Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and author of the column "Conversations with Champions" for the BCSA magazine, Borderlines.
Being successful in basketball requires split-second timing, raw talent, natural instincts and above all teamwork. Name your dog after one of these basketball greats and you are sure to enjoy a lifetime of high-flying action, mutual trust and loyalty from your new best friend.
Dog Names Inspired by Great Basketball Coaches
Dean Smith, the former coach of UNC Chapel Hill, still enjoys divine status among Tar Heel fans. In fact, legend has it that a young Coach Krzyzewski, recruiting for the Duke Blue Devils, met with the very religious family of a prospective player at their home. During the interview, Krzyzewski was asked by the father of the prospect, whose interest in his son becoming a Blue Devil appeared lackluster, what, if anything, could Duke offer his son by way of spiritual development. A dispirited Coach K replied, “Well if he comes to play at Duke, he will live just a few miles down the road from God.”
As of his retirement, Dean Smith was the winningest coach in college basketball history (a record broken in 2007 by the besmirched Bobby Knight). Smith’s innovative coaching style earned the Tar Heels two National Championships and earned them spots in the Final Four eleven times. Additionally, Smith coached the 1976 USA Olympic Basketball Team to gold. He himself had been a talented athlete, having been on the Kansas Jayhawks National Championship winning team of 1958.
Dean Smith innovated the Four Corners Defense, the free-throw huddle, calling timeouts following baskets to facilitate a coordinated defense, pointing to the passer after making a basket to share credit and encourage teamwork, diving for loose balls, deliberately drawing charging fouls and the fatigue signal. Each of these novelties, as well as training teammates to stand and cheer for teammates after making baskets and when players left the field, built a team loyalty and chemistry that kept Carolina “in” in every game.
Dean Smith’s Tar Heels were the national model of integrity in an academic and sports program. In fact, over 97% of his players left UNC with a degree. His coaching style and wisdom inspired such loyalty from his former players that they remained in contact with him decades after graduation seeking his advice in career and life matters. Name your dog Smitty or Dean if you are seeking a loyal and giving companion.
Chuck Daly began his coaching career as Assistant Coach of the Duke Blue Devils, where they won the ACC Championship and advanced to the Final Four two seasons, during his 4-year tenure. Daly coached for both Boston College and Penn State before stepping up to the NBA. From 1983–1998 Daly coached the 76ers, Cavaliers, Pistons, Nets and Miami Heat. Daly was named the Head Coach of the 1992 Olympics Dream Team that brought home the Gold Medal.
Daly was a believer in life-long learning and working with his players to understand what motivated each player. Communication was the key to his coaching style, “How do you want to play this…” Asking players to take a stance and commit to it was an important key to his success. Name your girl or boy dog Daly, if you are looking for a companion that listens well to you.
From 1981–2008 Pat Riley coached the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Miami Heat. During his tenure as coach of the Lakers, Riley won coach of the year in 1990, and with the Knicks in 1993 and 1997. Riley’s impressive coaching career included Championships won in 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 2006.
Off the court, as a pop culture figure, Riley is well known for his signature Mafioso look: always well-tanned, hair immaculately slicked-back and forever sporting the Giorgio Armani suit.
Riley is a best-selling author, The Winner Within, a Life Plan for Team Players, a motivational speaker and the star of a 1990s video game, Pat Riley Basketball. Name your boy or girl dog Riley if you are looking for an immaculately groomed team player with an impeccable sense of style.
Basketball Name Inspirations for Male Dogs
Charles Barkley, is the outspoken and opinionated author of Outrageous, Sir Charles, Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man? and I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It.
Barclay began his career at Auburn, where he led the conference 3 years in rebounds despite his smaller stature and stocky build. Passion and a competitive spirit allowed to him outmaneuver larger and quicker opponents, earning him the nickname “The Round Mound of Rebound.” Barkley would later describe himself as the “ninth wonder of the world.”
Drafted by the 76ers on their fifth-round pick, Barclay joined Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Moses Malone among other proven players. Moses Malone, in particular, took the fiery Barkley under his wing, helping him to perfect his rebound and teaching him the art of leading by example.
Barkley learned one of the most important lessons of his career, when Bobby Knight cut him from the US Olympic team for gaining too much weight during their training period, despite Knight wanting him on his team. Barkley understood that he needed to step it up if he was going to truly be successful in the NBA.
Barkley did finally make it to Olympic Gold on the 1992 and 1996 Dream Team as the team’s leading scorer. While he never earned a championship title, he earned the 1993 NBA MVP award, was 11 times an All-Star and was voted on to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Outspoken and candid, Barkley transitioned into television with an Emmy Award-winning show, making him and his signature, “Turrable, Turrable, Turrable,“ iconic pop culture. Barkley makes a great name for a powerfully built dog whose “bark” is as big as his bite.
The 7’ tall German-born power forward, Dirk Nowitzki, holds a series of firsts for the NBA. He is the first European player to start in an All-Star Game, the first to receive an NBA MVP award and is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in NBA history. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest power forwards in the history of the game. Nowitzki has spent his entire NBA career with the Dallas Mavericks. Dirk makes a good name for an extremely loyal, large breed dog.
Dolph Schayes, born in the Bronx, NY, was the son of Jewish Romanian immigrants. Dolph was a 12 time NBA All-Star and a member of the 1955 NBA Championship team, the Syracuse Nationals. A broken arm obligated Schayes to play the remainder of the season in a cast, forcing him to become an ambidextrous shooter, ultimately making him that much harder to defend.
During his amazing career, Dolph played 764 consecutive games, playing 29,800 minutes with 6,135 field goals, 6979 free throws made and 19,249 points scored.
In the final year of his 16-year career as a center and power forward, Dolph both played for and coached the 76ers. The following year he retired to coaching the Sixers and earned the 1966 Coach of the Year Award. Adolph Schayes was selected as one of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Julius Erving, aka Dr. J, was one of the most articulate and urbane professional athletes of his era. In 1994, Sports Illustrated named him one of the 40 most important athletes of all time. Erving won 4 NBA MVP awards, 3 ABA MVP awards and is the 5th highest scorer in ABA/NBA history with 30,026 combined points. An 11 time NBA All-Star and 5-time ABA All-Star, Julius Erving brought the slam dunk into the mainstream, taking the dunk from a show of brute force to new acrobatic heights.
Karl Malone, nicknamed “The Mailman,” as the player who consistently “delivered,” holds the record for the most free throws attempted and made. Additionally, Malone scored over 36,000 points during his NBA career. Over his 18 year career, Malone earned 2 Olympic Gold Medals, 2 NBA MVPs and was a 14 time NBA All-Star; he is considered by many one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game.
A country boy from a small town of 200 in Louisiana, Malone held on to his country boy pastimes (fast cars, trucks, fishing, and hunting) and the work ethic that brought him to the NBA from relative obscurity at Louisiana Tech. Recently, Malone was photographed with a bear he bagged with his bow and arrow on a hunting trip with his son.
Moses Malone was 3 times NBA MVP while at the Philadelphia 76ers, and voted one of The 50 Greatest NBA Players in History. Moses Malone was one of the first players to go directly from Prep school to Professional Basketball, starting in the now-defunct ABA.
Hardworking and confident, Moses instilled confidence in his teammates, and quietly led by example. Moses perfected the art of the offensive rebound, making him a high scorer and rebound king over a 21-year career. With a career average of 20.1 points per game, Big Mo earned the nickname, “The Chairman of the Boards.” Name your puppy Moses or Mo if you want a strong dog that will quietly get the job done.
Before Spuds McKenzie, there was 5’ 7” Spud Webb. Renowned for his jumping ability, which was measured at 42” in college, Webb was an accomplished slam dunker. In fact, to the surprise of many, Spud, the shortest player to ever enter the Slam Dunk Contest, defeated defending champion, Dominique Wilkins, in the 1986 contest in Dallas. Spud is an excellent name for a small dog with a big heart.
James Worthy rounds out the top 50 greatest basketball players of the 50th Anniversary of the NBA, Greatest 50 Players Poll. A native of North Carolina, Worthy played as the Tar Heels small forward and was awarded the 1982 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. His signature Statue of Liberty dunk, landed him the cover of Sports Illustrated that year as well. His UNC jersey is only one of eight to have been retired.
As the 1982 #1 Draft Pick, James joined the Lakers, where his skills thrived under their fast-break style known as “Showtime.” As a Laker, Worthy averaged 21 points a game, earning him the moniker, “Big Game James.” Following his NBA career, Worthy accepted a few acting roles, including that of playing a Klingon on Star Trek: Next Generation. Worthy makes a noble name for an aristocratic or alien looking dog.
Names for Both Male and Female Dogs
Dominique Wilkins, nicknamed the Human Highlight Film for his impressive “windmill” dunks, is one of the greatest dunkers in the history of the sport. ‘Nique played primarily for the Atlanta Hawks where in the 1985-86 season he averaged 30.1 points per game. Over the course of his NBA career, Dominique would earn 26,668 points and 7167 rebounds and would win two Slam Dunk Contests with nine All-Stars.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson was the 1979 NBA draft overall first pick following winning the NCAA National Championship and being awarded Final Four Most Outstanding Player. As a point guard for the LA Lakers, he earned 3 NBA MVPs, 5 NBA National Championships and NBA All-Stars.
His career was cut short by the 1991 announcement that he tested HIV positive. However, he returned to the court to join the 1992 Dream Team and earn Olympic gold. Johnson credits his place on the Olympic squad with saving his life and giving him a will to live. Magic was voted one of the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Today Magic is a motivational speaker and works to raise awareness of AIDS and support for AIDS research and AIDS work in Africa.
Michael Jordan spent three years as a UNC Tar Heel under Dean Smith, where after winning the 1982 National Championship, he joined the Chicago Bulls as the third overall draft pick.
According to the NBA’s official website, Michael Jordan, by acclaim, is the greatest basketball player in the history of the sport. Among his many accolades and accomplishments are 6 NBA Championships, 6 NBA Finals MVP, 5 NBA MVP, 14 NBA All-Star, 3 NBA All-Star MVP, 1 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, NBA Rookie of the Year, 3 time NBA Steals Champion, 2 time NBA Slam Dunk Champion, 3 Associated Press Athlete of the Year, National College Player of the Year and 2 Olympic Gold medalist.
Known as “Air Jordan” and his “Airness” for his long flight slam dunks, Jordan is one of the best-marketed players in the history of American sports. Jordan’s good looks, affable nature, and remarkable talent are credited with raising the popularity of the NBA worldwide.
Zaza Pachulia was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he excelled in basketball at an early age. At just 15 years old, Zaza began his professional career playing basketball in Turkey, where he eventually caught the eye of NBA scouts.
As a second-round draft pick, Zaza began his NBA career with the Orlando Magic and spent a year with the Milwaukee Bucks before signing a multi-year contract with the Atlanta Hawks. With the Hawks, he enjoyed his career-best average of 12.1 points per game. As of 2013, he had returned to the Bucks, where he shot a career-best of 84.6% from the free-throw line.
Born in Shanghai China, at a mere 7’ 6”- Yao Ming is 31st tallest person alive today. An 8 time NBA All-Star, Ming was the number one draft pick of 2002, being picked up by the Houston Rockets. As a popular NBA player, Ming’s successes created millions of new basketball and NBA fans across China. Shaquille O’Neil observed that had it not been for his injuries, Yao Ming would most likely have been among the 5 greatest centers to play the game.
Yao’s career was cut short after just nine years of professional play by a plague of foot and ankle injuries. In 2011, Ming announced his retirement from the NBA. As a national hero of China, the announcement provoked over a million social media comments from Chinese fans expressing surprise and dismay. In 2012, Ming was nominated for the Naismith Hall of Fame but respectfully requested that they postpone his nomination process, as he felt it was too soon in his life to be considered.
Since his retirement, Yao has returned to China, where he takes an active interest in animal conservation, most particularly with protection of elephants and rhinoceroses who are still being poached for ivory. He is studying economics, and is now the owner of the Shanghai Sharks, the team he first for which he first played professional basketball. Name your large breed female dog Ming if you want a popular, gentle giant.
One of the most talented and versatile players of all time, Scottie Pippen was regarded as the ultimate “triple-double threat.” With Michael Jordan at his side, the Chicago Bulls won 6 NBA Championships. A 7 time NBA All-Star, Pippen defined the role of the modern small forward.
One of 12 children from a small town in Arkansas, Pippen worked hard to make his way through college as a welder offseason, on financial aid, attending college without an athletic scholarship. It was not until his senior year that he began to excel in basketball, and earned the attention of scouts and a spot in the NBA draft, being picked up on the fifth pick. Like his teammate, Jordan, Pippen made the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Golden Puppy in Basketball Training Camp
NBA and ABA Team Names that Make Great Dog Names:
Chaparral (Call him Chappy for short)
Bonus Name: Hooper
L on August 21, 2017:
Thank you jjjjjjjjjijaihuahuhauhauhau
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on June 13, 2015:
Hi Bill: Thanks for dropping by. Malone is a great dog name since it does double duty for both Karl and Moses Malone!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 12, 2015:
What a clever series of articles you have here. Everything a dog owner would want to know, or a would-be dog owner. Well done. Loved some of these names. I think Malone is my favorite in this list.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 17, 2015:
Cute names, i like magic,
craftybegonia from Southwestern, United States on January 28, 2015:
Yesterday I saw a poodle named Pippen, how quaint! It is always fun to hear the origin of some pet names. I suppose a basketball fan would know immediately, but I am not one of those.