There comes a time in most partnerships where the two parties involved need to split for both of their sakes. It’s often a bit ugly and painful, and definitely leaves each side with a feeling of emptiness that may stick around a little longer than appreciated. Still, everyone involved eventually moves on to a new partnership that offers new perks to their liking. Everybody wins, am I right?
However, there are more than a fair share of instances where one person capably adjusts to a new partnership while the other continues to cling on to what once was. We see it all the time in life, and surprisingly, even more so in the world sports. Players, coaches and executives alike are always trying to re-kindle flames with old allies, and they’re repeatedly stiff-armed away. That being said, not everyone gets the message, and some old stars linger around a sport longer than they’re welcome to.
The NBA is the most glaring example of this. Star power vaulted the league into mainstream popularity throughout the 1980s and 90s, and has allowed it to serve as the rare rival to the NFL in the U.S. Though as stars have aged and transitioned into different parts of their life, they’ve used their former affiliation with the league to pivot into bigger and better things, sometimes at a direct cost to the league. It’s what defines their public identity, and is also something that the NBA ceaselessly regrets with every move they make. So now let’s count down the 15 former players who the NBA wishes would just go be a hermit in the woods.
15 Christian Laettner
Laettner was, for lack of a better word, the s*** in college. He won two titles under Coach K at Duke in 1991 and 1992 and was voted the infamous honor of most-hated player in college basketball history by an ESPN online poll. His elite level of play as an undergrad was what landed him a spot on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and further emphasized his star-caliber presence in the game. He really was a sight for sore eyes….
...in college. The professional game was a different story for Laettner, who’s 13-year career took place on six different teams and was marred by mediocrity. The iconic turnaround jumper that beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament regional final never travelled into the pro’s, as he never spent more than three years on any given team and was often trade bait for the value his name held.
Laettner wasn’t a bad baller, but he never lived up to the hype he created for himself in college. For that, he’s worthless to the NBA, and the league could do without his name popping up from time to time when talking about underwhelming draft prospects.
14 Greg Oden
While we’re on the subject of underwhelming draft prospects, let’s address the self-proclaimed “biggest bust in NBA history,” Greg Oden. A once promising college basketball player at Ohio State, Oden could never manage to stay healthy enough to validate the excitement centered around him.
It was a disheartening saga for the NBA and especially Oden to say the least. Microfracture surgery on his right knee nullified what would’ve been his rookie season in 2007-08. After intermittent playing time in his official rookie season of 2008-09, Oden missed time early in the year for foot and knee problems and it showed as he only played in 61 games, and started just 39 of them. After that, the following two seasons were lost to other significant injuries and began to spell the end for what was already a major letdown.
Oden played in 111 career games over the course of his seven seasons as a player in the NBA--that’s equivalent to one full season and a quarter of another season in seven years as a player. A disappointment is an understatement, and the NBA can’t wait to waft away the foul stench of a lingering bust like Oden.
13 Eddy Curry
Curry’s legacy as a player is less damning on the court as it is off the court. Originally ushered into the league to be the bright, young star to replace an aging Michael Jordan in Chicago, Curry was always a fairly reliable offensive weapon throughout his career and was seen as the next torchbearer for a great sports city
But what really makes Curry a black-eye for the NBA is how a suspected heart condition was handled. During the 2005 playoffs, the Bulls rising star was removed from game action due to an irregular heartbeat. Even after being cleared by specialists, the Bulls management still held out concerns of a congenital heart condition and wanted to do a DNA test--which, legally, is a huge breach of personal privacy. The risk was huge since two players had died of the suspected heart condition, but at the same time Curry and his lawyers didn’t trust whatever information would be revealed from a DNA test would addressed appropriately.
In the end, Curry went on to play a long and relatively successful career, albeit with some fitness issues. What’s more is that by not stepping in to prevent or denounce the desire to test a players DNA, the NBA showed it was willing to go to extreme lengths to protect itself. That selfishness isn’t lost on players in the league now and continues to serve as a reminder for how low the NBA will go.
12 Stephon Marbury
Remember when Marbury was on the top of the world, with his “Starbury” shoes, strong drives to the hoop and sick shot to boot? Yeah, neither do I. Marbury was always an offensive wunderkind but, like a lot of elite players in the league, was never the teammate he needed to be, making him a forgettable addition to any roster.
Marbury made sure he got his and wasn’t willing to forgo it to make the team better. It’s what got him trouble in all the teams he played on, from an impressive New Jersey Nets team to the lowly New York Knicks. It was the latter stint with New York that officially ended his stardom, as repeated fights with multiple coaching staffs that tried to, dare I say, make him into a team player eventually created too large of a rift between him and the league as a whole.
Oh well. Marbury was never as interested basketball as much as he was about what basketball provided for him. Once he felt his slice of the pie was getting smaller, he whined about it endlessly. The NBA could do without another shoot-first guard in the league, and especially one that wants to gobble up the starpower undeservedly.
11 Bill Laimbeer
Once upon a time Laimbeer was the feared enforcer of the Detroit “Bad Boy” Pistons. His play was so memorable it was a key part of the ESPN 30 for 30 production, appropriately titled “Bad Boys,” where Laimbeer’s goonish style of play was a defining element of the team.
It’s what landed Laimbeer and his Detroit teammates in three straight NBA finals and how they ended up winning two of them, though at the same time, it’s a style of play the league would be happy to forget. Seeing that the NBA has adjusted rules to almost completely eliminate contact with shooters, it appears they’ve done just that, but still, rough and tumble players always find their way onto the court. Look no further than Golden State’s Draymond Green, whose genitalia-seeking kicks and karate chops have landed him in a heap of trouble.
Laimbeer will always live on in NBA legacy for being one of the last known physical forces in the paint. And while the NBA revelled in that approach back in the 1980s since it made for great TV, it’s served as a detriment to their efforts in making a cleaner, more skill-based game of today. By wanting to have their cake and eat it too, the NBA has allowed physical play to preserve itself in the much “softer” game of today; something Laimbeer brought popularized in the league.
10 Derek Fisher
Oh Derek. A bench player who seemed to just pop up on any given winning or competitive roster, especially toward the end of his career, Fisher has made a name for himself not by being “the guy,” but by being around “the guy” just enough for his name to gain traction too.
That social currency Fisher gained worked for him well. He was around stars like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Durant a bulk of his career, serving as a nice pick-me-up for those guys whenever they forgot their hero capes at home. The most notable moment came in the 2004 NBA playoffs, when Fisher hit a game-winning jump shot with 0.4 seconds left on the clock to help the Lakers defeat the Spurs for a decisive Game 5 win in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Yeah, Fisher had his moments, but he’s still always ridden the coattails of more successful athletes. Recent public appearances involving a terrible coaching stint with the Knicks and an alleged brawl with NBA player Matt Barnes over dating Barnes’ ex-wife have made Fisher out to be just another mortal. The NBA could do without all the distractions, and so forgetting him as soon as possible is in the league’s best interest.
9 Lamar Odom
Another player who helped elevate Fisher’s career was an unlikely source: Lamar Odom. One-time 6th Man of the Year off the Lakers’ bench that helped the team seize two titles in 2009 and 2010, Odom had some sweet dribble-drive moves, a respectable shot and was admirable on the boards, making him an all-around talent.
Though that’s not the Odom people know anymore. Now he’s seen as one of the many sideshow attractions in the Kardashian empire, simply showing up on TV to either be portrayed as a doting husband or some weirdo who’s never been to the dentist (that’s seriously something Odom didn’t do until his late-20s). Even worse, he’s more recently known for getting high on heroin and trying to have sex with a prostitute that may or may not be a transperson as well.
It was an ugly spiral toward the bottom but Odom doesn’t seem to care, as long as he’s with his sugar mama Khloe. The NBA just wants this loser to at least get his life together if he’s going to continue to be referenced as a “former-NBA player…”
8 James Jones
Ok, so technically, Jones isn’t retired, but he might as well be since he’s been relegated to the bench consistently over the past six seasons. Oh, and did anyone notice what teams Jones was on for the past couple of years?
Yup, you guessed it, LeBron’s team that’s who. Jones received a ring each time the King did, and usually did so without ever entering the game or breaking a sweat in the process. He’s just a little gargoyle perched on the bench that casts jinxes on opposing players so they miss open lay-ups (just like that Tim Duncan did at the end of 2013 NBA Finals Game 7... that was because of Jones).
Maybe there is a real reason Jones is allowed to stick around on LeBron’s teams and take up a roster slot for a viable or developing player. Or maybe it doesn’t matter and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Regardless, I’m sure the NBA would like to remove Jones from the league since his repeated success highlights one of the biggest problems in pro basketball--friends in high places will look out for little guys, which means less new talent coming into the league to make it more competitive.
7 Kevin Garnett
Garnett has always been an unlikable NBA player. He would talk trash to nearly anyone he defended over a litany of subjects both personal and professional, while also even getting scrappy with teammates on occasion. Basically, he’s a hard guy to get along with no matter which team you were on.
That worked in his favor early on his career. He was like the man with no country, starting fights with anyone and everyone, but he pulled it off because of his supreme talent and drive at the position made him a force to be reckoned with. However, once father time began to catch up Garnett became way too much bark and no bite. After a title getting knocked out of the Eastern Conference Finals by the LeBron-led Miami Heat in 2012, that was the death knell for league’s original Big 3 and really the end to Garnett’s career.
A guy in his late-30s who ran his mouth was hardly anything to be intimidated by, and so Garnett lost what little esteem he had left. Now he serves as a pseudo-counselor for the T-Wolves and makes frequent appearnces on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” though the league doesn’t want any player who stirred so much bad blood to stick around the NBA in any way, shape or form. They’d prefer he pull a Kobe and get interested in the stock market.
6 Isiah Thomas
If Laimbeer was the heart of those “bad boy” Pistons teams, then let it be known that Thomas was the brains behind that mystical and rather evil persona the team carried. Thomas was an electric player with a viper-like shot, sick drive to the hoop and a Cheshire Cat-like smile that just oozed of cynicism.
It worked in Isiah’s favor, as he was able to help foster an “us versus them”-like mentality in his teammates at Detroit, and was a key figure in rallying them to new heights. It’s why he draws so much revere from his fellow Pistons, for being that against-the-grain leader for a team full of misfits and castaways. Though at the same time it worked against Thomas, who was hated by his fellow cohorts in the NBA, specifically fellow stars like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, for embodying a kind of passive evil.
That persona didn’t do him any favors, as he was left off the famed Dream Team for the 1992 Olympics--a blow he will never forget. Though he was inducted in the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, so not all love was lost. Still, Thomas is an advocate for a bygone era of physicality in the NBA and can still ruffle a few feathers with other on-air talent, so the league would like to replace him with a more likable star on their broadcasts sooner rather than later.
5 Dennis Rodman
No real surprise that Rodman showed up on this list given he was a bonafide weirdo during his playing days. Rodman’s multicolored hair and eccentric appearance full of piercings and animated facial expressions were just the start of what is really a wild public life.
Take the release of of biography, released during the height of his career in Chicago, where he arrived at the book signing wearing a full-on wedding dress and makeup to boot. What about when he headbutted a referee en route to a ejection? Or his sporadic appearances on the big screen, either being in action movies with Jean-Claude Van Damme or on trashy reality TV shows? Wrap it up with his budding friendship with North Korea’s current dictator and you’ve got some odd vibes coming from Rodman.
The league loved to hate Rodman, and it was fun for a bit, but the show’s gotta stop eventually. The NBA can’t keep its fans invested in the most outlandish characters over the quality ones, as it’s just bad business. Sorry Dennis, please exit stage left.
4 Metta World Peace
After Rodman left the league, he passed the “crazy man” baton off to Metta World Peace, who’s formerly known as Ron Artest Jr. Only difference is World Peace took it up a notch (bam!) and has done literally every crazy thing in the book.
After hitting two huge three’s to help the Lakers clinch their 2010 championship, who did World Peace have to thank when he stepped up to the microphone? Not his family, not his teammates, not his coaches. Out of everyone, it was his therapist, who he had been seeing semi-regularly throughout the latter part of his career, who he thanked for helping maintain his stability down the stretch. And of course, there was the infamous Malice at the Palace, where then-Artest leapt into the stands and began wailing on a fan who threw a water bottle at Artest.
The altercation got Artest suspended for an entire season and caused his exodus from the Indiana Pacers. Still, for all the entertainment World Peace may provide fans, the NBA would love to have him off the radar as “former NBA player” since he only seems to weaken his reputation as a player every time he goes public.
3 Allen Iverson
Pretty much a 21st-century Isiah Thomas minus the two championship rings, Iverson was an assassin on the court who made killer shots at critical times and also made a career out of going against the grain on and off the court.
Though at the same time, he was also the only player who allowed himself to have the ball, as he often dribbled down shot clocks and rarely relied on teammates. That style made Iverson a difficult player to be on a team with, since if he didn’t trust his guys to help him out, why would they return the favor? Allen got everything a star player would want in the league: huge name recognition, tons of All-Star appearances, a scoring title (or two) and even his own shoe. All of those are highly sought after goals of NBA players, and he did it all.
Yet Iverson’s on-court chippiness made him a target for off-court altercations, including one’s where members of his posse allegedly assaulted a man outside a Washington D.C. nightclub. Iverson also grinded the gears of coaches and executives around the league for being a perennial ball-stopper who refused to pass even after his physical gifts began to fade. The NBA loves its stars, but not when they become too big in a “me-first” way, so for that, the league could do without him remaining in the hearts and minds of fans everywhere.
2 Charles Barkley
Probably the only former player on this list who’s gained as much fame if not more after he left the hardwood, Barkley was always known for being an outspoken personality whose delivery could be perceived as rough around the edges, to say the least. That openness to express his unadulterated thoughts, whether factual or not, has been a thorn in the NBA’s side for sometime.
Take for example Barkley’s weekly spot on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” where he uses his platform to criticize issues related to players like the Warriors being a jump-shooting team that can’t win the Finals or taking shots at Kevin Durant for chasing rings by leaving Oklahoma City. Barkley will take it a step further from time to time and even volley his opinions on social issues as well as political ones, making him draw ire from a lot of people around the country.
The NBA has had enough from Sir Charles and everything he preaches (particularly when it revolves around the contact-less game the NBA is pushing for). Though the Round Mound of Rebound will likely never leave TNT until he’s on his deathbed, the NBA would love for him to take up an occupation that doesn’t involve taking potshots at the league on a weekly basis.
1 Phil Jackson
The Zen Master coached his way to 11 rings (!) thanks to heavy-handed rosters and the all-powerful triangle offense, but Jackson, like most other people on this list, simply doesn’t fit with the times in the NBA, making his exit a must.
Sure, he’s been a hallmark of the league for the last two decades and literally forged careers for multiple all-time greats from Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and, of course, Michael Jordan. However, Phil’s classic coolness doesn’t seem to be catching on in his latest endeavor as President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks. In two full seasons in charge Jackson’s struggled to make stable coaching hires and hasn’t stocked the roster with much premier talent outside of Godzingis (adding Derrick Rose and Joahkim Noah does not a “superteam” make). The cherry on top is his win-loss record over those two years: 49-115. Enough said.
The NBA needs to push Phil Jackson into a harmless broadcasting role or just get him chasing some other life interest. He tried to salvage the Knicks dumpster fire of a franchise and, what do you know, only throw more gas on it. The league needs him to skip town and skip his way out of the Association before he ruins whatever prestige he has left.
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