The NBA has been lead by its superstar players since the inception of the league back in 1946. Being an NBA superstar comes with a laundry list of things that regular folks don't have to deal with. One of those things is the judgement of others, and with the judgement comes adoration, and conversely, disdain. Sometimes it may seem like it's the 'cool' thing to do, to throw hatred at somebody who seemingly has done nothing wrong.
The polarization of athletes has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Perhaps it is the advent of social media, in which athletes became more personal than ever before. Perhaps it is the advancements in media coverage, as we now have access to players rituals and personalities never seen before. Whatever the reason, the NBA has seen many players become hero and villains, and sometimes both. Players are more heavily scrutinized now than ever before. It could also be the fact that salaries have increased in the NBA, so with more money comes more scrutiny.
In a world of extremes it is only fitting that a list like this be attempted. Whatever the reason, these 15 players have generated more love and hatred than any other of the previous twenty years.
15 Hated: Rasheed Wallace
The king of the technical foul, Rasheed Wallace gets things started. Wallace was a great player, in fact he was one of the first productive stretch bigs in league history. In his younger days Wallace was part of the Portland Trail Blazers, often referred to as the "Jailblazers" as they had several players with perceived attitude problems. Wallace became the face of that era in Trail Blazer history.
As Rasheed got older and more mature he began to harness his temper and control his attitude. He never escaped the propensity to draw a technical, but he did contain himself enough to become an NBA champion. In 2004 he played a huge role in the Detroit Pistons' run to a championship. In the end Wallace was a bad boy, but he figured out how to fully utilize his talent enough to get a ring, and that is really all you can ask.
14 Loved: Tim Duncan
Although during his career many people complained that he was boring to watch, many of those same people lament the fact that he is no longer in the league. Duncan has become one of those guys who is loved more after his career is over than he was during his actual time on the court.
As a player Tim was viewed as an older brother to many players throughout the league. He helped guide show the way to many future hall of fame players, such as Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Kawhi Leonard. With his relaxed demeanor and fatherly ways Duncan was a favorite among his peers. He was also a favorite to many in the media. During his career Duncan was known for giving good interviews and insight to the media. It is no wonder a guy with the character such as Tim, that he would find himself amongst the most beloved players in the game.
13 Hated: Kevin Durant
When Durant began his career he was a quiet, respectful young player with the right attitude and a world of potential in front of him. As his career began to unfold his personality was always a bit secretive, but for the most part he was well received in most cities. When he won the MVP award in 2014 he became a fan favorite, as the speech he gave made grown men weep. He appeared to be the greatest teammate in the game, and as selfless a player as you could ever find.
Then last season happened...
The Oklahoma City Thunder held a three games to one series lead over the Golden State Warriors only to lose that series in a blow out Game 7. Durant proceeded to leave his team behind and join the enemy. Durant has been criticized to no end by fans and the media for the entire season. Anything less than a title for him this year would be an extreme embarrassment to KD, and it would give the haters much more fuel.
12 Loved: Nate Robinson
There are few things that get fans as excited as seeing a little guy go up for a slam dunk. At about 5'7" Nate Robinson did things that many didn't think were physically possible, and for that he quickly became a fan favorite.
Nate didn't just dunk though, he skied above players over a foot taller than him. Yes, over a foot. There was a game where Robinson was facing the Houston Rockets, who at that time had Yao Ming. Yao measures in at 7'6" tall. In one of Robinson's most famous plays, he bounced about four feet in the air and swatted Yao's attempted jumper. It is plays such as that one that endeared Robinson to so many fans, not to mention the three Slam Dunk Championships he won.
11 Hated: Latrell Sprewell
Spree had an attitude, let's just say that right off the bat. It is well chronicled that Sprewell attacked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo back in 1997. That, damn near criminal act, cost him $27 million in contract salary and a full season suspension.
It was not just this act that created major unease and dislike towards Latrell. Before the Carlisimo incident he got into a fight with then teammate Jerome Kersey, a fight which included Sprewell coming at Kersey with a two by four. In his latest notable appearance, Sprewell was seen hanging courtside with beleaguered Knicks owner James Dolan. This came just days after Dolan kicked Charles Oakley out of MSG. Oakley is of course a fan favorite around NY and a beloved member of the NBA fraternity.
10 Loved: Steph Curry
In 2015 Steph Curry became the NBA's golden child. His brand of basketball was something that had never been seen before in the game, and his squeaky clean image enabled him to capitalize in the way of support. Kids and adults alike could not get enough of the Steph show. He even had cameras shadowing him during his pre-game warm ups just to catch a half court money ball, or a shot from the tunnel.
With the loss in last year's Finals and the arrival of Kevin Durant, it seems some of the glow has worn off of Steph this season, but there is no denying his popularity. Curry still ranks among the top in jersey sales, as well as All-Star votes, and just overall name recognition. It is easy to understand how many people would fall in love with Steph, especially when he brings he beautiful daughter to the podium with him for post game interviews.
9 Hated: Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard has proven to be one of the greatest defensive players, and rebounders the NBA has ever seen. Yet, with that being true, he is still trashed by media and fans for being too soft, often times being called a cry baby, or a whiner.
In his defense, Howard has seemed to say all the right things when a microphone is placed in front of him, but it is hard to find a way to defend all of his actions. During his career he has played with four franchises, leaving each one with a flare of drama as he exited. Having the body of a bodybuilder and the athleticism of an olympian, yet never fully physically dominating the game the way others have, it is fair to understand why some question his toughness. The bigger issue with Howard however, seems to be his inability to work well with his teammates. Kobe Bryant probably summed it up best when he said "I didn't appreciate Shaq until I played with Dwight."
8 Loved: Jeremy Lin
Few players have ever caused a wave of excitement in the league the way Jeremy Lin did in 2011. "Linsanity" was the phenomenon of Jeremy Lin and his meteoric rise to popularity. He sparked interest and excitement back into Madison Square Garden in a way not even Carmelo Anthony was able to do.
Lin is a Harvard graduate, and one of only a few Asian American NBA players. Both of those distinctions helped enhance his popularity. The legend of Linsanity will live on forever, but in recent years his popularity has declined. He has bounced around the league a bit since leaving the Knicks, always getting plenty of playing time wherever he lands. Lin is still a viable option for any NBA team, but he will always be a fan favorite due to those few magical weeks in 2001.
7 Hated: Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman was the kind of player you loved to have on your team, but if you were playing against him you absolutely hated his guts. He had a special ability to draw anger out of his opponents, most notably his borderline hilarious battles with Karl Malone during the mid and late 1990s.
Rodman was known for his ability to get under people's skin, but he was also known as one of the greatest rebounders in league history. Rodman always seemed to find loose balls and offensive rebounds even as a somewhat undersized power forward. All in all, he was about as charismatic a player the NBA has ever had, but he was also an irritant, and that rubbed many people the wrong way.
6 Loved: Yao Ming
The impact Yao had on the NBA is only now beginning to be truly visible. By being an NBA superstar and a first overall pick, he brought the NBA onto a global level it hat not quite reached previous.
During his 13 years in the league, Yao was voted into eight All-Star games. The thing that was so amazing about those eight appearances is that he was the highest voted player most of those years. Yao's popularity in his home country was unprecedented. In China Yao Ming is as big a celebrity as there is. He is not just popular back in his homeland, he is also very well liked and admired here in the states. Shaquille O'Neal and ex-commisioner David Stern have, on more than one occasion, spoken about Yao in more than flattering tones.
5 Hated: Stephon Marbury
Marbury came into the NBA with an incredible amount of expectations on him. When he signed with the Timberwolves many believed he and Kevin Garnett would go on to become multiple time NBA champions. They never did, and Marbury ended up bouncing around the league most of his career. He was plagued by attitude problems, and a seemingly huge chip on his shoulder.
In 2009 Marbury was indirectly blackballed from the NBA, and many believe it was because his brash attitude and his refusal to fit a mold. In 2010 he signed on to play in the Chinese Basketball Association, and since 2011 he has been the league's best player. For all the hate directed Steph's way, he sure has done a lot of positive things for the world. Many people are unaware of the fact that he has donated over $5 million to various charities, including the NYPD, FDNY, and EMT. He also has his own brand of basketball shoes which sell anywhere from $15-$50. He has vowed to keep his shoes reasonably priced so less privileged children can have a quality basketball shoe.
4 Loved: Kobe Bryant
It is hard not to love Kobe, after all, he is what kept the NBA afloat during the early 2000s. Bryant is the closest thing we have seen to Michael Jordan since his airness retired. Kobe did it all the right way too. He stayed with the same franchise his entire career, although there were some bumps in the road, but in the end he bled Laker purple and gold forever.
When Kobe announced his retirement prior to last season he became the most beloved active player in NBA history. Every night the Lakers were on the road it was a sell out crowd. Everyone wanted to get one last chance to see the Black Mamba before he hung 'em up. Fans who once hated Bryant were suddenly holding signs of adoration for a man who at one time or another, destroyed their team. It wasn't just the fans either, as many organizations gave Bryant gifts before games to show their respect for his greatness. Obviously Kobe is one of the all time greats, and he receives the love and respect an all time great should.
3 Hated: Allen Iverson
The cornrows, the tattoos, the baggy pants, it was all Allen Iverson. He was the first NBA player to bring the streets into the arena, unabashedly too! He had no filter and he had no off switch, on and off the court. That quality turned off many fans and media members. During the early 2000s Iverson was public enemy number one in the basketball world.
It is hard to understand the disdain for a guy who had the heart and perseverance that Iverson did. He was an infamous malcontent in the locker room, but ultimately all the men who coached him throughout his career speak highly of him. Allen was inshrined in the NBA hall of fame last year, as he rightfully deserved, but there were still some haters out there who though he didn't do enough to deserve such an honor.
2 Loved: Michael Jordan
Perhaps the most beloved athlete in American sports history, Michael Jordan was still far from perfect. He had vices that have been well chronicled, and he was less than friendly as a teammate. Yet, somehow millions of fans across the globe are able to look past his shortcomings and simply adore Air Jordan.
Jordan has become more than just a basketball player, he is now a brand. He has parlayed his nearly perfect basketball career into now becoming a global icon for greatness. There are many reasons why Jordan is so beloved. It could be his two different runs of three titles in a row, it could be his world famous Jordan sneaker, or it could just be his reputation as a winner. Whatever it is Jordan seems to be untouchable atop the mountain of beloved living sports icons.
1 Hated: LeBron James
Somewhat the opposite of Michael Jordan, LeBron James seems to have the perfect personal life. He is so often seen with his beautiful family, many times donating his personal time to help restore his home state of Ohio. Yet, for some reason, James is still one of the most hated men in sports.
It seems the initial reason many people turned on James (who was a fan favorite early in his career) was because he was viewed as soft. When he left Cleveland back in 2010, joining Dwyane Wade in Miami, there were videos of fans burning his jersey in the streets of Ohio. James ultimately came back to Cleveland and has thus far led the team to two consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning it all last season. It seems there is nothing LeBron can do to get back in the good graces of many sports fans, but he clearly will continue to do what he believes is right and just.