AMES, Iowa – Fred Hoiberg is one of the most famous personalities in college basketball, not only locally in his home state of Iowa, but nationally as well.
A giant success as an All-American at Iowa State, a 10-year NBA player and now as the head coach with the nationally-ranked Cyclones, Hoiberg’s accomplishments have been well-documented and nationally recognized.
It’s no secret that Hoiberg’s national profile has been aided by a catchy nickname. He is, and forever will be, The Mayor.
Nicknames and sports go together. Always have, always will.
Hoiberg’s nickname has undoubtedly found its way into popular culture. His first meeting with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal proved this.
As a member of the Chicago Bulls early in his NBA career, Hoiberg was assigned as a captain in a matchup vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. O’Neal, along with Kobe Bryant, came out to the center circle to shake hands with Hoiberg as part of the pre-game captains meeting with the officials. The mammoth center, with his trademark grin, put out his hand to Hoiberg and simply said, “The Mayor.”
So when did The Mayor become The Mayor?
Former Iowa State basketball player Doug Collins can tell you. He’s the man credited with coining the moniker.
Collins, a native of Springfield, Ill., had a solid basketball career at ISU, scoring over 754 points in his two seasons with the Cyclones (1989-90; 1990-91). The 6-1, 200-pound lefty averaged over 12 points a game in both seasons, earning honorable mention All-Big Eight honors twice.
Collins first heard of Hoiberg in his senior season at Iowa State when Hoiberg was dominating at nearby Ames High School.
“It was in my senior year and Fred was a senior at Ames High,” Collins said. “The town was all a buzz about him and all I kept hearing was Fred Hoiberg, Fred Hoiberg. I had never even seen Fred play yet. We finally got the opportunity to go see him play and everyone was going crazy.”
Hoiberg pleased all Cyclone fans by deciding to play basketball at Iowa State over offers from Arizona and Stanford. In Hoiberg’s freshman season with the Cyclones, Collins joined the Cyclone staff as a graduate assistant to follow his dreams of a coaching career.
This is when Collins first fully realized the enormous popularity of the hometown hero.
“Everywhere we turned it was Fred Hoiberg this and Fred Hoiberg that, so I just called him The Mayor of Ames one day,” Collins remembered. “It kind of took off after that. I was calling him The Mayor because everywhere we went I would get asked, ‘Do you know Fred Hoiberg?’”
The nickname stuck. It was clever and appropriate, but it didn’t fully catch at the national level until Hoiberg reached his senior season in 1994-95. Hoiberg was having an All-American season and his exploits were leaking to a larger audience.
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale was following Hoiberg’s outstanding season and learned about his nickname. He started referencing him as The Mayor on his broadcasts, and as Hoiberg will attest, it blew up after that.
“People in Iowa knew about the name, but not many people outside the state did,” Hoiberg said. “That all changed when Vitale started calling me The Mayor. Soon everyone was.”
Collins still marvels that the nickname has become so popular.
“We would all laugh about calling him The Mayor,” Collins said. “But we never thought it would blow up like it did.”
Collins realized his dream of being a coach. He’s worked the last 18 years at his alma mater Lanphier High School in Springfield, including spending the last 15 years as the head varsity girls basketball coach.
“It’s truly been a blessing seeing kids grow, mature and work toward their aspirations,” Collins said. “I give a lot of credit to Iowa State University for developing me as a young man and for Johnny Orr for giving me leadership qualities.”
For the rest of Collins’ life, however, he will always have a smile when he hears The Mayor’s name announced.
“It’s a thrill and exciting for me knowing that I helped Fred with the nickname,” Collins said. “Fred has done a wonderful job as a student-athlete, a professional and now a coach. Fred hasn’t changed. He’s always been the same humble person every time I talk with him.”