With the continental championships in full swing, dozens of basketball national teams are vying for a berth to the Olympics. If you follow international basketball, you’ll quickly notice a pattern that countries have both official or an unofficial nicknames for their national hoops squads.
Like the FIFA World Cup teams, many of the national teams participating in FIBA competition also have nicknames. Names that their countrymen use to refer to their basketball ambassadors.
Not surprisingly the national nicknames are often the same as their football brethren. When they do differ, they often refer to the stature of their basketball representatives, national symbols and sometimes include the number twelve — the limit most often allowed on a basketball roster.
The Complete Guide to National Basketball Team Nicknames
Here are the nicknames for 40 national basketball teams, including all the top 20 teams in FIBA’s world ranking:
Angola: It’s hard to believe that the most-dominant basketball team doesn’t have their own honorific. As far as I can tell, the Angolan team is referred to as “National Team” in portuguese. That said, if the Angolan Football team is known as the “Palancas Negras” (Black Antelopes) then perhaps the national basketball team should be the “Palancas Negras Gigante” which means giant sable antelope, or giant “black antelopes”
Argentina: That Argentine national team came to be nicknamed “Los Cóndores” (English: “the Condors”) and sometimes referred to as the “Gauchos“. The Cóndores originates from the Andean Condor which is the national symbol of Argentina, in addition to being the national symbol for other South American countries: Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
The Gauchos, on the other hand, were cowboys common in Argentina (also Brazil and Uruguay) and was mostly used to refer to the team in earlier eras. For present day basketball-related Gauchos, one more than likely thinks of the New York Gauchos which has Argentine roots.
Belgium: The Belgian basketball team is also known as the “lions” which shares the mascot of their national football team, Benelucky the Lion, a lion with a devil’s tail and human hands. A lion also appears on the crest of the Dutch national federation, and the Belgian national team is historically nicknamed “Red Devils”.
The name Benelucky, is a portmanteau of “Benelux”, the term for the three nations of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and the ending “-lucky” wishing the participating teams “good luck”.’
Brazil: Brazilian basketball players are called “Cariocas” and it refers to the natives or inhabitants of the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
Cameroon: The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon is also the nickname for Cameroon’s national football team.
Canada: The Canadian national team is sometimes referred to “The Road Warriors“, and sometimes simply as “Team Canada”.
China: Considering the dragon’s historical symbolism of power and strength, it’s no surprise that the Chinese often use the mythical creature as their mascot (Shanxi Brave Dragons, Jiangsu Dragons, Chongqing Soaring Dragons). So it comes as no surprise that the Chinese National Team is also sometimes referred to as Team Dragon.
Croatia: Croatia’s national football Team is nicknamed “Vatreni”. The translation is to “The Blazers” which refers to the fire and passion in their hearts. The Basketball Team is also known as “Vatreni” and their uniforms always display some form of red and white checkers.
Dominican Republic: The Dominican Republic’s nickname for both basketball and football teams is “Los Quisqueyanos” which means people of Dominican descent, or “The Dominicans”.
Egypt: The Egyptian basketball team is also know as “The Pharaohs” which were the commonly-used titles for the most powerful persons, the ancient kings and rulers of Egypt. Not to be confused by the Egyptian Pharoahs of Tennessee or Illinois.
Finland: The Finnish team is also referred by their nickname “Wolfpack“.
France: Like their futbol team, France’s basketball team is also called “Les Bleus” or translated as “The Blues” in English.
Gambia: The “Scorpions” of this West Africa country hasn’t developed as other African teams; only appearing in one Afrobasket… back in 1978.
Germany: Germany’s National Team is this 17 character German word “Nationalmanschaft” which translates into “national team”.
Greece: The Greek National Team is simply known as “Hellas” which is Greek for “Greece”. Huh? Yeah. More specifically:
The word for “Greece” in the native Greek is “Hellas,” so how did it become “Greece” in English? …both “Greece” and “Hellas” have Greek roots, but “Greece” was adopted by the Romans (as the Latin word “Graecus”), and later adopted into English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED says Aristotle uses “Graiko” as the name for the first inhabitants of the region (The Chicago Tribune)
In the past, Team Greece has also been referred as “Episimi Agapimeni” meaning “The official(ly) beloved (team)”
India: The Indian National Basketball Team is also called the “Young Cagers” when they joined FIBA back in 1936.
Italy: The Nazionale di pallacanestro dell’Italia has the same nickname as France, but in Italian: “Azzurri” is the plural for the Italian word “azzuro”. “The Blues” is also the nickname for many of Italy’s national teams including football, ice hockey, rugby and volleyball.
Iran: Yes, Iran has a national basketball team and they’re pretty good. Team Melli (“National Team”) has won three of the last four Asia Basketball Championships (2007, 2009 and 2013).
Ivory Coast: Like their soccer team, the basketball team of Cote d’Ivoire is nicknamed “Les Éléphants”. There’s a connection between the moniker “The Elephants” and why the French referred to it as the Ivory Coast. But as of 2011, there’s only 200-300 elephants left on the West African country, not including their sports teams.
Japan: Japan’s basketball team is “Team Hayabusa” which means “Falcon” in English. Sometimes, Japan has been referred to as simply “Team Nippon” where “Nippon” is the Japanese word for Japan according to Wikipedia. Nippon is also spelled “Nihon”.
Jordan: The “Al Nashama” nickname given to the country’s basketball team and football team by its fans is Jordanian for “The Chivalrous”. H/T UPB Facebook
Macedonia: According to Wikipedia, the Macedonian National Team has several nicknames for the their home team: Лавови (Lions), Црвено-Жолти (Red-Yellows) andФаланга (Phalanx)
Lebanon: The Lebanese flag features a cedar tree, and the country’s basketball team is named after the country’s official tree. the Cedrus Libani – a species of cedar that can reach heights of 40 meter (130 feet) that is native to the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean. That pretty much explains why the Lebanese refer to their hoops squad as The Cedars.
Lithuania: Lithuanian hoops fans where green, wave their flag and are known to chant “LI-TU-VA! LI-TU-VA!” “Lietuva” is literally the country’s name in Lithuanian and means “land of the rain“. So when you hear the common “LI-TU-VA”, you’ll know that they’re cheering for the Baltic republic in northeastern Europe.
Mexico: The basketball team in Mexico is also known as The Aztecs — an empire that featured short (barely reaching 5’7) but powerful men as well as being a “highly developed socially, intellectually and artistically” civilization.
New Zealand: The Tall Blacks is a play on the All Blacks nickname given to the country’s rugby team. Tall Blacks, get it?
Nigeria: The Nigerian “D’Tigers” just won the first Afrobasket championship in the country’s history. Go D’Tigers!
Poland: The Polish National Basketball Team is more commonly known in Poland by the team moniker “Biało-czerwoni” which means “The white and red” which is the color of the Polish flag.
The mention of the “White-Reds” isn’t solely hoops-related, but would also conjure up thoughts of a political party that is “center-left” in Poland. The team is also referred to as “orły” which stands for “The Eagles”.
Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico probably has the most descriptive honorific of all the nicknames calling their national team “Los Doce Magníficos” or “Los Magníficos” which translates to “The Magnificent Twelve” or “The Magnificent”.
The translation of the word “Gilas” is a Tagalog word that roughly means “prowess” in English. Another origin of the Gilas name comes from “agilas” which references the “Philippine eagle, also known as the monkey-eating eagle or great Philippine eagle… (the eagle) has numerous names in the many Philippine languages, including ágila (“eagle”),”
Russia: Who needs a nickname or mascot when “national team” works so well? Ok, “Sbornaya” it is (That’s Russian for “national team”).
Senegal: Senegal’s Lion as national team mascot originates from the Senegal lion, also known as the West African lion.
Serbia: The Serbian national team was borne out of the breakup of former-Yugoslavia, joining FIBA in 1992. The team’s nickname is “Orlovi” or “Beli Orlovi” which is shared by the country’s football squad. The Beli Orlovi translates as “The White Eagles”.
Spain: Like the French team, Spain’s nickname is la Roja shared with their FIFA counterparts and takes it cue from the primary color of the country’s flag. La Roja translates from Spanish to English as simply “The Red” or “The Red One”.
Slovenia: The Slovenian team’s nickname sounds like a Japanese movie, nicknamed “Junaki” in Slovenije which loosely translates to “The Heroes” in English.
Tunisia: The Tunisian basketball team deserves a nickname/moniker as they’re one of the top teams in Africa. If you know the nickname for Tunisia’s national team (football or otherwise), please drop it in the comments.
Turkey: The Turkish national basketball squad is also known as the self-explanatory 12 Giant Men (“12 Dev Adam” in Turkish).
USA: The United States national team has called itself “The Dream Team” since 1992 when the National Team allowed NBA professionals to play in the Olympics. However, after the 2002 and 2004 when two “Dream Teams” failed to capture gold, those events put the brakes on the use of the name. Now, “Team USA” is the more commonly used team moniker.
Venezuela: The surprise winners of the 2015 Americas Championship have two nicknames for their basketball team. The Venezuelan team can be referred to as “Squadra Criolla” where “criolla” is used to refer to the national culture of Venezuela. “Squadra” roughly stands for “squad” “gang” or “team”. There is a deeper relation in that the Italian word “squadra” translates to “equipo” in Spanish which means “sport” in English.
Venezuela also shares the “Vinotinto” (“burgundy”) nickname of the the country’s football team.
What’s in a Nickname, Anyway?
You can learn a lot from how a nation’s countrymen refer to their basketball ambassadors. On the surface, it just may seem like choosing indomitable animals (condors, wolves, elephants and lions), colors of their country flags (Blue, Red, Burgundy), powerful symbols (Pharoahs, Giant Men and Dragons) to just plain old “National Team” are arbitrary.
Not so, team nicknames allow us a deeper look into that individual nation’s culture, history, wildlife and how they approach what and how they want to be represented within the borders of the country and to the outside world.
And for the most part, they’re kinda fun.
Didn’t see a country or nickname in the above list? Let us know in the comments section.