You don’t have to be smart to play in the NBA, but intelligence certainly doesn’t hurt. NBA players are not only required to master particular schemes but have to be intelligent enough to adapt to a variety of situations. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising, then, that there have been quite a few players in NBA history who are smart. We don’t just mean basketball smart, although that is certainly true in many cases. We mean that there have been some NBA players who are certifiable geniuses that could easily thrive in one of many career fields.
The reason that you might have a hard time believing that is because these intelligent NBA players typically don’t go around bragging about how smart they are. On the other end of the spectrum, the dumbest NBA players have no problem letting everyone know just how stupid they really are. While the classic image of the dumb basketball star isn’t entirely accurate, the reason it's so popular is because the dumbest NBA stars are almost too stupid to be believed and somehow always get the spotlight. In the interest of balance, however, let’s look at the eight NBA players who are smart in real life and seven who are very dumb.
15. Smart - Rajon Rondo
You know that kid who never seemed to have to work that hard in school but always got good grades? By all accounts, Rajon Rondo is that kid. On the court, Rondo’s basketball intelligence is often cited as the source of his tremendous skills. Rondo has the ability to instantly analyze a defense and dissect the ways that it can potentially shut down his offense. Off the court, Rondo has been called a humble genius. He will walk out of a movie if it has plot holes.
He’s been known to teach algebra classes while touring schools just for fun. His former teachers have called him a terrible student, but one of the smartest students they’ve ever had. In fact, his old math teacher had to design special tests for him.
14 Stupid - Dennis Rodman
There was a time when Dennis Rodman’s supposed stupidity could be traced back to the fact that he had made being different his brand. When Rodman would say or do something completely absurd, people would just say that he was doing it to further his reputation. Recent events have completely obliterated that theory, however.
For those who don’t know, Dennis Rodman has become involved with the North Korea political scene. He is a huge celebrity in North Korea and makes frequent trips there. Rodman has said that North Korea - a land of infinite brainwashing and oppression - isn’t actually that bad and that people should stop saying bad things about them. It doesn’t help that he usually sounds stoned when making outlandish political statements.
13 Smart - Chris Bosh
There are many basketball players who simply wouldn’t be able to make a comfortable living if they weren’t basketball players. They’ve trained their whole lives to do one thing and do it better than most everyone. Other NBA stars, however, chose basketball as their favorite of many career options. Chris Bosh is such a player. Bosh is an outspoken advocate for the benefits of computer programming and is known to spend much of his downtime learning new forms of coding. He believes that all young students should know some basic coding in order to prepare themselves for the future. He is also currently a member of both the National Society of Black Engineers and the Association of Minority Engineers. Not bad for one of the best basketball players in the world.
12 Stupid - Latrell Sprewell
In many sad ways, Latrell Sprewell is the embodiment of superstar basketball player cliches. In his prime, Sprewell was an immensely talented player who could seemingly score at will. He was a true superstar. However, Spreewell had a unique way of ruining everything good that came to him. Let’s look past the fact he once choked his own coach out - which is pretty hard to look past - and re-examine the time that Sprewell chose to end his career by turning down a three-year, $21 million contract. Sprewell’s reason for doing so was that he “needed to feed his children” and that apparently wasn’t enough money to do so. This is also the same man who apparently mortgaged his home to buy a luxury yacht.
11 Smart - Festus Ezeli
There are no easy paths to the NBA, but some are certainly more harrowing than others. In Nigeria, Festus Ezeli’s academic parents emphasized study over basketball. Because of this, Ezeli ended up graduating from high school when he was only 14 years old. Along the way, he found time to start learning how to play basketball. He caught the attention of many colleges, but his parents insisted that he go to Harvard. Ezeli managed to convince them that Vanderbilt was his best option.
Initially, Ezeli planned to graduate with a degree in biology but changed his major to economics when he realized he might actually have a shot at going pro. Even still, Ezeli could have easily graduated with honors from Vanderbilt, Harvard, or wherever he may have chosen to go.
10 Stupid - Jayson Williams
For most people, being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft would give them plenty of reason to re-examine their lives, settle down, and enjoy the benefits of their labor. For Jayson Williams, an NBA contract was apparently just an excuse to do some really stupid things. Throughout his career, Williams was involved in an escalating series of stupid criminal incidents. There was the time that he broke a beer over someone’s head in Chicago for no good reason. He also once got drunk and had to be tased by the NYPD.
However, the low point of Williams’ stupidity came when he was playing with his shotgun one night and accidentally shot a limo driver hired to take him to a charity basketball game. You can’t make that kind of stupidity up.
9 Smart - Jaylen Brown
In 2016, CBA ran an article that urged NBA teams to not overlook drafting Jaylen Brown simply because he was intelligent. That might sound ridiculous, but teams were actually worried that Brown’s intelligence would make him arrogant or eventually lead him to leaving the NBA altogether. At Berkeley Brown took advanced graduate level courses and was one of the best members of the Berkeley Chess team. He enjoys learning new languages, studying philosophy, and researching history. He’s made it quite clear that professional basketball is just one of his many interests.
During his rookie season, he even produced his own documentary series that he later posted to YouTube. So while it may sound ridiculous that Jaylen Brown could be too smart to play in the NBA, if that statement is true of anyone, it’s true of Jaylen Brown.
8 Stupid - Metta World Peace
While the fact that Ron Artest legally had his name changed to Metta World Peace for reasons that have never been adequately explained should be enough to convince you that the man isn’t really smart, we understand if you need more proof. Let’s overlook the fact that World Peace has also considered changing his name to Panda Friend and talk about that time that he decided it would be a good idea to jump into a crowd and start punching fans because someone threw a cup at him. Much like Dennis Rodman, Metta World Peace eventually decided to just turn being different into his brand. At least that’s what we think he did. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell why World Peace insists on putting his foot in his mouth so often.
7 Smart - Tim Duncan
Given that Tim Duncan could seemingly do it all on the court, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a real surprise that the guy is also incredibly intelligent. Even still, the extent of Duncan’s intelligence really is quite surprising. Actually, Duncan is sometimes described as a huge nerd. He loves going to Renaissance fairs and enjoys the occasional game of Dungeons and Dragons. Duncan has described himself as being similar to Matt Damon’s character from Good Will Hunting.
People always speak to him like they expect him to be a dumb basketball player and are always shocked to learn that Duncan is able to weigh in on a variety of complex issues. Of course, Duncan’s unassuming ways likely contribute to his status as a sleeping intellectual giant.
6 Stupid - Marvin Barnes
Now, before we start talking about the stupidity of Marvin Barnes, let’s be clear about a couple of things. Barnes didn’t get to enjoy much of a traditional education when he was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s and had to rely on basketball for his future. That being the case, you can understand why he might have been a step or two behind. Even still, Marvin Barnes was really, really dumb. He once deduced that if cocaine kills brain cells then he must have been a genius when he started doing cocaine.
That’s nothing compared to the time that Marvin was on a plane and was informed that they would be leaving at 8:00 am and arriving at 7:59 am due to the time difference. Barnes declared that he wasn't going to get on a time travel machine and rented a car instead.
5 Smart - David Robinson
Many know that David Robinson is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, but few know just what an all-around talent the guy really was. After serving as both a college basketball star and a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Robinson decided to pursue an NBA career when the Navy told him he was too tall to really have a future career in the arms services. Mind you, Robinson was also an accomplished math major and reportedly scored somewhere in the neighborhood of a 1,400 or 1,500 on his SATs.
After his Hall of Fame NBA career was over, Robinson decided to form a venture capitalist group alongside a renowned Goldman Sachs board member. The group specializes in investments which somehow better society as well as turn a profit. It is currently valued at over $100 million.
4 Stupid - Javaris Crittenton
Stupidity comes in many forms. In the case of Javaris Crittenton, it comes in the form of blind anger. Shortly after he was signed by the Los Angeles Lakers, Crittenton apparently decided to join a notorious LA street gang because...well, who knows. In 2011, he was charged with the murder of a 22-year-old mother of four. Apparently, the woman was shot because Crittenton believed that she was someone who had previously robbed him. He was further convicted of multiple crimes related to street gang activity, including drug trafficking. Mind you, this all allegedly occurred while he was under a multi-million NBA contract. During the prosecution, Crittenton was recorded on a jailhouse phone telling his attorney that he planned on beating up the district attorney. He was not a smart man.
3 Smart - Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol just isn’t human. It’s apparently not enough that the guy is physically gifted and an incredible all-around athlete, the dude just has to go and be one of the smartest players in NBA as well. At a young age, Gasol was considered to be a piano prodigy who some thought might become a professional classical pianist. Instead, Gasol decided to attend a few years of medical school while he was playing for FC Barca. Somewhere along the way, Gasol learned to speak five different languages either fluently or close to fluently. Gasol once went to visit children at a hospital and stumped the doctors with his questions about how they treat scoliosis. In fact, Gasol has been allowed to sit in on many surgery operations. Oh, he’s also an ardent opera fan because of course he is.
2 Stupid - Shaq
Like many of the dumb players on this list, some have argued that Shaq’s stupidity can be traced back to his unique sense of humor and fondness for playing a certain character. At a certain point, however, willingly acting stupid just makes you stupid. While some younger NBA fans may have been surprised to learn that Shaq agrees with Kyrie Irving that the Earth is flat, us older fans remember that Shaq has always found new ways to say the dumbest thing possible. For instance, there was the time that a reporter asked him if he visited the Pantheon when he went to Greece. Shaq said he didn’t remember which clubs they went to. He also said his game is like the Pythagorean theorem because nobody has an answer to it. Mind you, there is an answer to the Pythagorean theorem. Shaq also misspelled 'period' while emphasizing his skills. Shaq does have a doctorate, but it is an honorary one.
1 Smart - Bill Bradley
Bill Bradley won two championships during his NBA career, and that might not even be the highlight of his life. After graduating high school, Bradley received a shocking 75 college scholarship offers for both academics and sports. Naturally, he chose to go to Princeton. After leading Princeton to a top three finish in the NCAA tournament and graduating, he decided to attend Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship before beginning his NBA career. When he retired, he decided to settle down a bit and become a U.S. senator. In fact, Bradley almost secured the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2000 over former Vice President Al Gore. Some time later, Bradley became a corporate director at Starbucks and is a partner at the Allen & Company investment bank.
We’d list the many other private sector achievements Bradley lays claim to, but we’re starting to feel a little inadequate.