When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this site may earn a commission from the eBay Partner Network. Thank you.

I would love to meet the man or hear the story about the “Night Train” nickname. That has to be the best nickname, not in sports but in the history of nicknames!

Here is a fun article regarding the nicknames of sports stars such as MJ, Wayne Gretzky, and Calvin Johnson, to name a few. I also include the player’s best/key card (i.e. Best Michael Jordan Rookie Cards)!

Let’s examine some of the best sports nicknames of all time without further ado. You might find your favorite athlete in our ranking, so read on!

#1. Night Train

night train nickname

  • Dick “Night Train” Lane
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1957 Topps Dick “Night Train” Lane RC #85 (Shop eBay)

All aboard the “Night Train,” that is!

Dick “Night Train” Lane was an incredible cornerback who snagged 14 interceptions in his rookie season with the Rams back in ’52. After playing a bit for Nebraska and serving four years in the Army, he just showed up for the Rams and killed it as a defensive back. He got his cool nickname from a Buddy Morrow song because he was as unstoppable as a train!

Trending: 10 Best Soccer Cards To Invest In

Night Train played for 14 seasons, made three First Team All-Pros, went to seven Pro Bowls, and scored off interceptions like nobody’s business. His legacy’s solid, with a spot in the Hall of Fame since ’74.

It’s safe to say that “Night Train” is one of the most iconic nicknames ever.

1957 Topps Dick “Night Train” Lane RC #85

This vintage card showcases Richard Lane in a dual-image format. On the left, his portrait against a yellow backdrop shows a serious expression, while on the right, he’s dressed in a red uniform. The label “End-Cards” is present on the right. In the image on the right, Night Train is reaching out to catch a football. His name is prominently displayed at the bottom of his portrait.

#2. Air Jordan

1987 Michael Jordan Fleer 57

  • Michael “Air” Jordan
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1987 Michael Jordan Fleer RC #57 (Shop eBay)

The GOAT MJ needs a minimal introduction, what with his six rings and many MVPs. However, what will surprise some of you is that His Airness was cut from his high school team as a sophomore. Crazy, right? But then he flipped the script, hitting the game-winner in the NCAA Finals for UNC. It wasn’t long into his career when the Air Jordan craze took hold of the masses, and the rest is history.

1987 Michael Jordan Fleer RC #57

Jordan won six NBA titles, eight scoring titles, five regular-season MVPs, six Finals MVPs, three All-Star Game MVPs, and one Defensive Player of the Year award. Jordan was named to the All-Defensive First Team a record nine times. This 14-time All-Star and former NBA Rookie of the Year (1985) scored 32,292 points and averaged 30.1 points per game in his career.

About the card

This card is easily one of the most recognizable basketball cards ever. It displays Michael Jordan, mid-air, going for a classic dunk in his Chicago Bulls uniform. Meanwhile, a captivated crowd in the background adds to the vibe. The vibrant red, white, and blue border frames Jordan’s action shot. The Fleer logo in the top right signifies the brand, while Jordan’s name and position are visible at the bottom.

#3. The Great One

1979 Wayne Gretzky Topps RC #18

  • Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1979 Wayne Gretzky Topps RC #18


Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky is regarded as the best NHL player ever. He was always incredible on the ice rink, even as a kid; by his last peewee season, he bagged 378 goals!

Gretzky had this unique skill of knowing where everyone was on the ice, which made him an awesome playmaker. He played one year with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds scored 70 goals and 112 assists, which broke records. He couldn’t join the NHL immediately because he was too young, so he started with the Indianapolis Racers in the World Hockey Association.

After eight games, he got traded to the Edmonton Oilers, who are still in the WHA. He rocked his first pro season, winning the Rookie of the Year award. Gretzky started playing when the WHA merged with the NHL and took off. He led the Oilers to become super-strong contenders, breaking records left and right. 1981-82, he set a crazy record with 92 goals in a season. He won many awards, like the Hart Trophy nine times and the Art Ross Trophy ten times.

With Gretzky, the Oilers won four Stanley Cups in the 1980s, and he was the MVP in two of those. In 1988, he got traded to the LA Kings and even took them to the Stanley Cup Finals once. He played for a few more teams before retiring with loads of records, like 894 regular season goals and 2,857 points. He got into the Hockey Hall of Fame right after retiring, which is a big deal. Later, he became the owner and coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Gretzky is a hockey icon; owning his 79 RC is a wise investment.

About the card

This card shows hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, captain of the Edmonton Oilers, as he makes one of his signature plays. He appears to be looking up at something off-camera. The card’s border pops with the Oilers’ blue and orange, framing Gretzky’s in-game moment. The Oilers logo is neatly placed at the bottom right. Meanwhile, you can spot the legend’s name, position, and team name at the top.

#4. Megatron

2007 Topps Chrome Calvin Johnson #TC200

  • Calvin “Megatron” Johnson
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 2007 Calvin Johnson Topps Chrome RC #TC200


Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, was a definite beast on the field. This Detroit Lions legend had the size, speed, and hands of a superhero straight up. He could catch anything thrown his way and racked up yards like a video game. His stats are nuts: he’s got the single-season receiving yards record, and he made it to six Pro Bowls. Plus, he was All-Pro pretty much all the time!

I feel like he retired too early but still left a mark no one’s forgetting. Seriously, his highlights are like a how-to guide for wide receivers, which every NFL team could do with someone from his profile.

About the card

This trading card features Calvin Johnson, a standout wide receiver for the Detroit Lions. He’s seen in his element, cradling a football mid-stride. Megatron is wearing his recognizable #81 jersey. The Lions’ classic blue and silver colors are prominent, matching the team’s uniform colors. The card’s design includes a Topps Chrome logo at the top with the franchise name right below it. The Rookie Card symbol is visible in the top left corner of Johnson’s image.

#5. The Fridge

1986 William Perry Topps 20

  • William “The Fridge” Perry
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights: Scoring a touchdown as a running back in Super Bowl XX on January 26, 1986
  • Key Card: 1986 William Perry Topps RC #20 (Shop eBay)


William “The Fridge” Perry is a massive dude who played in the NFL for ten seasons, primarily for the Chicago Bears, as a defensive tackle. He was like a wall; no one could move him, and he was famous for crushing quarterbacks and stuffing runs. But what really got everyone talking was when the Bears would put him in on offense and let him carry the ball. As a matter of fact, he even scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl! His nickname came from his size, but he was surprisingly agile for a big guy.

The Fridge played in 138 games, recording 29.5 sacks and five fumble recoveries, which he returned for 71 yards. However, more than his stats, he brought sheer entertainment to the game. It would help if you always had characters like Perry in a team, and the Bears were lucky to land someone like him.

About the card

The card displays William “The Fridge” Perry of the Chicago Bears, famous for his defensive tackle prowess. The card features a classic design with a green and orange border, typical of the Topps cards from that era. In fact, the Topps logo itself is visible in the top right corner of Perry’s image. The Fridge is shown in a side profile, looking focused and formidable. The Bears’ iconic dark jersey is prominent, with Perry’s number 72.

This card perfectly encapsulates Perry’s size and strength, key attributes that made him a formidable force on the Bears’ defense line.

#6. Pistol Pete

1970 Pete Maravich Topps 123

  • “Pistol Pete” Maravich
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1970 Pete Maravich Topps RC #123 (Shop eBay)

Pistol Pete

Pete was undoubtedly a crowd favorite. He was a basketball wizard, dropping 44.2 points per game in college without three-pointers. He smashed records for most points in a season, career, and field goals.

In the NBA, Maravich dazzled for ten years, hitting All-Star status five times and topping the scoring charts one year with an average of 31.1 points. His 68-point game against the Knicks was epic. Averaging 24.2 points per game, Pistol Pete was an entertaining points-scoring machine with a flashy playing style. He got his well-deserved Hall of Fame nod in 1987.

About the card

The card showcases Pete Maravich, then with the Atlanta Hawks, holding a basketball in a relaxed pose. The card has a classic look, with a green border surrounding the image and a bold, orange basketball design at the bottom bearing Maravich’s name.

It seems to capture Maravich in a candid moment rather than in action, emphasizing his presence rather than his play.

The layout is straightforward, with a focus on Maravich’s youthful appearance. Pistol Pete’s position (forward) and team name are also visible on the bottom of the basketball.

#7. The Mailman

1986 Karl Malone Fleer 68

  • Karl “The Mailman” Malone
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1986 Karl Malone Fleer RC #68 (Shop eBay)

The Mailman

Karl Malone is one of the NBA’s most exceptional power forwards. With a monumental tally of 36,298 career points, he ranks just behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James. Malone’s journey to stardom began when the Utah Jazz picked him 13th overall in the 1985 NBA Draft from Louisiana Tech University. His rookie year set the tone for a career that would never see him miss the playoffs in 19 seasons!

Quickly becoming a sensation, Malone earned “The Mailman” nickname for his reliable scoring and robust playing style. Alongside John Stockton, he formed half of the Jazz’s dynamic duo, contributing to their 56,009 points, 21,044 assists, and 19,019 rebounds over 18 seasons. Their synergy brought the Jazz repeated success, including two trips to the NBA Finals.

While The Mailman never got his hands on an NBA Championship, he left behind a staggering legacy. Of course, his 2010 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame proves his legendary status.

About the card

This basketball card showcases Karl Malone dribbling to progress the ball forward. He’s dressed in the Jazz’s classic uniform, predominantly blue with yellow and white accents, featuring the number 32. The card has a vivid design, with a red, white, and blue border that frames Malone’s image brilliantly.

At the bottom, Malone’s name is boldly printed in white, contrasting against a solid blue background. The word “Jazz” stands out in white right next to the position “Forward,” making it clear who he plays for and his role on the team. The Fleer Premier logo, bright red crown shape, sits at the top right, signifying the card’s brand and edition.

#8. The Black Mamba

1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome 138

  • “The Black Mamba” Kobe Bryant
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome RC #138 (Shop eBay)

The Black Mamba

Kobe Bryant was easily the most devastating offensive and defensive machine since Michael Jordan. Whether you admire the greatness of MJ or the longevity of LeBron, you can’t keep the Black Mamba out of any GOAT conversation.

When we talk about Kobe, we’re talking about a young phenom who looked destined for greatness from the get-go. He made history by being the first high school guard to enter the NBA draft. His rapid development in the league was marked by his impressive slam dunks and his ability to hit three-pointers from anywhere on the court, making him a daunting opponent to guard.

The Black Mamba and teammate Shaquille O’Neal secured three back-to-back NBA championships for the Los Angeles Lakers during the early 2000s. With 18 All-Star selections, Kobe was the league’s top scorer for two consecutive seasons, 2006 and 2007, achieving a personal best average of 35.4 points per game in 2006.

About the card

This card captures Kobe Bryant, wearing the Lakers’ iconic purple and gold uniform, amid a game. Sporting the number 8, Bryant is in action, possibly going for a layup or preparing for a shot. The card’s background is a mix of dark and light elements, with the bright court contrasting against the dimmer audience and the playing arena.

The upper right corner features the Topps Chrome loe text mgo in silver. Meanwhile, Kobe’s name is prominently displayed at the bottom, with thatching the Lakers’ gold coloring. The Spalding logo is also visible on the basketball court in the bottom right corner of the image. The card’s minimal borders allow the Black Mamba’s action to dominate the card’s front face.

#9. The Executioner

  • Benard “The Executioner” Hopkins
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: Signed Boxing Glove (Shop eBay)

The Executioner

Bernard Hopkins Jr., known as “The Executioner,” is an iconic American boxer who had a professional career from 1988 to 2016. Born in Philadelphia, Hopkins turned to boxing while incarcerated, developing the discipline that defined his career.

Despite an initial professional loss, he bounced back to win 55 fights, 32 by knockout. Hopkins held the undisputed middleweight and the lineal light heavyweight titles, becoming the first boxer to simultaneously hold all four major middleweight titles. Famous for his defensive prowess and strategic boxing, Hopkins continued to win titles well into his forties, solidifying his status as one of boxing’s enduring champions.

The Executioner was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2020 and was ranked by BoxRec as the seventh greatest boxer of all time, pound for pound.

About the card

The black glove, hand-signed by The Executioner himself, offers excellent memorabilia for your collection. Aside from the sign, it features the “Everlast” branding, a nod to the manufacturer.

#10. The Glove

1990 Gary Payton Hoops 391

  • Gary Payton “The Glove”
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1990 Gary Payton Hoops RC #391 (Shop eBay)

The Golve

There’s a reason why Gary Payton was called “The Glove”; his defensive prowess was simply elite.

Payton achieved nine NBA All-Star selections and was a fixture on the All-Defensive First Team nine times. His distinctive ability to dominate defensively as a guard set him apart, enabling him to control games from the backcourt.

Notably, he guided the Sonics to the 1996 NBA Finals and later joined forces with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwayne Wade on the Miami Heat, contributing to their 2006 NBA championship victory. On the court, The Glove was a relentless force, famous for his lockdown defense, trash-talking, and knack for creating steals.

About the card

The card features Gary Payton in an unconventional pose. He is seen holding a phone to his ear, looking handsome in a brown suit and green “Seattle Supersonics” cap.

A silver wristwatch is also visible on his right wrist. You can see the “1990 Lottery Pick” symbol on the top left of the image, while the bottom right features the Supersonics team logo.

At the bottom of the image, Payton’s full name is in black font, contrasting against the yellow background. The “NBA Hoops” designation on the top right highlights the series to which the card belongs.

#11. The Truth

  • “The Truth” Paul Pierce
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1998 Paul Pierce Topps Chrome RC #135  (Shop eBay)

The Truth

Paul Pierce played basketball as if everything was happening in slow-mo around him. His playing style was characterized by a deceptive quickness and an innate calmness that prevailed even in high-pressure situations. As a ten-time NBA All-Star, he left his mark on the league during his remarkable 15-year period with the Boston Celtics. Transitioning smoothly between different facets of the game, Pierce showcased a flawless offensive repertoire, excelling as a slasher, three-point threat, and midrange specialist.

Using these diverse skills, “The Truth” was pivotal in guiding the Celtics to their memorable 2008 NBA championship. It was a defining moment when he earned the Finals Most Valuable Player title, particularly noteworthy because he faced the LA Lakers, a team he had admired while growing up in California.

Despite the intense competition against some of the era’s most fantastic small forwards and shooting guards, such as Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, and LeBron James, Pierce remained unflustered and unwavering on the offensive end. Over his impressive 19-season career, The Truth amassed 26,397 points, 7,527 rebounds, and 4,708 assists.

About the card

The card depicts Paul Pierce mid-air, holding the basketball in both hands, as he performs a slam dunk. The packed stands in the background offer a perfect backdrop for a magical moment. Pierce is wearing the white and green uniform of the Boston Celtics, looking at the hoop intensely.

The “Topps ChromeNI Rookie Card” logo is in the bottom left corner, while the franchise logo is on the top right.

#12. Magic

best nick names in sports cards

  • Earvin “Magic” Johnson
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1980 Magic Johnson Topps RC #237  (Shop eBay)


Few players in the history of basketball have displayed the same level of passion and captivating personality as Earvin “Magic” Johnson. His boundless enthusiasm and extraordinary skills have greatly promoted the sport.

Standing at an impressive 6’9″, Johnson defied convention as a point guard encapsulated within a power forward’s physique. His abilities on the court were unparalleled, leading to a national championship at Michigan State and an impressive five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers.

In a memorable debut during the 1980 NBA Finals as a rookie, Johnson demonstrated versatility by seamlessly transitioning between all five positions. He scored 42 points, rightfully earning the title of NBA Finals MVP.

Overall, Magic received 12 All-Star selections, two All-Star Game MVP titles, and the honor of being named to the All-NBA First Team an impressive nine times.

About the card

The card portrays Magic Johnson wearing the #32 LA Lakers uniform, looking up to track the movement of the basketball. His position (“Guard”) and name are visible below the image. The position is in black print, while the player’s name is in blue font.

#13. The Big Fundamental

1997 Tim Duncan Topps 115

  • Tim Duncan “The Big Fundamental”
  • Years Active:
  • Career Highlights:
  • Key Card: 1997 Tim Duncan Topps #115 (Shop eBay)

The BIG Fundamental

As the name suggests, the Big Fundamental was essential to every squad he graced with his presence and skills. As a perennial All-Star and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, Tim Duncan dedicated his entire career to the San Antonio Spurs.

Remarkably, in his second season, he secured the first of five NBA championships, earning the Finals MVP title by leading his team in scoring and rebounding. In fact, he repeated this feat in 2003 and 2005, so definitely not a one-season wonder!

His accolades include ten remarkable appearances on the All-NBA First Team and eight selections to the All-Defensive First Team. Duncan further solidified his defensive prowess by earning the NABC Defensive Player of the Year title on four occasions.

About the card.

This card depicts Tim Duncan in an intense in-game moment. In his white Spurs uniform, with the #21 visible, The Big Fundamental is guiding the ball into the opposition’s hoop. Aside from Duncan, two opposition players in blue kits are visual around him. Meanwhile, the Topps Chrome logo is positioned in the top left corner.

5 Honorable Mentions

These nicknames just missed the cut.

  1. “Johnny Football”: If Johnny Manziel had just had a decent NFL career, he would be number one on this list. Drugs, booze, money, and women were his downfall (like many of us).
  2. “Big Shot Bob” Robert Horry: Laker fans will be angry that this one did not make the list.
  3. “Bad Moon” Andre Rison: Bad Moon Rison won me a fantasy football championship back in the day.
  4. “Prime Time” Deion Sanders: He played for both the 49rs and the
  5. “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt
  6. “Crazy Legs” Elroy Hirsch

Bottom Line

Why do we love nicknames in sports so much?

We love giving our favorite sports personalities nicknames because the athletes make us feel a certain way. They inspire positive feelings within us, like joy and confidence, when we watch them play. For instance, Gary Payton was such a reliable defensive machine for the Sonics that he reminded fans of a glove! Regardless of which sport you follow, you can think of similar examples as a fan.

Moreover, nicknames are just bags of fun, aren’t they? They let us, as fans, relate to sportspeople on a different level. From Prime Time to Black Mamba, nicknames allow us to assign an impactful label to the athletes we admire.

Top Investments?

High End

  • 1987 Michael Jordan Fleer RC #57
  • 1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome RC #138

You will get the best bang if you invest in the 1987 Michael Jordan Fleer RC #57 and the 1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome RC #138. Besides being two of the faces of the NBA and all-time greats, MJ and Kobe have a legion of fans worldwide. As a result, their cards will always be in massive demand, so you can rest assured their value won’t go down anytime soon.


  • Megatron: 2007 Topps Chrome RC #TC200 (Shop eBay)
  • Pistol Pete: 1970 Topps Basketball #123 (Shop eBay)

Categorized in: