Brook Lopez isn’t the only Milwaukee Bucks player picking up a new nickname this season.
Rookie Donte DiVincenzo, already known to some as “The Big Ragu” – thanks to Gus Johnson – and “The Michael Jordan of Delaware” has gained another moniker that has followed him to the NBA. It came courtesy of ESPN’s Bomani Jones, who along with Pablo Torre hosts the show High Noon each afternoon.
That nickname is “White Donte” or “#whitedonte” on Twitter, which Jones started using after watching DiVincenzo and the Villanova Wildcats in the NCAA national championship game in April, a contest that ended with Villanova’s second title in three years and DiVincenzo being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
Jones, who is African American, explained the genesis of the moniker to the Journal Sentinel in a recent interview.
“DiVincenzo comes in the game and the first thing I notice is his name is Donte and Donte has an ‘O,’ ” Jones said. “That is not how it’s spelled by the author of the Inferno. Then I watched him play and that was definitely a visual aesthetic of basketball that we typically associate with black basketball players.
“Donte with an ‘O,’ we’ve got that dude with that game, then I watched the postgame celebration and watched him with the hat backward, cocked to the side and just the whole way he kicked it and I was like, ‘Oh, we haven’t had an NBA player that fits this aesthetic in quite a while and I find this to be highly entertaining.’ Then it turns out that he’s actually good.
“He killed it in that game, obviously, then he goes to the combine and puts up these ridiculous athletic numbers and then he comes to the league and it’s going well also. This is at once a fascinating piece of irony just as a device for communication, but also one thing I thoroughly enjoy about the NBA is the cultural exchange. It is always interesting to see people who kick it in ways that seem to be apparently ironic and this is one of those cases.”
Jones and Torre featured DiVincenzo multiple times on High Noon during the first week of the NBA season, highlighting his eight-point performance in Milwaukee’s first game as well as his central role in the Bucks’ pregame dance circle. They loved every part of it, celebrating the NBA’s cultural exchange while clapping as they watched and talked about one of their favorite new NBA players.
If DiVincenzo puts together more highlight-reel plays during the season, it’s possible he will make more appearances on High Noon.
In fact, the Bucks rookie isn’t against going on High Noon in person at some point if his schedule allows during a trip to New York, saying “that would be cool.” DiVincenzo has no qualms with the nickname because he believes it isn’t coming from a negative place.
“I mean, I think it’s all fun and games,” DiVincenzo said, noting that his teammates have brought it up to him at times in good fun. “I am who I am and I’m not trying to act a certain way that I’m not. I think (Jones) knows that, so he’s having fun with it. I saw they showed a video of me dancing in the circle. Whatever I got to do to hype these guys up. They love it. It’s all fun and games.”
The Milwaukee Bucks introduce draft pick Donte DiVincenzo at a Monday news conference.
Michael Sears, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Bucks certainly like to have fun with their rookies. Generally, it’s been a rookie duty to dance in the pregame circle – a role played by D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown at times last season. Brown had his car filled with popcorn, nominally for not doing his “rookie duties,” and during the playoffs was sent to fetch a T-shirt off a seat at the top row of Boston’s TD Garden.
Earlier this season, center John Henson bestowed a new, pink Gucci bag on DiVincenzo, saying that the Bucks weren’t about hazing; rather, they wanted to make sure DiVincenzo had a nice, new, functional bag to carry around.
When asked about the “White Donte” nickname, Henson thought it was something the team might get on board with.
“We don’t (use it), but I think I might start,” Henson said after lauding DiVincenzo’s incredible athleticism. “Every time he makes a play above the rim I might just start yelling it or hashtag it.”
Of course, the nickname could be considered problematic. Making a joke about a person’s identity, race or culture can be a touchy subject that runs the risk of being more offensive than funny.
Jones has long been a person who hasn’t been afraid of blending topics of race and humor when discussing culture. He once wore a “Caucasians” shirt styled after the Cleveland Indians logo to highlight the inherent issues with the baseball team’s name and Chief Wahoo mascot. He also has a long-running bit about finding out people named Jerry – like Jerry Seinfeld and former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson – are actually named Jerome, another name he says people might associate with African Americans.
For him, “White Donte” branches from the same tree as Jerry/Jerome and represents the kind of cultural exchange and talking points that, to him, contribute to the NBA’s greatness. If DiVincenzo’s first name was spelled “D-A-N-T-E,” none of this would have happened, he says.
But because it’s spelled with an “O” – a spelling normally associated with African American men – Jones finds something more interesting and compelling there to talk about, explore and collectively enjoy.
“I’m not the only person who notices this. Right? These are things that people notice and for some reason can’t bring themselves to a point to just enjoy and laugh with this,” Jones said. “I always have at least two or three people after every show who are up in my Twitter mentions and are like, ‘White Donte, would it be OK if I said Black LeBron?’ Black LeBron isn’t funny. Right? This is a wonderful collision of something that is actually funny and a legit sports angle that is not just on sports stuff but the stuff that draws people in. …
“It’s just funny. That’s all it is. It isn’t at all a slight to him about being white, but he is a white dude that kicks it like that and his name is Donte with an ‘O.’ ”