SALT LAKE CITY — Not many players in the NBA have been able to play their whole career being known around the league by its fans on a first-name basis. LeBron, Michael, Magic, Wilt, and a handful of others make up the shortlist over the league’s long history.
Most of these players have made it based on their Hall of Fame careers, teamed with the uniqueness of their name. After all, John Stockton isn’t known around the league by John alone, despite owning two separate league records in career assist and steal totals.
On the flipside, a unique name alone won’t mark your name down in the annals of the league. World B. Free, Fat Lever, and Pooh Richardson aren’t exactly household names across the sports landscape.
Michael Jordan is an exception to this rule. According to a 2017 Social Security Administration study, Michael has held the top spot for the most popular boy name 44 times out of the past 100 years. Still, basketball fans across the world don’t need a last name when talking about the player widely regarded as the best player of all time.
Another exception is Jimmer Fredette.
Yes, Jimmer is a unique name. As of 2017, it was the 17,649th most popular boy name, and that hasn’t hurt his popularity. But Jimmer is famous beyond the uniqueness of his name; he’s truly one of the most recognizable, and memorable, players in recent basketball history.
Fredette’s run started at BYU as a junior when he averaged 22 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor and an absurd 44 percent from the 3-point line. His stardom exploded as a senior, where his scoring average climbed to nearly 29 points per game. He regularly hit 3-point shots from beyond NBA range and poured in more than 40 points in four separate outings.
Fredette earned All-American First Team honors, as well as several Player of the Year awards, including the Mountain West and National Player of the Year. He led BYU to the NCAA's Sweet 16 before falling to Florida in overtime and ending his college career.
The Sacramento Kings drafted Fredette with the 10th overall pick of the NBA draft, and that’s where the narrative rapidly changed. After a rookie season plagued by poor shooting numbers, Fredette saw a drop in minutes as a sophomore and was waived by the Kings in his third season.
After a short stint with the Chicago Bulls, and a season with the New Orleans Pelicans, Fredette found his way to the New York Knicks' G-League affiliate Westchester Knicks. Fredette eventually made his way to China, playing for the Chinese Basketball Association, and regained his status as a bigger-than-cult hero in the basketball world. He earned league MVP honors for the Shanghai Shark in 2017.
Recently, after three All-Star seasons in China, Fredette made his way back to the NBA, signing a two-year contract with the Phoenix Suns. If the rest of this season reflects what Fredette showed in Salt Lake City on Monday night, he likely won’t earn a spot on the Suns roster for the second year of his contract.
Fredette limped to a rough, albeit exciting, 6 point outing on 1-of-10 shooting and 0-of-5 from the 3-point line in 14 minutes for the Suns. At 30 years old and still struggling with the same physical limitations he entered the league with, Fredette’s NBA career may come to an end in this final stretch of games with the Suns.
Despite the fact that Fredette never lived up to his expectation as a Top 10 draft pick, he’s had a successful basketball career, and one worth remembering beyond his NBA shortcomings.
Fredette was a regular on national highlight shows. He, along with Danny Ainge, are the only two players in the argument as the best players in BYU basketball history. Fredette was given his own professional shoe model by the Chinese brand 361. With endorsements and salaries in the NBA and CBA, he’s earned well over $10 million for his career.
He’s also been a crowd favorite everywhere he’s landed, including his ability to draw a ‘Jimmer’ chant in his two-game stint with the New York Knicks.
Monday night at Vivint Arena was a shining example of Fredette’s popularity. Each time he touched the ball or launched an ill-timed 3-point shot, the excitement in the crowd grew to an eventual fever pitch.
Fredette’s career will end in rarified air as one of the handfuls of NBA players known truly on a first name basis, despite having a less than outstanding NBA career. By that standard alone, Fredette’s had a worthwhile career. But beyond that, his recognition as a local legend, an international icon and one of the most entertaining players in all of basketball over the last decade have cemented Jimmer as one of the sport’s more unique success stories.