white swan: delicate, soft and too nice on the court. Over the course of the last 2 years, Lamarcus has gone all Nina Sayers on that version of himself and emerged as a lean, mean, All-Star quality machine who is no longer afraid to go toe to toe with any other big man in the NBA.
Luke Babbit: Babbit the Bunny Rabbit
Babbit sure isn’t cuddly or furry, but the few times McMillan has let him out of his cage he has played like a timid bunny, unsure of his place and role on this team. It’s only Luke’s second NBA season, however, so perhaps he just needs a little more time to develop into a full-grown hare. Satiating the Taco Bell appetites of rabid Blazer fans is a step in the right direction though.
Nicolas Batum: Le Requin Tigre (The Tiger Shark)
I have no idea if tiger sharks live in French waters, but so far this year Nicolas Batum has played like the terrifying beast of the deep. Like the tiger shark, Batum’s ability to sneak up on his prey from behind by blending into his surroundings is second to none. You may not even notice that Batum’s on the court for a possession or two and then just when you think you have an easy layup…SLAP! A mysterious force breathing down your neck sends that ball ricocheting in the opposite direction (I’m talking to you, Goran Dragich.)
Marcus Camby: The Giraffe
Giraffes have a four-chambered stomach and can eat up to 75 pounds of food per day. Marcus Camby eats 75 pounds of rebounds for breakfast. Giraffes swallow up acacia leaves for 16 hours straight. Marcus Camby swallows up boards like it’s The Last Supper.
Jamal Crawford: The Patagonian Mara
The Patagonian mara is a really weird half rabbit, half guinea pig that only lives in Argentina, but that’s not why Jamal Crawford epitomizes this rare rodent. If an adult mara spots danger, the baby maras all scurry into burrowing holes, while the grown mara is left to defend the herd for himself. When Crawford touches the ball, it’s a good bet that he’s going to take on the opponent all by his lonesome.
Raymond Felton: The Chameleon
Chameleons are amazing creatures. They can take on the color of a brilliant tropical plant or a dull brown piece of wood. That’s pretty much resembled Felton’s play this season. At times his flash and dash style makes you entirely forget about boring old Andre Miller and then there are the nights when you wonder if Felton thinks the term turnover refers to the delicious pastry, i.e. more is better.
Armon Johnson: The São Tomé Shrew
The São Tomé Shrew is one of the rarest animals in the world. It’s unlikely you will ever have the chance to see one in person, unless you find yourself on São Tomé Island off the coast of Western Africa. It’s also unlikely you will see Armon Johnson in a game this year, but you never know when Nate McMillan might decide to show off the little souvenir he found on an obscure African island.
Chris Johnson: The Birch Tree
So technically not an animal, but birch trees are living and pretty much good at one thing: being tall and skinny. I think that about covers it.
Wesley Matthews: The Doberman Pinscher
Doberman Pinschers are both one of the most intelligent and combative dog breeds around. When Matthews is on his A-game, his tenacious aggression and hounding defense can be fierce enough to make you wish you were playing against an actual Doberman.
Greg Oden: The Groundhog
Groundhogs hibernate for up to 7 months a year. If on February 2, the groundhog emerges from its hole and sees its shadow, it dives back into the dark abyss to doze for 6 more weeks of winter. Let’s just say that Oden has seen his shadow for over two years.
Craig Smith: The Rhino
No explanation needed, so instead watch how Craig Smith plays with lions.
Nolan Smith: The Platypus
The platypus is an animal that screams “?”. How nature ever allowed a Frankenstinian duck-beaver to exist in the wild is one of life’s many great questions. Nolan Smith is another major question mark on the Blazers. Will he pan out and become Portland’s first elite point guard in years? Or will he slowly fade into obscurity and be banished to the far reaches of Australia to live among his own kind.
Kurt Thomas: The Giant Tortoise
Some species of giant tortoises can live up to 200 years old. OK, Kurt’s only 39, but at the rate he’s going I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still playing in the 2170-2171 NBA season.
Gerald Wallace: The Siberian Tiger
The Siberian Tiger travels up to 620 miles in order to hunt down its prey. Has Gerald Wallace ever looked tired on a basketball court? A Siberian Tiger has never backed down from another animal—they’ll even kill brown and black bears if they’re hungry enough. When Gerald is hungry, no one’s getting in his way (OK, except maybe a real bear).
Elliot Williams: The Flying Squirrel
Flying squirrels glide between trees for up to 90 meters. Their effortless flight has baffled many a zoologist. We haven’t had many opportunities to witness Williams’ gliding power this year, but we know what this flying freak of nature is capable of.