What could be better than working your way up through the high school and AAU ranks, making a name for yourself in college and finally getting drafted into the NBA? Getting drafted by the team you grew up rooting for. Of course, things rarely work out that way in the NBA.
Very rarely do players get the chance to play for the team they grew up rooting for. There is no shortage of reasons why childhood dreams rarely get fulfilled. They may be loaded at a position or are simply not interested in a certain player, despite having once been a fan of the organization.
The NBA is a business after all, and players know there are only about 400 roster spots available league-wide. So sometimes, players must betray their inner child and put on the colors of their most hated rival.
Believe it or not, these are 15 NBA players who played for the team they hated growing up.
15 Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Amir Johnson was a Lakers fan growing up. He grew up watching the Showtime Lakers with Magic and Kareem. In a 2012 interview with the National Post, Johnson told Eric Koreen that James Worthy was his favorite player, which certifies him as a true Laker fan.
In 2015, Amir Johnson signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Celtics, which must have hurt his pride a bit to now be wearing the same green and white jerseys as Bird, McHale and Parrish, the sworn rivals of the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson was the last player to be directly drafted from high school back in 2005.
14 Amar'e Stoudemire, Miami Heat
Amar'e Stoudamire was born in Lake Wales, Florida on November 16th, 1982. Lake Wales is a small city that's only about an hour's drive from Orlando. So when Stoudamire was growing up, he idolized his hometown team's first franchise star Shaquille O'Neal.
Nowadays, Magic fans don't have a whole lot to root for, which is why they typically end up cheering for the failure of their more polished, state rivals the Miami Heat. Ironically, Amar'e's final stop in the NBA would be with bitter rivals the Miami feat. Luckily, the conflict of interest didn't last long as Stoudemire only played in 52 games with the Heat before retiring as a New York Knick the following season.
13 Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
Taj Gibson was a calming presence on the front line of the Chicago Bulls until this trade deadline when he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The chance to contend for a title and play with an MVP candidate every night must be nice for Gibson but he's probably enjoying it even more now he's no longer a Chicago Bull.
Gibson was born in 1985 in New York City, which almost automatically makes him a Knicks fan, yet managed to become a key contributor to their bitter rival for the past eight NBA seasons. In an open letter to Bulls fans after getting traded, Taj Gibson wrote, "So, here is just a real heartfelt thank you to all of you for letting a New York City kid live out his dreams as a Chicago Bull," which carries the subtext that he was always cognizant of the fact that he never really belonged there.
12 Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers
Jordan Clarkson's aggressive playing style may have won the hearts of Lakers nation, but his San Antonio roots is cause for pause.
When Clarkson was growing up in San Antonio, his father Mike washed cars for Spurs legends like David Robinson and Sean Elliott and Clarkson would see them when they hosted birthday parties or attended local youth basketball games. Jordan Clarkson has said that being around the Spurs at a young age gave him hope and credits his play with the underdog mentality of San Antonio. And while that's great for the Lakers, you can't help but wonder if Clarkson feels at all odd wearing the purple and gold, a color combination that couldn't possibly be more hated in South Texas.
11 Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
Born and raised in Chicago during Michael Jordan's reign of terror, Derrick Rose as well as his older siblings Dwayne, Reggie and Allan were all huge Bulls fans. From an early age, Michael Jordan was Rose's hero and eventually Derrick Rose would get drafted by his hometown team with incredibly high expectations.
For a Chicago kid who idolized Michael Jordan born at the peak of the Bulls-Knicks rivalry, with the two teams meeting in the playoffs year after year, it must be strange for Derrick Rose to be a Knick. Then again, his tenure with the team has been all kinds of strange, from openly critical of the team to being AWOL for a game in January, while still eyeing a max contract. Is it possible he hates the Knicks even more than he did growing up?
10 Luke Walton, Los Angeles Lakers
In a recent TrueHoop feature on current Lakers coach Luke Walton, the former player admitted he didn't like basketball. "I hated it," he told ESPN's Baxter Holmes. Walton hated playing basketball growing up because there was no ball movement.
It was only when the Walton family moved to Boston for Bill Walton's final two NBA seasons with the Celtics did a love of basketball click for Luke. The great 80s teams featuring their father, Bird, Parish McHale and Ainge, were known for sparing dribbles, back door cuts and success measured in assists, which represented the basketball Luke Walton wanted to play. After those two seasons in Boston, Bill Walton and moved the family back to San Diego where his family were in the minority supporting the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots.
A love for those Celtics teams must have conflicted with Luke when he was picked in the second round by the Lakers, but two championships and one head coaching job later, it's not likely that Luke still hates the purple and gold.
9 Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs
Dubbed the "greatest story in basketball," the Spurs' Jonathon Simmons is Houston through and through. His mother is a diehard Rockets fan and Simmons was MVP of his district. He played his college career close by, concluding it with a stint at the University of Houston. Despite playing well in his last year before declaring for the NBA draft, Simmons didn't catch the eye of an NBA team and went to play for the Sugar Land Legends in a semi-pro league whose website hasn't been updated since 2015.
Although there's no question Simmons would have preferred to wear the Rockets uniform, Simmons' best shot at making it was an open D-League tryout which he paid $150 to participate in for the Austin Toros (now the Austin Spurs), the San Antonio Spurs' D-League affiliate. If it hadn't had been for the Spurs' keen eye for talent and culture of developing players, who knows whether or not Jonathon Simmons would have made it to the NBA. The sheer unlikelihood of going from an open try-out to a key contributor on one of the best benches in the league surely makes it easier to wear a bitter rival's jersey.
8 Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Being the son of Laker great Mychal Thompson meant that Klay couldn't help but be a Laker fan growing up. To this day, he is still a fan of the L.A. Dodgers and was booed last summer for wearing a Dodgers hat to a Giants game.
Thompson was such a big Lakers fan, he admits that he forgot the Warriors even existed. Former Warriors beat writer Diamond Leung tweeted in 2015 after a conversation with Thompson that, "Klay Thompson said Warriors weren't very good when he grew up and thought as college prospect, 'Oh, I forgot there was a team in Oakland.'"
Klay might be the NBA's biggest space cadet but forgetting your future-employer even exists is bad.
7 Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
Joakim Noah is a proud New Yorker. Since joining the Knicks this offseason, he is no longer introduced in the starting lineup with, "From the University of Florida," preferring to showcase his local roots with the announcer declaring, "From Hell's Kitchen..."
At a pre-draft workout with the Chicago Bulls, Noah allegedly told scouts, coaches and other members of the front office in attendance that he grew up a Knicks fan and "hated Michael Jordan." I guess the Bulls appreciated Noah's honesty or were willing to gamble that he'd leave his hatred at the door and used the 9th overall pick in the 2007 draft to pick the passionate center.
Even though Noah may never be the physical, defensive presence he was with the Bulls, he must be relieved to finally be out of Chicago and playing in the Garden.
6 LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James may be Cleveland's favorite son, but he'll be the first to remind you that he's not from Cleveland, he's from Akron. In a 2010 GQ interview, James said in regard of the difference between Cleveland and Akron, "It's not far, but it is far. And Clevelanders, because they were the bigger-city kids when we were growing up, looked down on us... So we didn't actually like Cleveland. We hated Cleveland growing up. There's a lot of people in Cleveland we still hate to this day."
On top of hating Clevelanders all throughout his youth, LeBron James was a huge Michael Jordan fan growing up. Watching Michael Jordan bully Craig Ehlo in the playoffs must have delighted young LeBron James up until he was tasked with removing the curse that's haunted Ohio sports up until last year's playoffs.
5 Isiah Thomas, Detroit Pistons
Long before Michael Jordan made the Chicago Bulls relevant, Isiah Thomas was a diehard fan of his local, professional basketball team. He loved Cliff Ray, Chet Walker and Bob Love. He told the Chicago Tribune in 1990 that he and his friends would sneak into Bulls games because the ushers slacked off during halftime.
As a Bulls fan, Thomas grew up hating not just the Pistons but all Detroit sports teams. "You know, I always hated Detroit growing up. They had those teams with [Bob] Lanier and it seemed like they'd play the Bulls one weekend night and the Red Wings would play the Hawks on the other. I hated those teams."
Ironically, Thomas would become of one the most hated figures in Chicago sports with his Bad Boys teams beating Michael Jordan and the Bulls into submission year after year. Now his number hangs in the rafters of the Palace for the team he hated growing up.
4 Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Isaiah Thomas grew up loving the Lake Show and came very close to achieving his dream of becoming a Laker in the summer of 2014. However, the Lakers were convinced they could land a bigger star, as Thomas had yet to cement himself as one of the NBA's most lethal scorers, so he signed with Phoenix.
Despite being born in Tacoma, Washington, Thomas's father, an L.A. native, indoctrinated the future Celtic All-Star into Lakers culture. Earlier this year, before a game at Staples, reporters asked Thomas if he was still interested in some day becoming a Laker. Thomas replied, "Yeah, I mean, used to before I got on the Celtics. I was brainwashed to being a Laker fan when I was younger, so I always wanted to be a Laker. But I love being a Celtic, so I’m fine with being a Celtic.”
What's sweeter for Boston fans: Isaiah Thomas helping their team contend for the second seed in the East or knowing he's doing it as a reformed Laker fan?
3 Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics/Chicago Bulls
The polarizing Rajon Rondo was brilliant as a Celtic but the Louisville native probably wouldn't have picked Boston if he had the choice. Nor would he have picked the Bulls if his stints in Dallas and Sacramento didn't turn out to be total dumpster fires.
Growing up, Rajon Rondo was a huge Isiah Thomas fan and cheered for the Pistons, which makes sense given Rondo's knack for crafty playmaking. As a player who modelled himself after the Bad Boys' Zeke, if young Rajon Rondo could see his older self in Celtic green or Bulls red, he'd probably cry. Well, he'd certainly cry if he saw the state of this current Bulls' team he'd be apart of. Winning a championship with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen isn't so bad.
2 D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
D'Angelo Russell's older brother, Antonio Russell Jr., grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant. D'Angelo, as younger brother and therefore the family's resident contrarian, idolized a lesser-known star: Manu Ginobli.
"He used to tell me that his favorite player was Manu Ginobili," Russell's brother, Antonio Jr., told Complex. "He always used to be like, 'Manu Ginobili, Manu Ginobili, Manu Ginobili.'"
Russell was drawn to Ginobli because they are both left-handed shooters, deft passers and don't have a lot of speed to boast about. Still, Russell recognized Ginobili's ability to change a game every time he checked in and would try to recreate everything the Argentinian guard did. Who would have ever guessed, after all those wild Lakers-Spurs playoff series, that a Manu Ginobili clone would hold the keys to the purple and gold's future success.
1 Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
Once upon a time, Paul Pierce bled purple and gold. "I had dreams of wearing a Laker uniform at that age," Pierce told reporters before the 2010 Finals. And like any real Laker fan, he held contempt in his heart for a certain New England town, "When I was a kid, I hated the Celtics," he said in the same interview.
When he was drafted, Pierce didn't want to be a Celtic, that's how much the Lakers-Celtics rivalry meant to him. However, he eventually came around and will soon see his number 34 hanging in the rafters next to other Celtic greats he grew up hating.
Pierce's newfound loyalty to the Celtics was so strong that when it came to signing in L.A. for his final season, he chose the Clippers over the Lakers because he didn't want to betray the Celtic faithful that anointed him The Truth.
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