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Assigning The Wolves ‘Top Gun’ Call Signs

I feel the need... the need to assign nicknames.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Jake Kelly, our newest addition to the Canis Hoopus staff. Known to some of you as @jakegraphs on Twitter, Jake is originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota but now resides in Minneapolis, where he works in data analytics. An avid participant in Mike Miller’s basketball camps as a child, Jake will be writing about a wide variety of topics this season — including stats, trends, and pop culture — all while sharing a vast collection of homemade memes he has stored away in his drafts.

I’m really excited for this latest acquisition, so please give him a warm (official) welcome to the Canis community. Thanks, Jake!


Mid-March through mid-December was the golden age of thinking about Minnesota Timberwolves basketball as a concept. For me, it was a transcendent journey, resulting in thousands of scenarios and wild imaginings only possible due to a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) layoff. It was, admittedly, a lot of dumb stuff (see below).

Now, those months are now just a twinkle in Anthony Edwards’ eyes. The concept of a bunch of guys playing basketball for Minnesota’s professional team has actualized. It’s happening.

But before the games begin, and there are performance-based critiques to be posited, there’s one final concept that needs to come to life. It’s something that became unexpectedly relevant when the Wolves drafted Anthony Edwards, and couldn’t have blossomed if it weren’t for a long line of decisions made by two gentlemen that share that one name, and some luck.

One Anthony Edwards shifted his focus from football to basketball. The other Anthony Edwards rejected his parents’ best wishes and pursued an acting career rather than a traditional college education. The ping pong balls bounced the right way, and the Timberwolves won the draft lottery. The very specific Top Gun-Anthony Edwards-Timberwolves universe was born, and with that, this became necessary.

I must assign each Timberwolves player a character nickname from the movie Top Gun.

If you haven’t seen Top Gun, that’s fine! I barely remember the plot! There are really just three things you need to know:

  1. The movie is about a group of elite fighter pilots flying around,
  2. They all have unique, extremely cool pilot “call signs,” and (most importantly)...
  3. The movie provided actor Anthony Edwards his breakout role in Hollywood. Overall, there are 14 credited nicknames in the movie, so I’ve selected 14 players to match them up with, nearly the full roster.

Here they are:

Anthony Edwards: “Goose”

“Mr. North” (Anthony Edwards’ character in the limited release “Mr. North”, 1988) was my pre-draft nickname of choice for the eventual #1 pick. But for the people, and for the memes, the most commercially relevant nickname was always “Goose,” the character played by Anthony Edwards’ (the actor) in Top Gun. Anthony Edwards was Goose. Anthony Edwards is Anthony Edwards. These are the roles that propelled them both to stardom. This was the obvious match, the reason for the season.

D’Angelo Russell: “Iceman”

George Gervin was The Iceman. But as we all know, D-Lo is very icy. Sooo, so icy. If there’s any player in the NBA suited to reprise this nickname, it’s got to be him. The man’s got ice in his veins. Figuratively. This is a nearly perfect fit.

Karl-Anthony Towns: “Maverick”

This plays. Maverick (Tom Cruise) is the star of the Top Gun, and Maverick (KAT) is the star of the Wolves. And by the end of Top Gun, Maverick is basically best buds with Iceman, a true reflection of the KAT/D-Lo real-life relationship! Sure, Maverick and Iceman’s constant-tension is one of the primary plot devices throughout Top Gun, but I’d equate that to something like the Wolves losing three games in a row at some point this season, and rallying to overcome. Karl also coined the phrase “pioneers of excellence,” and I can see something like “mavericks of distinction” becoming the 2021 version of that.

I was originally thinking “Wolfman” for KAT, because that is such a strong, Wolf-centric call name, but more on that later on.

Naz Reid: “Hollywood”

BANG. Hollywood Naz man, that’s him. @hollywood.naz is unfortunately too tall to be a fighter pilot, but Naz Reid does drive a Jeep, which is basically the fighter jet of the ground. Perfect.

Ricky Rubio: “Merlin”

Ricky is a wizard with the basketball. Merlin is literally a wizard. (I’m referencing Merlin from the 2008 BBC epic “Merlin” now, a different story. In Top Gun, Merlin was a naval flight officer played by Tim Robbins). And a young Ricky Rubio could totally could have been cast in the show Merlin, to play Merlin. The timeline even adds up! But I’m glad he chose basketball.

Malik Beasley: “Cougar”

No comment.

Jake Layman: “Sundown”

Jake’s been called Sunshine, a play on that permanently flawless, forcefully dirty blonde mop of perfection. But this isn’t your mother’s Jake Layman we’re dealing with anymore. This year, Jake Layman has an edge to him, and it’s palpable. Sundown is like the PG-13 version of Sunshine. He’s still safe to air for all audiences, weeknights at 7PM, but there’s going to be a few moments in each game where parents will have to explain to their children why what Sundown did to the other team was B-A-D.

Juancho Hernangomez: “Wolfman”

Okay, originally KAT was “Wolfman” because he is like THE Wolf, right? He’s the star. The Wolf, man. But to stay on track with the Top Gun narrative at least a little bit, KAT ended up as Maverick. For Juancho, the answer wasn’t initially as obvious, especially with “Hollywood” off the board.

At first, I thought “Carole” was the answer here, Meg Ryan’s character name in Top Gun. This is not a call name, but the rationale was so tight. What we know is that Meg Ryan was married to Dennis Quaid in the 90’s. David Quaid is the younger brother of Randy Quaid, who is (was) also an actor. Juancho is the younger brother of Willy Hernangomez, who is also a basketball player. This passes #THELINKUP.

Ultimately, Juancho walks away with “Wolfman,” because he is truly the best equipped to play the role of The Wolfman, from the Wolfman horror universe. I would’ve suggested that even before he was an actual movie star too. The guy who played Wolfman in Top Gun actually had the real-world last name “Wolfe” which doesn’t help explain anything here, I just thought that was interesting.

Ed Davis: “Jester”

This goes back to a 2018 incident between Ed Davis and Solomon Hill. Ed said:

“He a certified clown for the flop… I entertained a clown and that’s what happens… The clown won the battle.”

In this case Ed is not the clown, and not really a jester either, but what I’ve learned is that his clowndar is always on. And to me, calling somebody a clown is truly the mountain peak of insults.

Important to note: “Is a jester a clown?” is an extremely controversial topic, and to me, the short answer is no. But on account of Shakespeare, they’re often grouped together. In this case, the Wolves got the Jester, and that’s good thing.

Josh Okogie: “Stinger”

JO was a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket. Yellow Jackets have stingers. That’s all there is to it!

Jaden McDaniels: “Slider”

Jaden is a large human, straight out of college, 20 years old. Metabolism analytics rank him extremely high. So I’d bet that Jaden McDaniels would pull up on a case of White Castle sliders and walk away still hungry.

I wish I knew more about the team’s eating habits. I know Jake Layman comes to the arena with Tupperware leftovers. And that Jarrett Culver needs his eggs with butter. Anything else is just a guess. But I’m going to guess the new J-Mac is going to do harm to a Crave Case.

Also from the Timberwolves draft profile on McDaniels:

“Has shown the ability to sit down and slide with wings.”

So I guess he crushes wings too.

Jarrett Culver: “Chipper”

This one might not last for long. We’ve heard “he’s like that,” but Jarrett’s overall demeaner is just so pleasant. He is a happy boy. A sweet, happy, boy. He’s “Chipper.” This holds for now, and I hope he never loses that, but “Viper” could be in the cards very, very soon.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Jarred Vanderbilt: “Viper”

Originally, this nickname belonged to RHJ. I was sure he’d make the team, so I did the most research to come up with something insanely interesting and thorough. Now, RHJ is no longer a Timberwolf, the explanation has been deleted from earth, and most importantly, I had to find guy to be Viper. Next man up? Jarred Vanderbilt.

I did the least here. Jarred Vanderbilt spent part of last season in the G-League playing for the Rio Grande Vipers. So he was a Viper and is “Viper.” That’s all you’re gonna get. This is why I was as bitter as you all were when RHJ was let go.

Jaylen Nowell: “Charlie”

Did you know that Jaylen Nowell went to the same high school as Jimi Hendrix, Macklemore, and Quincy Jones? That’s a combined 32 Grammys! (Quincy 28, Macklemore 4, Jimi 0). Wow! And there’s a handful of other very notable alumnus too, including former Timberwolves legend Brandon Roy. Can you tell I’m stalling?

The truth is, all you really needed to make the connection here was Quincy Jones. You see, Quincy Jones is the reason why Charlie Puth started producing music. Charlie Puth is now two degrees separated from Jaylen Nowell. Without Quincy Jones, there might not be any of those banging Subway commercials that Charlie Puth made. And without a Jaylen Nowell/Charlie Puth connection on a list of ‘Top Gun’ related nicknames, what would this have even been about?

Do with this information what you will.