Basketball is filled with jocks. In order to be a pro athlete and play in the NBA, it requires a single-mindedness and determination that removes all other personality quirks and hobbies from the player. There is no time or energy left over for any baller to cultivate a unique personality. That is the perception of NBA athletes and, quite possibly, the general truth of things. There are, however, over 300 players on active NBA rosters. The ability for one (or several) of these players, each with their own unique backgrounds and set of circumstances, to be the outlier oddball that doesn’t fit the cookie cutter mold of “basketball professional”, is commonplace. The league is full of interesting people with interesting tastes and interesting backstories. Three hundred people means three hundred chances to be a player that stands out from the rest of his teammates and rivals. We forget that basketball players are also people… and that people are weird.
Every player has their own set of experiences, hopes, desires, fears, and superstitions. Each player, if there was enough room and enough time, could have an interesting section in this article (except, of course, Guardbot 015638). But we have chosen to highlight 15 of the most eccentric ballers in the game today. Because it’s in poor taste, and because it probably merits its own article, we will be avoiding players who have singled themselves out due to explicitly known drug use, alcohol abuse, and mental illness. So without further ado, here are the 15 Most Eccentric Players in the NBA.
15 Caron Butler - Sacramento Kings
Leading off the most eccentric personalities in the NBA is a man whose life story is so interesting that he just published a memoir that Mark Wahlberg is turning into a movie. Caron Butler, known to folks by his nickname ‘Tuff Juice’, has had more than enough life to go around. Prior to being drafted, Butler ran the streets of Racine, Wisconsin as a juvenile dealer and gang member. During his childhood, Juice wound up in prison, jail, and solitary confinement… all before becoming drafted and turning his life around.
Once he got to the league, his quirks shone bright and often. Until the league banned (yes, banned) the practice, Caron Butler would chew on plastic drinking straws on the bench as a nervous tic… going through several a game. Butler also has another addiction, which he’s curbed but not kicked over the last couple years: Mountain Dew. At one point Tuff Juice was on record as admitting that he drank over one whole two-litre bottle per day! He has cut it down to a bottle “every few days”.
14 Steven Adams - Oklahoma City Thunder
Until he was noticed by folks with connections to the National Men’s Team in New Zealand, it appeared as though the 7-footer was going to become just another sad story. The youngest of eighteen children, Steven Adams dropped out of high school and began running with a gang called the Mongrel Mob (isn’t New Zealand just the best?). But being young and gigantic, Adams was noticed and carted off to a prestigious private school where he garnered the attention of college and pro recruiters alike. The rest is history, and we’ve been blessed by this Kiwi mountain.
For his sophomore season team photos, Steven Adams grew a moustache that he decided to pattern after Tom Selleck-as-Magnum P.I. As time grew, so did Steven’s hair and facial hair. For this just past 2015-2016 season, Adams sported long and unruly hair done up in a crude man bun, and a large, waxed handlebar moustache.
For Halloween his teammate (and fellow list-mate), Russell Westbrook, decided to dress as Adams. Adams used his wispy locks and nearly inhuman frame to go as an absolutely terrifying Heath Ledger-style Joker in a nurse’s outfit.
Adams, despite the Dothraki meets hipster look, imposing stature, and bevy of tribal tattoos, carries a very dry and self-effacing sense of humor. It is that sense of humor that warrants his spot on this list. His fellow countrymen the Flight of the Conchords would be proud.
13 Drew Gooden - Washington Wizards
Just like Steven Adams, this veteran power forward and center has used his hair time and again to set himself apart from the rest of his teammates… and the rest of the league. Most famously, Drew Gooden had a hairstyle that could only be described as being a shaved head with a rectangular patch of hair at the nape of his neck. Dubbed the “ducktail”, Gooden had this to say about it: “It is drawing a lot of attention...One thing I've found out is even negative publicity is good publicity. At least I had the (guts) to do it.” He even claimed that it had made him more popular with the ladies.
Drew Gooden had, at one point, a beard-growing contest (that he called the ‘Dirty Man Contest’) with his friend Deshawn Stevenson that lasted a full season and ended in a stalemate. A popular basketball meme photo features Gooden staring at the camera with his tongue hanging out, making some rocker gesture with his hands, and his multi-tendriled goatee standing front and center. Gooden has no illusions about his peculiar styles and has made it a point to say, “Sometimes you've got to sacrifice your good looks.” Gooden’s peculiarities came to the surface early in his pro career… as his Draft Night suit most closely resembled the outfit of someone from the future in a 60’s sci-fi movie.
A professional journeyman who showed glimmers of potential coupled with an unrelenting knuckleheaded understanding of the game’s mental aspect, Drew was a member of nine teams (nearly a third of the league) in his first nine seasons, before finally finding a niche as a veteran presence for the Washington Wizards. One last note on Gooden, he tried (and failed) to obtain Finnish citizenship in order to play with the Finnish National team; presumably because he was not getting picked for the U.S. team anytime. His mother, Ulla, is from Finland.
12 Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers
Injured for the first two full seasons after being drafted, Joel has had a good amount of time to practice his game… his Twitter game. The mysterious Cameroonian center (and former Jayhawk) is finally slated to play this upcoming season and make former GM Sam Hinkie look like a mad genius or a misguided clod.
In his downtime, Embiid became one of the most engaging and funny ballers in social media. His first Twitter miracle was turning around the internet making fun of his non-reaction to being drafted by the Sixers and using it as a springboard for other jokes multiple times. He has lobbied for LeBron to come to Philly and, following the Thunder’s playoff exit, extended the same prayer (he literally uses the prayer emoji in the Tweet multiple times) to Kevin Durant. On top of lobbying for top tier talent to join him in the City of Brotherly Love, he has used his account to stump for romantic interludes with both Rihanna and Kim Kardashian. He even asked rapper Schoolboy Q to make a song for him… after he had asked Drake and was rebuked for “being mean”.
11 Chris Kaman - Portland Trailblazers
There must be something about being a big man in the NBA that makes someone a little bit more colorful or “out there” than the rest of the league. Kaman, too, is a seven footer that has indulged in several hairstyles. While none of his grooming choices have been on the level of a Steven Adams or a Drew Gooden, they have varied in appearance from “murderous drifter” to “recently thawed caveman”.
Kaman is a very devout Christian who also has his own Youtube reality show called ‘Exploring Kaman’ that essentially plays like Jackass on TNN; setting off fireworks with a welding torch, lighting butt hair on fire, fishing for marlin, and firing heavy caliber rifles at a car. And like Gooden (who never quite made it, even), Chris Kaman shed the last of his American National Team eligibility in order to play for the German Men’s Basketball Team… teaming up with Dirk Nowitzki and Dennis Schroeder to put an imposing presence on the court in international play.
10 Russell Westbrook - Oklahoma City Thunder
Perpetual MVP candidate and human bowling ball, Russell Westbrook, is an odd duck. His diva-like behavior off the court has caused his close friend and teammate, Kevin Durant, to nickname him ‘Sasha Fierce’. Among the things Westbrook needs before schooling his opponents on the court are a power nap (not all that weird) and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (also not so weird) with butter on it (pretty weird). He also engages in a very elaborate and silly pre-game dance with teammate Cameron Payne which is worth looking up video of. Westbrook famously got into a war of words with the Dallas Mavericks forward Charlie Villanueva (who narrowly missed our list himself) for having stepped in between Russ and Payne during the dance routine.
But where Westbrook really makes his mark as a unique personality in the league is with his fashion sense. Russell is famous (on top of his all-star performance on the court) for his bright and atypical designer clothing; which he has parlayed into his own fashion line at Barney’s Department Stores. Westbrook’s sartorial choices have seen him wearing tight-fitting capris, sleeveless button-up shirts, neon-colored chunky eyeglasses, and metalhead studded vests (we’re not sure all at the same time, but it’s very possible). Even more bizarre, Westbrook doesn’t like to repeat himself… so he only wears each outfit once, and gives it away afterwards.
9 Joakim Noah - Chicago Bulls
Just a cursory glance at the seven foot Noah is all anyone needs in order to know that Joakim is not like most other players. He wears his long hair in a bun or ponytail on the court, and compliments it with what can only be described as an adolescent beard and moustache. For his draft photo with then-commissioner David Stern, Noah (in his cream-colored pinstripe suit and oversized paisley bowtie) struck a Japanese schoolgirl smile and peace sign combo that, in combination with his curly hair spilling out from under his Bulls draft cap, made him look more like a cartoon character than a hyper defensive ace.
Noah’s background differs from other players, and that likely contributes to his eclectic tastes. His father is a French former tennis star that went on to have a pop music career, and his mother is the former Miss Sweden. Joakim split time growing up between France and Manhattan, hobnobbing with artists and the cultural elite that his parents associated with. But on the court, Noah’s character immediately becomes workmanlike and gritty. From his grotesque two handed heave-shot (that his teammates have decided to call the ‘Tornado’) to his brutal screens to his unbelievable passing acumen, Noah stands out both off and on the court.
8 Mitch McGary - Oklahoma City Thunder
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. This list is fairly Thunder-heavy (even Caron Butler had a cup of coffee in an OKC jersey). But Mitch McGary, regardless of where he plays, would have a spot on this list.
Well before becoming an established baller at Michigan, McGary delivered newspapers as a kid on a unicycle. At Michigan, he was noted for rapping all the time: on the court, off the court, during practice, and so on. College teammate Glenn Robinson III described McGary’s rapping as, “It's kind of like Rick Ross, a little bit. He tries to make his voice really deep, and yells while he does it." During his rookie photo shoot after being drafted, a Vine video was uploaded of Mitch doing a dunk contest-style dunk that featured him catching the ball after throwing it and diving into the most awkward and clumsy backwards somersault in the history of awkward and clumsy backwards somersaults.
In the pros injury and depth have kept McGary off the court for the most part. He recently, during the playoffs, took a mysterious leave of absence from the team that he does not wish to clarify with the press. One notable thing that he’s done with his time since he’s not seeing the floor is he’s become a snake owner. Buying three snakes and naming them after women and Zeus is one thing… but Mitch took it one step further and decided to nickname himself The Snake God. While you’re not technically allowed to give yourself a nickname (we’re looking at you, Mamba), we will let this slide because The Snake God is just too good a nickname to ignore.
7 Rajon Rondo - Sacramento Kings
The mercurial point guard gets a spot on this list for a number of reasons. The least amusing reason, however, is that he is very difficult to get along with. Famously, following his trade from the Boston Celtics (where he’d played his whole career to that point and won a championship and became a 4-time all-star and 4-time all-defensive team) he clashed with his coach and teammates on the Dallas Mavericks. He was so disliked and was so detrimental to the team, that the rest of the team voted to not give him what would have been his share of bonus earnings the players on the team receive for making the playoffs.
His reputation as a pest began by being the ‘little brother’ of the Big Three in Boston during the Paul Pierce-Ray Allen-Kevin Garnett era. He would do whatever possible to get into the heads of opposing players, including casually joining the other team's huddle until they realized what’d happened and angrily kicked him out. He’s hyper-intelligent with a near photographic memory, and a math whiz. A source inside the Celtics called him out by saying, “He always thinks he’s the smartest person in the room, even if he isn’t.”
“I’m a little OCD,” is how Rondo describes himself; a man who showers 5 times a day on game days. A more light-hearted quirk of Rondo’s is that he is a noted Connect 4 player. The vertical checkers game has been a hallmark of his community outreach events and his media appearances. He seldom loses, never goes easy on anyone, and when he loses he beats that person several times in a row afterwards as a way of showing the winner up.
6 JaVale McGee - Dallas Mavericks
JaVale’s shine has dimmed over the years. No longer is he the lanky giant brimming with untapped potential. He is now a reclamation project (currently of Dallas’), with teams hoping to squeeze out some moderate basketball productivity out of him. While not unique to JaVale McGee, he is certainly one of the best known players for ridiculous on-court mistakes. For example, he one time raced all the way to the opposite side of the court as everyone else because he thought the other team had the ball (when it was really his Washington Wizards who still had possession).
JaVale tweets sometimes using an alter-ego named Pierre. To that end, he also has a curly moustache tattooed on the side of his finger to hold up to his lip when he is pretending to be Pierre.
He and his mother, former Olympian and retired WNBA player Pam McGee, had a very short-lived television show on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network called “Mom’s Got Game”. The show aired for a total of six episodes.
5 Nick Young - Los Angeles Lakers
Nick Young is an exception to the rule. He coined his own nickname, Swaggy P, and somehow got it to stick. Until recently, Young was in a very high profile, long-term relationship with Australian rapper Iggy Azalea that led at one point to him dressing up like an 80s rocker and lip syncing to Whitesnake for a game show.
Some other quick hits about Young and his eccentricity: Young’s entourage features his cousin, whose nickname is Big Meat. He has a separate house for his shoe collection that employs two “shoe keepers”. He describes his personal style as “James Bond meets Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. For several years he refused to tattoo his right arm because it was “strictly for buckets” (he has since tattooed that arm).
Nick Young is a favorite of sports journalists because his seemingly bottomless well of enthusiasm and confidence often makes for some pretty oddball and hilarious quotes and soundbites. To wit, we’ll leave you with one to try to wrap your head around, “I blame it [bad shooting] on the rim. The rim was tripping this year. I’ll take her on a date and treat her better.”
4 Evan Turner - Boston Celtics
Evan Turner is a player that had been dubbed a ‘bust’ after having been drafted second overall by the 76ers. After a couple changes of address, it seems as though Turner has found a home with the Boston Celtics as a rotation wing and back-up point guard. His true value, however, lies in his sense of humor and his social media and locker room interview prowess.
Turner is the proud owner of a large, circular gold medallion emblazoned with the initials E.T. and the iconic bicycle scene from the Spielberg movie that shares his name. He also has a line of t-shirts featuring his silhouette replacing Jerry West’s as the logo of the NBA, and featuring the slogan/hashtag: #ET4PRESIDENT.
Turner’s star turn is his penchant for ridiculous quotes. He one time compared himself to Jesus for being booed in Philadelphia (as a visiting player) despite winning the game. He discussed how he’s not too into birthdays by saying, “Honestly, not to like go too deep into it or be a hipster about it, but if you’re gonna be nice to me one day a year, my life sucks.” He once tweeted about an upset stomach, saying, “I been on the toilet all night, my butt crack feels like it has sun burn…”
Just don’t try to date the man. His relationship status? “I’m married to guap. Taken.”
3 The Lopez Twins - Brooklyn Nets (Brook) & Chicago Bulls (Robin)
Identical twins are often a breeding ground for eccentricity. The Lopez twins are no exception to this, and they would likely enthusiastically agree with the sentiment. Having grown up in Fresno, they teamed up as a comic-creating duo: Brook writing the scripts and Robin drawing them up. Their love for comics has not abated over the years; causing frequent sightings at various comic book conventions of two of the tallest cosplayers anyone has ever seen (Robin very recently dressing as Doc Brown from the Back To The Future trilogy).
Going hand-in-hand with their love of comics is their mutual love of Star Wars. Brook campaigned hard to play a wookie during the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. One of the giveaways at a recent Nets game was a bobblehead of Robin dressed as a Jedi knight, replete with lightsaber.
Robin also has an ongoing schtick in the league where he has cultivated a ‘grudge’ with the mascots of the league. The mascots will go out of their way to poke fun at Robin or provoke him in some way, and Robin has taken to attacking them. In the history of the league, there has never been another player on the hit list of so many cute and furry NBA family members.
2 Matt Barnes - Memphis Grizzlies
Matt Barnes, noted NBA hot-head and journeyman, often veers away from the concept of being just eccentric into the realm of being terrifying. The most recent incident that blurs the line like no other player before him was his handling of a budding romance between his former teammate/friend and then-New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher and his ex-wife Gloria Govan. Working out in Santa Barbara, Barnes caught wind of Fisher spending some quality time with Govan. He then proceeded to drive approximately 90 miles south to Los Angeles in order to fight Fisher. Where things stop being as scary and sad, and start becoming more bizarre, is where he began discussing the incident in social media. Instead of just taking veiled and overt swipes at Fisher and Govan, he somehow also wrangled pop star Rihanna into the picture. Apparently he was upset with Rihanna (and mentioned it in the same long posts as Fisher and Govan); insinuating they were dating and falling for one another when Rihanna was claiming to not even know Barnes.
Barnes’ unique brand of eccentricity is almost exclusively entwined with anger or on-court antics. This past season, after being dunked on and taunted by the Bucks’ John Henson, Barnes ran into the opposing team’s tunnel after Henson (who’d been ejected) instead of staying in the game.
Barnes has paid over $500,000 in fines related to fighting and/or cursing. His antics are exactly the sort of thing that ingratiate him to his teammates and fanbase and infuriate the other 29. It’s not every player whose insanity can be so monumental that Kanye West would rap about it, as he does on his song “30 Hours”.
1 Kevin Garnett - Minnesota Timberwolves
No list of oddball NBA players would be complete without The Big Ticket, Kevin Garnett. The man, like Barnes before him on the list, is a hothead. Garnett, however, has tempered the rage and used it to fuel his trash-talking and his on-court dominance. Garnett is famous for talking smack on the court and in interviews; often going to places that would be considered taboo by most other players. One example of this is regarding a player that we mentioned as being caught up in scandal with Russell Westbrook, Charlie Villanueva. Garnett taunted Villanueva, who suffers from the condition alopecia (where no hair grows anywhere on the body or head), by calling him a “cancer patient”. Garnett also allegedly managed to bring up a rumor regarding Delonte West and Gloria James, the mother of LeBron James, to LeBron during a Cleveland-Boston playoff series… effectively taking James out of a competitive headspace, and allowing Boston to triumph.
Garnett has been a strange one from the beginning: when trying to determine what agent to go with as a high-schooler making the leap straight to the NBA, Garnett tried gaining the upperhand in negotiations with agent Eric Fleischer by showing up several hours late to his hotel (at two in the morning!) with a full posse, in order to talk business and sign. Garnett nearly missed the deadline to sign a $126 million dollar contract that, at the time, was the richest in NBA history… because he was too busy screening the newest Janet Jackson album, “The Velvet Rope” to be bothered. Immediately after finishing his pre-draft team workout, he lay down on the basketball court and began to sleep for several hours.
Before every game, KG pumps himself up by repeatedly ramming his head into the padding of the basketball stanchion. Garnett, a legend of grit and weirdness, is not long for the game, and his wide-eyed terrifying presence will be missed by fans around the world.