NBA

Andre Drummond doesn’t know why he’s called Big Penguin: A deep dive into the NBA’s most bizarre nickname

Why are we here? What is existence? Where is it all going? Why is Andre Drummond’s nickname the “Big Penguin?” These are the great mysteries of the universe, the questions meant to keep us up at night, but I think we can all agree that Drummond’s sobriquet is by far the most vexing. Penguins are tiny and famously flightless. Drummond is rather large and can jump great distances. He has played for a team named after a type of dog in the Connecticut Huskies, and he has played for a team that has used a horse as a logo in the Detroit Pistons, yet at no point in his basketball lineage has he crossed paths with Antarctica’s finest. Why on Earth does this nickname exist? 

Silver Screen and Roll’s Harrison Faigen took the important journalistic step of asking the Lakers center about it on Tuesday, and Drummond claimed ignorance. 

“Listen, man, I don’t know where that came from,” Drummond said. “Bron came up to me one day and said Yo, is your nickname Big Penguin? I said, man, I don’t know where that came from or how it started or who came up with the name. All I know is that someone must have found out that penguins are one of my favorite animals, and kind of put two and two together.'”

Now, it appears as if Drummond isn’t thrilled with this nickname. Imagine having to explain to LeBron James of all people that you do not, in fact, understand why the basketball world is comparing you to a penguin. But here’s where the plot thickens: Drummond himself has encouraged the nickname. How? By wearing a penguin suit on Vine. He’s done so on several occasions dating back to 2013. Here’s just one example. 

In another video, he explicitly calls penguins his favorite animals.

These videos may not be the origin of the nickname, but they help justify its existence. This isn’t just acceptance of an ongoing joke. It’s downright enthusiasm. Drummond has a longstanding fondness for penguins that dates back, at least, to his rookie year. 

Let’s turn the clocks back a little further. The year is 2012. Penguins are dominating the box office with three hits in the past seven years: March of the Penguins, Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2. Drummond has taken notice. So, too, has another member of the animal kingdom: the noble Moose.

That is the nickname of yet another former Pistons big man, Greg Monroe. As part of a series entitled “Pistons Players Lounge,” Monroe interviewed his then-rookie teammate and asked him what his favorite movies were. When Drummond named all three penguin flicks Monroe uttered the nine words that would change basketball history forever. 

“Maybe we should start calling you the Big Penguin.”

And thus, a nickname was born. This, of course, raises further questions. How could Drummond have forgotten such a momentous occasion? Well, there are a number of possible explanations. One possibility is that he is choosing to bury a moniker that Drummond views as unflattering. There is evidence supporting this. The original interview does not currently exist on YouTube as the Pistons have classified it as private. The only way to view it is on the way back machine. Drummond himself has lobbied for something a bit more appropriate given his physical stature. “I think I need a more aggressive nickname than Big Penguin,” Drummond joked to Faigen. “But the kids can call me that.”

If this is the case, Drummond’s opinion on penguins has changed drastically in recent years. In 2014, he and Chandler Parsons debated the merits of penguins vs. flamingos on Twitter and Drummond literally described his favorite animal as a “stone-cold killer.”

There’s a simpler explanation here for the less cynical among us. Drummond was 19 years old at the time of this interview, which took place nine days into his NBA career. It’s entirely reasonable to assume that he’s simply forgotten. Most athletes have several nicknames, and there’s no way of knowing at the moment of conception which of them is going to stick. If Drummond had his way, this one likely wouldn’t have. 

But it did, and the rest is history. That may solve the question of the nickname’s origin, but it raises greater ones about Drummond’s current take on penguins. In that 2013 vine, he explicitly calls penguins his “favorite” animal. In Tuesday’s quote? They’ve been downgraded to “one of” them. That might not mean much in a vacuum, but in less than a decade, we’ve gone from Drummond dressing up as a penguin on the internet and defending them to his fellow NBA stars to distancing himself from them and asking for an upgrade. What could have changed? Like the matters of our existence and greater purpose in the universe, we may never know. 



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