Frank Ntilikina has been somewhat slow to develop for the taste of many Knicks fans, and we here at Elite Sports NY finally realized why: no one has settled on a nickname. It’s time to change that.
I’ll never forget my first nickname.
I was seven years old and on the chubbier side. I knew I was chubby because when my mom took me to the store to buy jeans, we couldn’t get jeans in the section where all the other kids got their jeans. We had to go to the husky section. I don’t remember if the jeans themselves had “husky” written on them, or that part of the store actually had a sign that said “Husky Jeans,” but either way, I knew something was amiss.
Unsurprisingly, my first nickname was Pillsbury after the lovable dough boy Poppin’ Fresh (the name on his birth certificate) who became less lovable if kids called you by the name, poked you in the stomach, and then ran away laughing.
I’ve never been much a fan of nicknames since then.
The importance of a nickname
This is fine. He doesn’t seem to mind. He’s too busy being 19 in the biggest city in the world, thousands of miles away from his home, learning how to play in a league with grown men who have no compassion for his homesickness, his nascence, or his severe lack of croissants.
He’s also busy trying to become a reliable NBA rotation player. He has to worry about things like his jumper, his handle, and not getting put on his rear end by the arsenal of ankle breakers he’s tasked with guarding nightly.
This is all quite demanding. As a result, he doesn’t have time to worry about the thing that really matters:
There are many categories of the NBA nickname:
- The regal nickname – King James, His Airness, Sir Charles.
- The gritty nickname – Boogie, Zeke, Bad News.
- The nickname out of necessity – the Greek Freak, Big Z.
- The nickname that makes light of a quirky physical feature – the Brow, Curly.
- The nickname that’s really just initials (shhh, don’t tell anyone) – KD, KCP, MKG, KAT.
- The glorified initials – D-Rose, D-Fish, K-Mart, RoLo.
- Initials (are you sitting down?) with a number – CB4, CP3, PG13, AK47.
- Initials with a twist – Z-Bo, B-Easy.
- The “I’m totally pushing this nickname to up the ante on my global image even though there’s nothing organic about it whatsoever” nickname – Black Mamba, Starbury, STAT.
- Nicknames with a pop culture reference – the Chief, the Matrix, Hondo, Clyde.
- A little long but still awesome – Never Nervous Pervis, the Human Highlight Film.
- Nicknames that replace the name – Clyde (again), Dr. J, Magic, Penny, Tiny, Happy (it just occurred to me that two of the seven dwarves are represented here).
- Nicknames that prove the late 60’s and early 70’s were awesome – Chocolate Thunder, the Iceman, and for the last time, Clyde.
- Nick Young’s nickname – Swaggy P.
The evidence above clearly shows that the greatest nickname of all-time is possessed by the greatest Knick of all-time. Coincidentally, Clyde was also the best defensive point guard in franchise history. Defense is Frank’s calling card. The symmetry would smack you in the face if it had a pair of hands.
So it is with great responsibility that I undertake this task.
Let’s hit these in order of merit, starting with the easy “no’s.”
Oddly enough, this is the first nickname listed on Frank’s Basketball Reference page. Its appearance teaches us a valuable lesson: Basketball Reference is good for looking up statistics.
Frank mentioned that some of his teammates call him this on occasion. People like French Toast, and people like Frank. How could you not? Just look at him
Both are also comfort items. Moreover, French Toast is versatile and can be accompanied by syrup, fruit, and various pork products.
It still doesn’t work. Aside from the fact that I’m not even sure whether Ntilikina is technically French (he was born in Belgium), French Toast evokes many negatives.
When you get burned on the court, you’re toast. This is bad. French Toast also isn’t very active. Usually, it just sits there on the plate. It doesn’t do much. It certainly doesn’t defend anyone, like bananas or strawberries that may be surrounding it. If anything, it exposes those items to the perils of the person eating, which is the opposite of defense.
Another one mentioned by Frank that some teammates call him.
This is just stupid. There are multiple French Fries, even in a small order or kid’s meal. There is only one Frank.
The singular “French fry” sounds weak, especially if it’s not crispy. You could imagine Russ crossing up Frank for a layup and then turning around as he ran up the court to say “you a soggy-ass French fry, boy.”
The last one mentioned by Frank that his teammates have used for him.
French Montana, the rapper, is badass, but in kind of a subtle way, unless you’re the one he’s targeting in a lyric. This describes Frank perfectly. One second you think you’re safe to make your move, and the next you’re watching Frank streak down the court.
Montana is also so damn good, and yet somehow he still hasn’t quite gone mainstream, which feels like the ceiling of Frank’s career – never an All-Star, but a guy real fans appreciate as a unique talent.
There are still a couple of issues. First of all, French Montana, itself, is a nickname. The rapper’s real name is Karim Kharbouch. So Frank would be taking someone else’s nickname. That’s even worse than using someone else’s name as your nickname, which is weak sauce to begin with.
French Montana also got the nickname in part due to his love of Tony Montana, who is a violent drug addict. Frank could be a violent drug addict, but if he is, he hides it well. It would not surprise me, however, if he kept a fully-grown tiger in his Westchester apartment.
Even so, this is a “pass.”
Nitty / Frank Nitti / Frank Nitty
An under-the-radar contender.
First of all, Nitty just sounds cool. Nitty is the guy hanging out on the corner who you know has never worked a day in his life but has also never worn the same pair of J’s twice. If your girl cheated on you with Nitty, you’d be pissed, but you’d get it.
Frank Nitti sounds less cool, but it’s also the name of one of Al Capone’s top henchman, which is decidedly very cool (I’m as revisionist PC as the next guy, but you will never get me to think that this isn’t cool). Sylvester Stallone also played Frank Nitti in a pretty low-level Al Capone movie – appropriately titled “Capone” – during his pre-Rocky days, which I’m not sure helps the coolness factor here.
There’s also a hip-hop artist that goes by Frank Nitty from a Detroit hip-hop group called Frank N Dank (h/t to @LooseJointny for that one). So that’s something.
I’d be fine with any variation of the name. They all have merit because they all have some variation of “Nitty.” The problem is that a nickname has to be accessible to the masses.
Ideally, five years down the line, there’s some kid in Kansas who goes to the mall, sees a pair of Knicks shorts in the window of a store, and wants to buy them. If he turns to his dad and says “Dad, can I have those shorts? Those are the shorts that Nitty wears. I want Nitty’s shorts.” Dad will probably remove the corncob pipe from his mouth, hitch up his thumbs to his overalls, lean back and tell his son that no, he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for him to be wearing the same shorts as Nitty. He then goes on to buy him a LeBron James Sonics jersey and he’s been lost forever.
The Knicks need those Kansas fans. Frank needs those Kansas fans.
So let’s settle on Nitty being what Black Jesus was for Earl “The Pearl” Monroe: a nickname for and from the streets, nothing more, nothing less.
There’s a small but vociferous groundswell of support for this one, buoyed by some nifty faux-album cover art:
It’s a worthy contender. Nas is a New York City product who released “Illmatic” as a precocious 20-year-old that tore up the local rap scene since he was a teenager. It caught everyone off guard and in the minds of some continues to be the seminal New York City rap album. I know enough to not get involved in the discussion.
I also know that “Ill” sounds like “Ntil.” Frank is young and talented, doing his thing in New York, and fans appreciate his authentic, if unrefined, approach to the game. There’s an obvious connection.
Here’s the problem: Illmatic was the high point for Nas. Say what you will about his post-debut career, but few would argue he ever achieved the same level of success.
The entire reason Frank has Knicks fans excited isn’t over what he’s done, but over what he will do. If Frank’s career goes downhill from here, we’re all f—–.
The French Prince
Let’s put aside the fact that Frank isn’t technically French. This one still has legs, and a couple things going for it. Some might even consider it the leader in the clubhouse, as it’s not only popular with fans, but Frank’s teammates as well.
For starters, he kind of has the Will Smith fro going on, so there’s that. “French” is “Fresh,” except with one additional letter and a “c” instead of an “s,” but those are basically the same letter, really.
The similarities don’t end there. Just as Frank moved halfway across the world, Will Smith moved to the other side of the country.
(By the by, did it never occur to anyone that Smith’s character’s name in the show was the same as his name in real life? Or did no one think this was odd? How has no one written the oral history of how Will Smith as Will Smith came into existence?)
There’s more. Will moved in with Uncle Phil. Frank was drafted by Uncle Phil. Will found a new buddy in his nerdy cousin Carlton. Frank got companionship from the human embodiment of cool. Will came from Philadelphia, which is in Pennsylvania. Frank plays above Pennsylvania Station.
All the pieces fit, but there’s just something…off.
Frank Ntilikina is smooth. Like, smoother than smooth. Baby’s bottoms come to him to find out how it’s done.
The French Prince is cool and makes sense and all that…but is it smooth?
Hold that thought.
This one is kind of ironic because New Yorkers have yet to get addicted to Frank. Most fans are in “wait and see” mode, whereas Frankie Nicotine should theoretically have the average Knicks fan bumming a light off of his buddy to inhale the sweet, sweet nectar of nightly metal clamps-level defense.
That hasn’t been the case. The fanbase has been slow to acquire the taste. This nickname has also become the Alpha to an Omega that has run with the baton and doesn’t seem to be turning back…
It was always going to be an uphill battle for Frankie Smokes. The French Prince already has a foothold, making it into both Frank’s Basketball Reference page and the NBA nicknames Wikipedia page
Smoking is also bad for you. Kansas kid in the mall might not have any more luck with dad with this than with Nitty.
Even worse, there’s not an obvious connection. If it takes you more than one simple sentence to explain the origin of a nickname, it’s probably too far afoul to work.
“Ntilikina sounds like nicotine, which is in cigarettes, which you smoke” is probably the shortest you can do it. That’s 11 words, which is a lot. You could probably take a bite of a sandwich in the time it takes to say that.
All of these are valid arguments. They do not sway me, nor should they sway you.
They say life is what happens when we are busy making other plans. Nicknames work the same way. We didn’t ask for Frankie Smokes…it found us.
There’s some fourth dimension stuff going on here. Frank played in France, where they smoke. A LOT. I’ve seen at least four movies that take place in Paris, and in at least three of those, someone was smoking.
There’s more. Everything the anti-smoking campaigns have done in my life to convince me that cigarette smoking isn’t cool hasn’t worked. It is cool. I know because I was a casual smoker in college and, oh man, was I cool. Not as cool as Joe Camel, but that dude wore a damn tuxedo in casual company. That’s almost cheating.
You know who else is cool? Frank. Not in a “Oh man, that guy is so cool, I want to be like him” kind of way that the guy in high school was who you kind of knew him but not really because did anyone really know him, but in an “Oh yea, Frank…that guy’s a cool customer” kind of way. In a smooth kind of way.
Is the French Prince cool? Yea, but it’s cool like Big Bird is cool. Frankie Smokes is Elmo cool. Nitty is Oscar the Grouch cool, Ntillmatic is Cookie Monster cool (dude’s a fiend) and French Toast is definitely Grover cool because Grover is kind of a loser.
(Apologies for this final pop culture reference. I have a 17-month-old daughter. I haven’t slept in months. In fairness though, when she sees Frank on TV, it looks like she’s taking an imaginary drag from her imaginary cigarette. Or she could just be discovering her hand.)
The scientific evidence is conclusive. Life often presents more questions than answers, but this isn’t one of those times. Frankie Smokes is the only clear choice.
Now someone teach the kid how to make a catch and shoot threes.