How ‘Beef Stew’ became viral nickname for Detroit Pistons fan favorite Isaiah Stewart

Detroit Free Press

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In April, Isaiah Stewart and Rick Mahorn joined America’s Test Kitchen to make beef stew.

Under the guidance of chef and Detroit native Elle Simone Scott, Stewart seared his chopped sirloin tip steak in two batches before removing it and putting it in a bowl. He added carrots and onions, and then tomato paste, thyme, garlic and anchovy, before deglazing the built-up layer of fond on the bottom of the pot with red wine. 

By the end of the video, Stewart’s first-ever beef stew was complete. He smiled after taking a bite, and said later it’s something he thinks he could revisit in his own kitchen. It might come as a surprise to some that he hadn’t made the hearty wintertime staple before, given he has become eponymous with it. 

The rise of the “Beef Stew” nickname has been a fun subplot to Stewart’s rookie season with the Detroit Pistons. It began gaining traction on Pistons Facebook, Twitter and Reddit in early January, after he cracked the rotation. By February, it had become so widespread that Pistons commentators George Blaha and Greg Kelser were using it during broadcasts. 

The Pistons started incorporating it into their social media strategy and branding around the same time. Shortly after Stewart’s America’s Test Kitchen appearance, which cheekily leaned into the “Beef Stew” movement, the team launched a “Beef Stew” T-shirt to further solidify it as the go-to moniker for the rookie big man. 

Stewart has become a fan favorite this season due to his physical, energetic style of play. He runs the floor hard, rebounds with joy, sets hard screens and talks trash to opposing players. His game is reminiscent of past Pistons big men, and head coach Dwane Casey has compared him to Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman. He has seen his role expand as the season has progressed, and the nickname has become more prominent as he has risen.

“Ooh, that sounds good,” Casey said in February after learning of the nickname. “I think it’s early right now, but I’ll go with ‘Beef Stew.’ He’s a big piece of beef, I know that.”

For Portsmouth, Virginia resident Jamal Rucker, watching the nickname gain prominence has been a joy. Rucker, a founder and admin of Facebook group Detroit Pistons Central, says he’s the first person to coin “Beef Stew.” And he has the receipts to prove it. 

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‘He’s like a bull out there’

Leading into the 2020 NBA draft, Rucker was deeply familiar with the first two Pistons draft picks, Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey. But the 30-year-old lifelong Pistons fan had to familiarize himself with Stewart, who was projected to be a late-first round pick but ended up being taken 16th overall. 

Rucker began researching the former Washington standout. He noticed how hard he played and how much stronger he was than many opposing college centers. He also came across a video of Stewart cooking oxtails — a dish Stewart learned to cook from his Jamaican father, Dela. 

“I just watched how he played and I’m like ‘yo, he really moves,’ ” Rucker said recently. “He’s like a bull out there.”

On Nov. 20, two days after the draft, Rucker made a post in his Facebook group that pitched a nickname for all three first-round picks — “Killin Em” for Hayes, “Freaky Deeky” for Bey, and “Beef Stew” for Stewart. 

“I was like man, ‘Beef Stew’ would be a cool nickname for him,” Rucker said. “I kinda kept it to myself at first, but then I was like let me throw it out there, let me make a game where we nickname all of our players. And started the game and mentioned Beef Stew. And a couple of people said they liked it then, and apparently they took it to other groups and stuff.” 

A day later, Rucker pitched the name to Stewart on Twitter. He didn’t get a response, but within the next month, he began to see the name latch on. Once he heard Kelser say it on a broadcast, he knew it had officially taken off. 

Rucker isn’t from Detroit, but he has family from the city. He has always rooted for Detroit sports teams — except the Lions. His NFL team of choice is the Denver Broncos. He co-founded Detroit Pistons Central in 2017 as a chill, drama-free place for Pistons fans to meet. 

In April, Stewart followed Rucker back on Twitter. He isn’t sure how Stewart found out about him creating the nickname, but joked he was tempted to message Stewart for a signed jersey. 

“It was just blowing my mind seeing where it’s gone now, to merchandise being sold,” Rucker said. “It’s the coolest thing to me, man. It’s super cool to me.” 

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Becoming a brand

Before this season, Stewart had never had a sports nickname before. His family called him ‘Zay,’ growing up, but getting a fan-christened nickname has been a new experience. In six months, he has become so synonymous with “Beef Stew” that it’s the preferred name fans use when approaching him in public, he said. 

He first came across “Beef Stew” and all of the related polls and debates that came with the nickname while browsing Twitter. He found the nickname amusing and saw it gain steam. 

“Everything was ‘Beef Stew,’ ” he said Friday. “You type in Isaiah Stewart, Beef Stew would show up and it just, over time, became normal. 

“It means a lot. Seeing how much they like me here in Detroit, it just shows. And them coming up with that nickname for me, I really feel like the city is behind me, but not only me, behind this whole draft class that came up.”

Asked why he thinks the nickname has latched on, he said it’s his style of play. This season, the Pistons brass has often evoked past championship teams as a source of inspiration for what they’re trying to build now. General manager Troy Weaver wanted a Detroit-style big man, and he identified Stewart as the player to fulfill that role. 

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Stewart has embraced it. And fans and the rest of the team have noticed.

“The entire team has shown the grit and effort and embodiment of the city,” Tyrel Kirkham, Pistons vice president of brand and marketing strategy, said. “And I think Isaiah definitely follows those too. He helps those. It’s all the things that you don’t see that show up in the box score, and the energy that he exudes, I think the fans have just gravitated towards him.”

While Rucker is the one who created the nickname, he can’t take sole credit. The fanbase as a collective whole deserves acknowledgement as well, he said, due to them spreading it further than he ever imagined. 

“There wouldn’t be a nickname that he’s called without all the other people who really pushed it,” Rucker said. “Because they really were more serious about it than I was. If it was just going to be what I called him, that’s just what it would’ve been. They took it and it was this is what we’re calling him. I definitely didn’t do this alone.

“The fans did this together, to be honest, and I think that’s really cool because (Stewart) didn’t just take a name that one person liked. He took a name that he saw the fans took a liking to as a whole and said ‘Ok, if you’re rocking with it I’m rocking with it.’ ”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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