Humans find commonalities and connections in a myriad of ways. Executives hire entry-level employees from their alma mater. A home-seller might choose a real estate agent who grew up in their hometown. Fans form instant bonds at sports bars when they find themselves cheering for the same team.
So it makes sense that, as an NBA fan with the last name of Ward-Henninger, I’ve always been drawn to players with hyphenated names. Only we in the hyphenated community have endured the constant burden of butchered pronunciations with minimal effort, running out of room in the “name” section of standardized tests, and getting “illegal character” notifications when simply trying to input your name into online forms.
They used to be few and far between, but recent years have seen an exponential uptick in hyphens across sports. Jan Diehm of a website called “The Pudding” analyzed the proliferation of hyphenated names in all major U.S. sports, finding that 2.17 percent of NBA players who have entered the league since 2010 have hyphenated last names. That’s up from 0.77 percent the previous decade and 0.46 percent in the 1990s. Of the 33 hyphenated NBA names I found in the Basketball Reference database, 21 of them are listed as active.
With the hyphenated community growing stronger by the year, we finally have enough representation to make an NBA All-Hyphen Team in earnest. There was some debate as to whether to exclude those who changed their names or added hyphens later in life, but in the end, the hyphenated community is an inclusive bunch. Keep in mind, only players who are or were officially listed as hyphenated on NBA rosters qualify. Taurean Waller-Prince, for example, is listed on NBA.com as Taurean Prince and has only Prince on the back of his Brooklyn Nets jersey, so he wasn’t eligible.
Without further ado, here is the NBA All-Hyphen Team, broken down by starters and reserves, plus an honorable mention list of other hyphenated NBA players of past and present. Behold, people across the world with hyphenated names will remember this day and rejoice!
Center – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Formerly Lew Alcindor, Abdul-Jabbar officially joined the hyphenated community in the fall of 1971, shortly after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first and only NBA championship. Ranked third on our , he went on to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a six-time champion and a six-time MVP, which makes him by far the best hyphenated NBA player in history.
Forward – Karl-Anthony Towns: Known simply as Karl for the majority of his prep career, Towns started going by his given first name, Karl-Anthony when he enrolled at Kentucky. One of only two players in this exercise with a hyphenated first name, Towns is one of the most promising young big men in the NBA given his size and unique skill set. He’s got a long way to go to catch Kareem, but he could be the second-best hyphenated player of all time by the end of his career.
Forward – Shareef Abdur-Rahim: Abdur-Rahim needed to be in the starting lineup, so it was quite a relief to see him listed as “Center and Power Forward and Small Forward” on Basketball Reference. We’ll graciously accept that “small forward” designation and place him alongside Kareem and Towns, creating a very large but versatile frontcourt. Somewhat lost in recent NBA history due to injuries and only making the playoffs once in his 12 seasons, Abdur-Rahim was tremendous early in his career, averaging 20.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in his first eight seasons while making an All-Star team as a member of the Atlanta Hawks and earning a gold medal with Team USA at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He’s now representing for the hyphens as the president of the G League, and he was instrumental in implementing its new program for elite prospects.
Guard – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: At just 21 years old, Gilgeous-Alexander has already taken his place among the NBA hyphen elite with a breakout season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. His full name of Shaivonte Aician Gilgeous-Alexander is 32 characters long, which makes it easier to understand why people generally go with the succinct, “SGA.” In case you’re wondering whether that’s the longest name in NBA history, well, Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo might have something to say about that. Gilgeous-Alexander, however, has the longest last name in NBA history at 18 characters (always count the hyphen!), according to some cursory internet research. His cousin, Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, is a reserve on the All-Hyphen Team (spoiler alert) — what a family.
Guard – Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: Born Chris Wayne Jackson, Abdul-Rauf earned a spot on this roster when he officially changed his name in 1993, three years into his NBA career after two All-American seasons at LSU. Perhaps best known for refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem in 1996, Abdul-Rauf was ahead of his time as an undersized, score-first point guard with the ability to hit 3-pointers off the dribble. He averaged a career-high 19.2 points on 39 percent 3-pointers in 1995-96, but never regained his NBA footing after being traded to the Sacramento Kings following that season. If he played now, with his team encouraging him to take eight-to-10 3-pointers per game instead of his career average of 2.3 attempts, he likely would have established a much different legacy.
*active NBA player
- Tariq Abdul-Wahad
- DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell
- Keita Bates-Diop*
- Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje
- Bryce Dejean-Jones
- Chris Douglas-Roberts
- Khalid El-Amin
- Marcus Georges-Hunt*
- Talen Horton-Tucker*
- Didier (DJ) Ilunga-Mbenga
- Darius Johnson-Odom
- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot*
- Trey McKinney-Jones*
- Naz Mitrou-Long*
- Xavier Rathan-Mayes*
- Ha Seung-Jin
- Juan Toscano-Anderson*
- Nigel Williams-Goss*
- Justin Wright-Foreman*