It is always a subjective matter when fans discuss whom they hate in professional sports. Regional biases, on court success against their team, if that player left their team – whatever it is, fans rarely have a legitimate reason to hate a player.
We’re also taught that ‘hate’ itself is a strong word. Sure we can hate poverty and social injustices, but to say we hate professional athletes is a little extreme.
Yet sports often don’t produce rational feelings among fans. We get swept up in the moment, what the beat writers’ write and how the local commentary interprets an incident so we’ll unfortunately hate a player because of these.
The NBA is different from the other ‘big four’ sports in the United States. That's because of the ‘big four’, the NBA is the only one where the players’ faces are not obscured by helmets or caps. NBA players’ faces are recognizable to fans as a result. So when an NBA player is hated by fans, it is likely doubled in comparison to the NHL, NFL or MLB, due to our recognition.
What follows, in order from last to first, is a list of 20 NBA players I feel are the most hated, generally speaking, in the history of the league.
Gulp… here we go.
20 LeBron James
LeBron is more of an example of a player who is hated for his success, rather than anything he has done in particular on or off the court.
Sure he flops quite often and complains excessively, he got his perfectly good coach fired during a championship season, left Cleveland for Miami to win championships only to later abandon Miami for Cleveland when they signed better players, and recorded for all eternity the greatest example of sporting hubris ever with ‘The Decision’, but – he is hardly a bad person!
LeBron is more in the category of someone fans and writers love to hate, rather than actually hate. I mean, he brought a title to poor old Cleveland for God’s sake. Surely that’s earned him some sort of pass, right? RIGHT?!
19 Wilt Chamberlain
Chamberlain was certainly a victim of ‘heightism’ if there is such a thing.
Feared during an era that wasn’t used to such an outstanding physical specimen, ‘Wilt the Stilt’ would essentially go down as the first player to leave his team for a team who were already winners, when he left the Philadelphia 76ers for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1968 to play alongside such names as Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Gail Goodrich. Jeez, and we thought LeBron James and Kevin Durant were bad!
Off the court he drew the ire of many African Americans for his public stance in support of Richard Nixon, chiefly from Muhammad Ali. In a time where race relations in the country were so fragile and tense, you could see why.
Later he would draw the ire of men everywhere for saying he slept with 10,000 women in his lifetime.
18 Larry Bird
Bird was hated on a number of fronts, and probably for some of the most trivial reasons.
Half the fans of the NBA hated him in the 1980s because most in the 80s were either Celtics or Lakers fans. Then probably another 25% more hated him as they simply hated Boston, and most definitely the Celtics who seemed to just win all the time and also have the most obnoxious fans. So even with conservative estimates, 75% of the league probably, at least at one stage in their NBA lives, hated Larry Legend.
The opposition hated him because he was the king, and I mean KING of trash talking. He’s like the DJ Kool Herc of trash talking. But, as is the case with the best talents, Bird could definitely back it up.
17 Kris Humphries
If someone like LeBron James is hated for relatively trivial reasons by fans, Humphries is in another stratosphere in comparison to him.
For some reason, Humphries married a Kardashian, Kim to be exact, and when their very short marriage ended, you could best believe that Kardashian sycophants everywhere decided Kris Humphries was no better than Satan’s lovechild with a member of the Westboro Baptist Church.
It was deplorable how much the poor guy had to endure as a result of a brief dalliance with someone who really is only famous for her friendships, relationships and a sex tape.
The Kardashians have a great habit of trying to ruin, and in many cases succeeding, professional athletes careers; Reggie Bush, Lamar Odom, Kris Humphries… who’s next I wonder?
16 Christian Laettner
Laettner’s stigma obviously stemmed from his time with Duke. For a myriad of reasons, Duke is rarely tolerated by non-Dukies and their players bare the brunt of that, even years after they graduate.
Laettner was particularly loathsome as a college player, known for dirty tactics on the court, excessive trash talking, whining to referees – but also because he was probably the greatest college basketball player of all time, or at least one of them.
When he made the original Dream Team squad for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, it only heightened the negative fan sentiment as some deemed Chris Webber, Bobby Hurley and Shaquille O’Neal as better options.
While his NBA career didn’t match his success at Duke, he’ll always go down as one of the most disliked players ever. ESPN even made a whole documentary on him being hated!
15 Bruce Bowen
Never really a star player by any means in the NBA, Bowen was highly regarded for his skills on the defensive side of the game, especially as a wing defender, and for an ability to provoke the worst behavior out of his opponents. Bowen had what I like to think of being strong in ‘low-character professionalism’, meaning that he never really was outwardly chauvinistic or physical on the court, rather he would calmly go about his diabolic acts in a precise and pathological manner.
Bowen was one of the greatest examples I can think in the history of the league where you loved having him on your team, but hated him anywhere else.
These days he is a respected analyst, and singlehandedly doing his best to bring back big bowties.
14 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem was always seen as aloof, arrogant and even a surly player, a hard interview and one who rarely suffered fools gladly. To not consider why this might have been the case though, is an injustice to not only him but also African-Americans everywhere at the time.
At a time when race relations in the country were so poor, Kareem did his best to make a strong political stance, which of course annoyed the white establishment to no ends. His changing of his name from Lew Alcindor, while in Milwaukee in 1971, would have only added petroleum to the fire of misguided whites in America.
Playing in Los Angeles, while in the process of becoming the greatest center in the history of the game, of course did not help the situation either.
13 Rasheed Wallace
‘Sheed was born in Philadelphia, so some writers argue that he was always going to play with his mouth as much his hands. But the player with the most technical fouls (317 to be exact) in NBA history (well, at least since they started counting that as a statistic anyway) was better than his reputation suggests.
He never seemed to stay with teams long though moving through; Washington, Portland, Atlanta, Detroit, Boston and finally New York during his 16 season NBA career.
‘Sheed was generally known for two things; arguing with the officials and popularizing the phrase “ball don’t lie” among fans and writers (despite it being used for years in parks all over the country in pick up games). In true ‘Sheed style, he got a technical when he said it in a game against the Phoenix Suns in 2012.
12 Allen Iverson
AI was an amazing player, who was absolutely fearless on the court. The 6’0’ guard wowed everyone from the outset, even infamously crossing up Michael Jordan in his rookie season. The Georgetown alumnus seemingly had the NBA world at his feet when he entered the league, and joined a team in a city that seemed to embrace him and fit his personality.
But his inability to play as a team player would hurt his chances at winning consistently with teammates. This would manifest and lead to him being shoved around around the league until his career ended, seemingly with a whimper.
His image with many fans as the embodiment of the hip-hop era athlete didn’t always sit well either. And there was also that “practice” press conference too.
11 Kevin Garnett
Garnett basically revolutionized our current interpretation of the stretch-5 position on the court. With height and amazing athleticism, he would remain lean and work on not only his post game, but also his outside shooting and ability to guard all five positions on the court.
Garnett also worked on tormenting his opposition, infamously referring to Charlie Villanueva once as a “cancer patient” and supposedly saying to Carmelo Anthony his wife “tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios” (which has been highly disputed, but weirdly funny nonetheless).
A fiercely loyal player for most of his career with the Timberwolves, the hatred dial would get turned up when, you guessed it, he joined the Boston Celtics and won a title. What is it about the Celtics and getting people to hate them?!
10 Isiah Thomas
It’s that smile! That smirk! That condescending smirk!
Thomas was quite simply one of the greatest point guards of all time, capable of such determined individual brilliance both inside and outside. He was the focal point on the championship winning Detroit Pistons Bad Boys in 1988 and 1989.
But a series of incidents held back any universal love he could have been capable of attaining, whether it was failing to squash Dennis Rodman’s statement about Larry Bird being so well regarded because he was white, or his attitude toward friend Magic Johnson after his HIV announcement, or because Michael Jordan hated him, which by proxy means we should all hate him.
His poor reputation was enough to keep him off the Dream Team in 1992, when he was clearly the number one choice for starting point guard, even when his coach was the coach of the team!
Also, these days he pretty much can’t set foot in New York for what he did to the Knicks – cheers Zeke!
9 Vernon Maxwell
When you have the astonishingly creative nickname “Mad Max”, you just have to be a little unhinged. Maxwell was certainly one of those and is one of the rare players in the league who was hated by fans and also feared by teammates.
Some argue, cynically of course, that Ron Artest got his idea for the Malice in the Palace incident from Maxwell. In 1995, Maxwell ran into the stands to punch a fan who had been heckling him all game, he said. He was consequently slapped with a 10 game ban and $20,000 fine by the league.
Off the court he had massive issues that needed to be dealt with. Doing drugs and domestic violence were merely the tip of the iceberg for Maxwell.
8 Kevin McHale
Another Boston entry from the late 1980s! Who would have thought that success breeds envy and hatred among fans? Boston does have this innate ability though to bring out the worst in sports fans outside of the New England area.
McHale, a rangy forward, was a crucial part of Boston’s success, especially on the 1986 squad who are probably the best team of all time. It could be argued though that McHale was essentially a toned down version of the Pistons’ Bill Laimbeer.
Those long arms were infamous for smacking into players faces and ribs and really weren’t out of place in the game back then. But his foul on Kurt Rambis in the 1984 NBA Finals was nothing short of deplorable and thuggish. If that foul had occurred in today’s game I’d be willing to put the over/under betting line at a -15.5 game suspension, easily.
7 Dwight Howard
Howard seemed to have the NBA world in the palms of his giant hands in the early parts of this decade, but squandered it in the pursuit of winning an NBA title. We all remember the slam-dunk contest when he dunked a 12-foot ring in a Superman cape right?
During his time in Orlando he would capture the hearts of fans with his great dunks and efforts around the rim on defense.
In his final summer there though, it became obvious Howard was demanding out of Orlando behind the scenes, but was then going in front of the camera and playing dumb on the situation or simply lying about his actions. The infamous interview with then coach Stan Van Gundy on the court still makes me wince like I’m about to see two cars collide. It proved to be the start of his decline, as his experiences in Los Angeles and Houston prove.
6 Charles Barkley
Barkley is often seen these days as a sensationalist of sorts, someone who does their best to push the collective buttons of fans and basketball writers from behind the TNT desk pre and post games. He has polarizing opinions and you can’t fault him for that in our ever-sanitized sports media landscape– even if they often rarely eventuate.
As a player, he certainly took some getting used to, especially in his days with the Philadelphia 76ers at the start of his career. He incurred the ire of commissioner David Stern on a number of occasions, once infamously spitting at a fan for continued racial slurs directed at him – only he accidentally spat in a little girl’s face. Oh jeez.
Well, he did warn us that he “wasn’t a role model”.
5 Kobe Bryant
Kobe was adored in Los Angeles (and Philadelphia), but pretty much despised everywhere else in the country.
The best players often inspire rival fans to show their worst side and boy did he make fans everywhere miserable, at least once! Whether it was when he scored 80 on your team, or 60 or however many points, or when he knocked down the game winner, Kobe inspired us to hate him so much.
He was arrogant, brash and largely blamed for Shaquille O’Neal’s departure from the Lakers (thereby breaking up a potential once in a lifetime dynasty).
There was the court trial from events in Colorado and the sickly sweet and sycophantic final game. He would taunt players and referees with tirades in Italian so they couldn’t understand him. He was totally diabolical!
4 Reggie Miller
My friends at elementary school would often say Miller was either an egg-man or an alien because of how ugly he was. As a Knicks fan, this was merely the tip of the iceberg.
It’s merely human nature to pick on people’s looks when you don’t like them, and I think I was quite polite by using those taunts only.
Miller flopped, poked, provoked, gestured, teased, elbowed, smack talked - and did we mention flop - his whole career. His whole career! But he could certainly back it up.
A prolific three-point shooter, Miller broke the hearts of many teams throughout his career all while playing in Naptown USA (it’s alright, my wife is from Indiana so I think I am allowed to say that), and now he commentates. And people hate him in that role too. You think this would all have some effect on him – but God bless Reggie, he just embraces it.
3 Dennis Rodman
Rodman is a perplexing figure these days, as we cant seem to figure out if he is a genius or genuinely in need of psychiatric help.
His NBA career wasn’t really any easier to categorize either. While being the greatest rebounder the league has ever seen (especially when you consider his height), he was also a lover of controversy and ‘look-at-me’ type moments.
His time with the Chicago Bulls aside, trouble seemed to always follow, and his love of celebrity off the court only furthered people’s distaste for him. Whether it was the hair, the relationships (Carmen Electra and Madonna) or the dress choices, Rodman just could not avoid the spotlight for negative reasons.
It’s a great shame that he is more remembered for the controversies surrounding his career, than the inspirational tale of his rise to stardom in the league.
2 Bill Laimbeer
Laimbeer was a crucial piece for the double title winning Detroit Pistons of the late 80s, better known as the Bad Boys.
Laimbeer made it an art form out of provoking opposition players to react to his numerous appallingly dirty tactics. His elbows would fly around under the ring, he’d grab players’ shorts, punch their crotch, stamp on their feet – the list of his evil deeds is immense.
I think the best equivalent in television that I can make for Laimbeer, is that he was like the NBA’s version of King Joffrey in Game of Thrones. He would do so many awful things but still he would come out on, and on the rare occasion he would be brought down to earth, you’d do a happy dance.
1 Ron Artest/Metta World Peace
Whatever you want to call him, Artest/Peace (or is it World Peace?) was the consummate teammate on teams he played with, but a total villain if you were the opposition.
A great defender in his prime with a reliable shot, Artest’s ability will forever be overshadowed by his numerous infamous actions and controversies. Victims included everything from James Harden’s left side of his face, to a whole crowd in Detroit.
The ‘Malice at the Palace’ incident was the worst fight in NBA history, possibly even in all of professional sports – and Artest was at the center of it all. After charging into the stands to confront a moronic fan who threw a soda at him, Artest would turn The Palace at Auburn Hills upside down with his swinging fists, and forever entrench himself deep into the recesses of our collective hatred for years to come as a result.