When you think of professional basketball players, one adjective probably comes to mind: tall. While plenty of stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain used their height to their advantage, massive size isn’t a prerequisite for professional success. Just ask Spud Webb about that.
While every basketball fan can tell you about the guard and his impressive hops, the origins of his nickname are a little less well known. Spud Webb had to be named after a potato, right? Think again.
Spud Webb’s one-of-a-kind road to the NBA
Today, Spud Webb is remembered for winning the 1986 Slam Dunk Contest despite standing 5 feet, 7 inches tall. His height, however, was a problem long before the guard ever made it to the pros.
In junior high school, Webb was initially deemed too small to play basketball; the same thing happened when he tried out for the team in high school. While he eventually made the varsity squad and posted impressive numbers, no colleges were interested in the diminutive guard. Webb, however, wouldn’t quit and headed to Midland Junior College.
Once again, Spud’s talent shone through. He promptly led his team to the 1982 junior college national championship; he also did enough with the Chaparrals to catch the eye of North Carolina State’s coaching staff. Webb would transfer and went on to play two seasons with the Wolfpack, averaging 10.4 points and 5.9 assists per outing.
The Detroit Pistons selected Webb in the fourth round of the 1985 NBA draft but cut the guard before the season began. He found a job with the Atlanta Hawks, however, and began his NBA career.
Making NBA history in the Slam Dunk Contest
After joining the Atlanta Hawks, Spud Webb put together a solid, if unremarkable NBA career. While he spent 12 seasons in the association, averaging 9.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, he’s most remembered for one performance in 1986.
Despite his diminutive stature, Webb took part in the 1986 Slam Dunk Contest. While pitting a 5-7 guard against Dominique Wilkins seemed like a mismatch, Webb brought his A-game; he wasn’t going to lose an event held in his hometown.
As he had done throughout his career, Webb proved the doubters wrong. He cruised through the opening round; in the finals, he posted two perfect 50s to claim the crown. At that moment, Spud Webb earned a place in basketball lore.
Spud Webb was named after a satellite, not a potato
Despite being legally named Anthony, everyone knows Spud by his iconic nickname. It doesn’t stem from a potato, though, as you might assume; his family actually got the idea from a satellite.
As explained in the Dallas Morning News, Webb was dubbed “Sputnik” shortly after his birth; someone apparently felt the baby’s bald head resembled the famous Soviet satellite. Before long, however, Sputnik had been trimmed to Spud. From there, the nickname simply stuck.
While Spud certainly rolls off the tongue a bit better than Sputnik, that initial nickname proved to be prophetic. Despite his small stature, Webb certainly could soar with the best of them.