This is a picture of a rainy road. Over the picture are the words: Shawn Kemp's Nickname The Reign Man

Why Was Shawn Kemp’s Nickname The Reign Man?

Shawn Kemp’s nickname, The Reign Man, came from Seattle SuperSonics announcer Kevin Calabro. Calabro saw the phrase on a poster in the arena before a game and started using it to describe Kemp after one of his thunderous dunks. Calabro also coined the nickname The Glove for Kemp’s teammate Gary Payton. 

How did Shawn Kemp get the nickname the Reign Man?

Shawn Kemp had his best years playing for the Seattle SuperSonics alongside Hall of Famer Gary Payton. Kemp did not quite make the Hall of Fame himself. At his best, Kemp was a dominant physical force whose dynamic athleticism was too much for most opponents.

Kemp was known primarily for his thunderous dunks. 

The man calling most of Kemp’s games for the local Seattle market was play-by-play man Kevin Calabro. Calabro spent twenty years calling games for the Sonics. Calabro finished his career by calling games for the Portland Trailblazers for several years before retirement, but he was most closely associated with the Sonics. 

Calabro has a unique style and was known for his catchphrases including “Good golly miss Molly” and “Get on your magic carpet and ride”. 

He was also known for giving players nicknames. Both Gary Payton’s nickname The Glove and Shawn Kemp’s nickname The Reignman came from Kevin Calabro.  

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Calabro saw the phrase The Reign Man on a poster at the stadium before a game. Then, when Kemp did something otherworldly in the game, it just came out. 

“The Reign Man,” I saw that on a poster as I walked into the Coliseum before a game. You put things like that in your memory bank and when Gary throws the lob to Shawn, it’s like, ‘The Reign Man defies gravity,’ is just there. You get caught up in the flow and emotion of the game, and it’s there.”

Kevin Calabro

There are lots of reasons why the name stuck. The first is because Calabro used it a ton. And that led fans of the team to use it and it stuck. 

It also made sense. The word reign, of course, means to hold royal office – to rule as king (or queen).  In the early nineties, Shawn Kemp was reigning as NBA royalty in the Pacific Northwest. 

Why was Shawn Kemp’s Nickname the Reign Man instead of the Rain Main? 

Shawn Kemp’s nickname made sense in other ways besides him being NBA royalty in Seattle. It was also a nice play on words.

Seattle, of course, is noted for its rainy conditions, though some say the rain is a bit overblown. Shawn Kemp, as noted above, was most definitely noted for thunderous in-game dunks. He rained down dunks on people left and right.

And that is the beauty of Shawn Kemp’s nickname, the Reign Man. It works as a reference to royalty but also works as a play on words. The idea of a Seattle player who was raining dunks on people being called Reign Man works in multiple ways. 

You could hear it as a reference to royalty, you could hear it as a reference to dunks or you could hear it as a reference to a star on a team from a city known for its rain. It works in every way. 

What was Gary Payton’s nickname? 

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Gary Payton got his nickname, the Glove, in the same way Shawn Kemp got his nickname, the Reign Man. Like Kemp, Gary Payton’s nickname was given to him by the Sonics play-by-play announcer Kevin Calabro. 

Payton joined the Sonics in Kemp’s second year and they spent seven seasons as teammates. Calabro called Payton the Glove because of his otherworldly defense. When he defended you, he was on you like a glove. 

While Kemp’s reign as NBA royalty did not last much beyond those early nineties years, Payton’s status as a defensive ace never changed. Payton made 9 All NBA Defensive 1st teams. That is an unbelievable number. 

I have argued, in this piece on Kobe Bryant’s defense and other places, that the journalists who vote on these awards are not perfect and sometimes vote for people who are less-than deserving.

But I also argued, in this post on Larry Bird’s underrated defense, that making All Defensive teams probably means you are a good defender at least. I think it is safe to say that Gary Payton was at least pretty decent on the defensive end. 

He made the Hall of Fame based on that defense and it is also why he became known as the Glove. 

Summary: Shawn Kemp’s Nickname

Shawn Kemp got his nickname, The Reign Man, from the Seattle SuperSonics play-by-play man Kevin Calabro. Calabro was noted for his excited phrases and for giving players nicknames. Calabro saw the phrase The Reign Man on a poster in the arena before a game and started using it after a  Kemp dunk. 

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