It takes a special talent to make it to the NBA at all, and it takes an even greater talent to actually have sustained success at the highest level. Whether you love them or hate them, all the athletes in the NBA are among the very best at their sport – they made it there for a reason. However, just because they are athletically gifted does not mean that they are all equally intelligent. Just as some players are better than others, some NBA players possess non-basketball intelligence that their fellow NBAers do not.
Some of the NBA players are smart excel academically. They had well above-average GPAs in high school and in college and probably are some of the more analytical players in the game. Other smart NBA players are smart in ways that can best be measured outside of the classroom. They may have “street smarts” or are very business savvy, which is becoming more important in the world of athletics.
What about those who are…let’s just say, not as smart as some of their standout peers? They lack common sense, a sense of logic, or are just plain dumb. Some of them struggle academically, while some of them just make some dumb life decisions. Many of the stories of athletes who are just plain dumb will make you want to stop and ask yourself “What on Earth were they thinking???”
There are many NBA stars whose intelligence might come as a surprise to you, for one reason or another. There article will only cover eight of them, though there are certainly many more of them. In the interest of drawing comparisons, we will also explore seven of the NBA stars who were just dumb.
15. SMART: CHRIS BOSH
Chris Bosh may have been one of the best basketball players in his prime years with the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat. Before he was in the NBA, Bosh was actually one of the smartest kids in his high school. Bosh was a member of WizKids, which is basically a computer club focused on graphic design. Bosh had interests in computer coding and the computer sciences, both of which are becoming increasingly popular in this age of technology. Although Bosh didn’t have to use these skills in the NBA, he at least has a strong fallback option. Considering his health scares, Bosh might find himself forced into a forced retirement. These types of skills, if Bosh is still interested, would make for another fulfilling career in his basketball retirement.
14. DUMB: DENNIS RODMAN
Dennis Rodman’s brand has basically been “being different”. That’s all well and fine, because there is nothing wrong with being different. In his prime as a basketball player, he could get away with saying or doing something absurd because it could be chalked up to Rodman just furthering his reputation. It becomes something else when Rodman does things that are so insane that it makes you seriously start to question his intelligence.
North Korea is dangerous and is a significant threat. It has also been substantiated that North Korea is a land of brainwashing and oppression. Pretty much everyone knows these facts, except for Dennis Rodman. Rodman has become a huge celebrity in North Korea, and frequently visits there. He has pleaded with people in North America to stop saying bad things about North Korea and that everything is blown way out proportion. Sure, Dennis, tell that to the South Koreans.
13. SMART: SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
Shaq could have very easily been included on the other side of this list (believing the Earth is flat). However, Shaq is actually a very smart man. He fulfilled his promise to his mother and completed his Bachelor’s Degree in 2000. He took it a few steps further and even earned his MBA in 2005. Since retiring, he received his PhD and wrote a thesis on “The Duality of Humor and Aggression in Leadership Styles”. At one point he planned on attending law school but also studied directing and cinematography in New York. Shaq has several degrees and is very well-educated, and it shows with how busy he has kept in other ventures after his playing days ended.
12. DUMB: KYRIE IRVING
Let’s get one fact out of the way: The Earth is round. That’s pretty much universally acknowledged, except for a group of people who are known as “flat Earthers”. Kyrie Irving is a prominent member of this group, having been very vocal about his beliefs that the Earth is flat. I don’t know if Kyrie is just trying to get a rise out the media and maybe draw some attention to his name or if he genuinely believes what he is saying.
Since his ridiculous statement, Irving has since backtracked a little bit about the Earth being flat but that came across more as damage control than anything else. His latest statement on the subject was: “When I started actually doing research on my own and figuring out that there is no real picture of Earth, not one real picture of Earth — and we haven’t been back to the moon since 1961 or 1969 — it becomes like conspiracy, too.”
11. SMART: LEBRON JAMES
Say what you will about LeBron James. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that he is book smart (he may well be though) but he is an incredibly smart businessman, and would be successful even if he wasn’t a star NBAer. James entered the NBA at age 18 and pretty much instantly became the face of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Within a few years, he was one of the top stars and faces of the NBA – and still is today. Many young players who enter NBA at a very young age struggle do deal with the temptations and distractions, often ending up in financial or legal difficulties. James avoided all this and has been in strong control over his brand and made very smart career and business decisions. He is worth hundreds of millions apart from his NBA salary, which doesn’t just happen by chance.
10. DUMB: MARVIN BARNES
Okay, Marvin Barnes is the oldest player on this list and tragically passed away in 2014. While his loss is sad, the 2nd overall draft pick in 1974 was not the smartest man. He played for the Spirits of St. Louis of the American Basketball Association (ABA) before the league merged with the NBA in 1976.
Anyway, Barnes was flying from Louisville (Eastern time zone) heading towards St. Louis (Central time zone). Barnes looked at the team itinerary and noticed the team plane was leaving at 8 a.m. and scheduled to arrive at 7:59am. Upon realizing this, Barnes announced he was refusing to board the plane because, “I ain’t getting’ on no time machine!”. Barnes was clearly unaware of the different time zones and that the Eastern time zone was one hour ahead of the Central time zone.
9. SMART: DANNY GRANGER
Danny Granger might never have been, and probably never will be, the best basketball player on any of the teams he’s played on. However, Granger probably would be a lot smarter than most of his teammates – and those in the NBA right now. In high school, Granger attracted the attention of some very prestigious universities – Yale even gave him a financial offer! Amazing moments like that will happen when you score a very impressive 36 on the ACT in high school. He instead when to Bradley University as a civil engineering major, which is a very academically intense program. Even though his eventual career path led him towards the NBA, clearly he is very intelligent if Ivy League schools were in pursuit of him. There aren’t very many people who can say that!
8. DUMB: JAVARIS CRITTENTON
Javaris Crittenton warrants inclusion as being a dumb NBA player because of his uncontrollable anger. The former 19th round pick was involved in the infamous Gilbert Arenas gun scandal in 2009, which is dumb on its own. A few years later, in 2011, Crittenton decided the smart thing to do while under contract to an NBA team was to join an L.A. street gang. Crittenton later proceeded to shoot and kill Jullian Jones, a 22-year-old mother of four. Killing someone senselessly is dumb by itself. It gets worse when Jones was not the intended target and thought she was someone who owed him money!
In case that wasn’t enough to convince you, he was recorded telling his attorney that he was making plans to beat up the District Attorney. Most communications with your attorney are confidential, but the fact he did it on a jailhouse phone knowing he could be recorded? Yeah, not very smart at all.
7. SMART: TIM DUNCAN
Tim Duncan is a legend on the court, there doesn’t seem to be much he can’t do basketball-wise. While there should be no disputing Duncan’s intelligence for the game, the extent of his intelligence elsewhere is actually quite surprising. Duncan admits that he might be best described as being a huge nerd. The unassuming giant is often thought to be “dumb” but he has interests that few are able to wrap their head around. He enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons and even loves going to Renaissance fairs. I highly doubt you will find many NBA players who would be more likely to frequent those types of events rather than bars or clubs. The 5-time NBA champion is very quiet and unassuming in nature, which helps feed into the notion that he is ‘dumb’ but he is extremely intelligent.
6. DUMB: LATRELL SPREWELL
Latrell Sprewell ends up on this side of the list basically because he embodies every cliché about basketball stars. He is talented and rich, but also thinks too highly of himself and is greedy. Yes, Sprewell was very talented. In his prime, Sprewell was an excellent basketball player who had a great deal of success. He even made a good amount of money by NBA standards – still a whole lot more than most people ever get to earn. But he is also very dumb and makes some really questionable decisions. Choking your coach is a huge no-no and that sort of behaviour almost guarantees he ends up on the “dumb side”.
Worse yet, Sprewell somehow had the guts to turn down a 3-year/$21M contract. He said that it was nowhere near enough to feed his children, and ironically it ended his career. Thousands of families feed their children for far less money, Latrell. It’s all good though, Latrell mortgaged his home to purchase a luxury yacht.
5. SMART: PAU GASOL
Pau Gasol, and his younger brother Marc Gasol, grew up in Spain to parents who were both in the medical field. His mother, Marisa, was a doctor and his father, Augusti, was a nurse administrator. As one might imagine, growing up in that environment will be subtle encouragement to enter a similar field of work. During his first year of professional basketball in Barcelona, Gasol also attended medical school. While Gasol never did finish his education, he did spend a lot of time in hospitals. He did his best to make children feel more comfortable prior to undergoing surgery.
Interestingly, Sports Illustrated ran an article a few years ago about how Gasol met up with some doctors at a children’s hospital. He asked questions about scoliosis patients and how particular treatments stunt lung development. Gasol genuinely seems interested in the medical field, and clearly is a very smart man away from the court.
4. DUMB: DERRICK ROSE
Derrick Rose – when he has been healthy and on the court – has been a very good basketball player. In 2009, the NCAA accused Derrick Rose of cheating on his SAT tests in high school and that the University of Memphis was complicit. The NCAA eventually discovered that Derrick Rose had someone else take his SAT tests for him, which increased his grades just enough to allow him to play NCAA basketball. Rose was retroactively declared ineligible for the 2007-08 season with Memphis because of the findings. That turned out to be the only season he spent with the University, as he instead entered the 2008 NBA draft.
Rose committed a severe infraction of academic dishonesty, yet was still able to be drafted 1st overall in 2008 and play in the NBA for almost a decade and counting. The fact that he committed academic dishonesty is dumb on its own, but that he required someone to take the test for him just to play in the NCAA is even worse.
3. SMART: KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the NBA’s best players ever. His stats say it all, but Abdul-Jabbar was a 6-time MVP and a 19-time NBA All-Star. Nobody has surpassed those accomplishments yet, and never will. In addition to being a basketball legend, he is also a very intellectual and insightful man. Abdul-Jabbar is a very eloquent writer and wrote articles for TIME Magazine for a while. To date, he is the only professional athlete to have written a column for Jacobin, the leading socialist publication the U.S.A. Additionally, he served as a cultural ambassador for the U.S.A. in 2012, where he promoted education to local youths in Brazil. It is safe to say that Abdul-Jabbar has kept active post-retirement and has carved out a name for himself beyond just being an NBA legend.
2. DUMB: METTA WORLD PEACE
The fact that he legally changed his name from Ron Artest to Metta World Peace really should say it all. I mean, why would anyone change their name to that? There are many other better ways to show your support for promoting peace worldwide than changing your name. In 2014, he had strongly considered changing his name (again) to “Panda Friend”. This was, of course, after he signed a contract with a Chinese basketball team. Obviously, he saw a panda and for some reason decided that he should name himself after the animal. It just makes you stop, scratch your head, and wonder “What on earth is this guy thinking?”
Whatever his name is, when he was Ron Artest he was involved in many altercations. One of the most egregious was when fans threw cups at him and he decided the best way to deal with the incident was to jump into the crowd and start punching people.
1. SMART: JEREMY LIN
Jeremy Lin is one of the smartest players in the NBA right now – academically at least. You don’t often see many Ivy League graduates play in the NBA, and you see even fewer who have reached the respectable level of success Lin has had. Sure, “Linsanity” died down after those first few weeks but he is still a contributor for the Brooklyn Nets (until his right knee injury ended his season that is). The fact that he graduated from Harvard University with an economics degree should speak for itself. It’s incredible that he even made it to the NBA because he was never offered an athletic scholarship, yet still persevered to achieve his dream. While Lin may not be an All-Star in the NBA, he would be if the NBA recognized the most intellectual NBA stars!
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