Basketball, much like any other sport, is packed full of characters. Some of these characters endear themselves to the crowd, many are well respected, and there are then of course plenty which are despised. The reason that a large percentage of these players are despised is because they are irritating, and this could be down to their actions on the court, their tendency to get under opponents skin, their incessant whining to the referee, their actions off the court or even just the way they carry themselves.
These irritating players can drive opponents, coaches, fans and even casual watchers up the wall. A lot of the time these irritating players will know what they are doing and have a specific role to annoy, and it is these players that are the most infuriating as they almost fulfil the role of a pantomime villain. There are then several irritating players who are unaware of the fact that they rub everyone the wrong way, but once a player is labelled irritating it is very difficult to shake this (even if they join your team).
Although many of these players are infuriating, there are also many on the list that have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success over the years. In some cases this comes down to their ability to get under opponents' skin, and with these players they are typically despised during their playing career but they will be respected once they’ve hung up their shoes.
Whether a player is irritating or not is entirely subjective of course, but I’m sure you’ll find yourself agreeing with some of the entries on this list.
Here are the 15 most irritating players in NBA history.
15 Nick Young
He may not have been in the league too long, but there is no denying that Nick Young is one of the more irritating players to grace the hardwood. His nickname of “Swaggy P” tells you enough (where does he get the P from?), but Young irritates through being a very average player that thinks he is the next Jordan/Kobe/LeBron. This was perfectly demonstrated by Young putting up a 3-pointer against the Knicks, turning round with his arms up in celebration as the ball is still in the air (a la Gilbert Arenas), only for the ball to rim out. Although irritating both off and on the court, there is a childlike innocence to Young unlike the rest of the players on this list...
14 Sasha Vujacic
There are few things worse than someone giving themselves their own nickname, and this is particularly irritating when it is a player sitting deep on the bench who does little more than chuck up 3’s. Sasha “The Machine” Vujacic is not only guilty of giving himself a nickname, but he also flops and has dished out a few cheap shots in his playing days. His arrogance despite being a very average player make him particularly irritating, but “The Machine” now finds himself playing in the Turkish Basketball League.
13 J.R. Smith
There is no denying J.R. Smith is a fantastic scorer, but he is also a coach’s nightmare and the type of player you would dislike playing with and despise playing against. He has a notoriously bad attitude and was caught at a night club prior to a playoff game for the Knicks, but it is also his on court actions which make him irritating. Smith plays little defense, does not pass often and takes low percentage shots. He will often hit these difficult shots, which is particularly frustrating to play against after playing a solid 23 seconds of good defense.
Although a good 3-point shooter, he puts up way too many each game and broke the record for 3-point attempts in one game last year with an astonishing 22 attempts. No one player should put up this many in a game and it is something that will irritate the coach, teammates and fans.
12 Isiah Thomas
Although people consider themselves fans now, back in the day there were few fans that liked Isiah outside of Detroit. There is no denying his greatness, but he was also the face of the “bad boy” Pistons who went out of their way to rough up, annoy and irritate teams each night. Jordan famously stated that he wouldn’t play for the Olympic team if Isiah was on it; this is also how a few other players felt, which is ultimately what kept Thomas off the “Dream Team”. Thomas also makes the list for his woeful time as Knicks coach, where his arrogance and bizarre decisions have played a role in the terrible mess they find themselves in today.
11 Chris Bosh
Although talented, Bosh is not as good as he thinks he is. He has claimed he is a lock to make the Hall of Fame, but aside from a few good years on a poor Toronto team and being the third option and weak link in a “Big 3” with Wade and LeBron, Bosh has done very little. He may end up in the Hall of Fame, but his all-star selections are due to a weakened Eastern conference and he has never been the go to guy on a good team. He is also very soft in the post and struggles with the physicality, which will often see him do little more than shoot 18 footers from outside.
Shaq bullied Bosh down low when the Lakers took on the Raptors in 2009, dropping 45 on him before claiming that Bosh was the “RuPaul of Big Men”. Although irritating, hopefully Bosh will return soon following treatments for a blood clot in his lung.
10 James Harden
The most boring part of watching an NBA game is free throws, and in today’s game there are a lot of them. No one shoots more than Houston’s James Harden, who made as many as 22 in a game back in March and has taken a staggering 816 free throws at the time of writing (nearly 200 more than Westbrook in second). When Harden attacks the hoop he sticks his arms out in front of him and coaxes players into fouling him, and often it is clear that he is playing for the foul instead of trying to score. This is infuriating to watch.
In addition to this, watching Harden run iso plays at the top of the key most possessions and his lazy defense make him a particularly irritating player. He is of course hugely successful, and could be the one to take home the MVP award this year.
9 Christian Laettner
Laettner will go down as one of the most unpopular players of all time, and there are a few different reasons for this. He enjoyed a tremendous amount of success at Duke, winning two NCAA titles as well as becoming the first player to play in four consecutive Final Four’s, including a hugely dramatic shot in 1992, but this is often not what he is remembered for. Laettner famously stepped on the chest of UK’s Aminu Timberlake which lost him the respect of many, and he was also called up to the 1992 “Dream Team”, beating out Shaq to the final spot. Many felt that Laettner rode the coattails of this team, and despite all this hype he ended up having a very average NBA career.
His success in college followed by a disappointing pro career is ultimately what makes Laettner one of the more irritating and unpopular players the league has seen, and it is Shaq who got the last laugh after all.
8 Dwight Howard
Howard has managed to infuriate at each team he has arrived at, and although he is much improved in Houston he is still a particularly irritating player. Howard possesses all the tools to become one of the greatest Big Men, but his immaturity both off and on the court hold him back and this irritates his teammates, the coaching staff as well as fans. This was most evident with his feud with Kobe, where Kobe became infuriated with Howard’s unprofessionalism and lack of leadership skills. This has led Kobe to call him “soft”, and Kevin Durant has even chimed in and called Howard something not fit for print. Laughing after missing free throws, his childlike behaviour, the Superman alter ego (we all know Shaq is the original) all contribute to what makes Howard irritating, and this is magnified due to his incredible potential.
7 Vlade Divac
Vlade Divac was a highly skilled center who could score, rebound, block shots and he was also an excellent passer. He played on an entertaining and talented Kings team that included Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Doug Christie, but Divac was also a frustrating and irritating player at times. He is perhaps the worst flopper to play the game, paving the way for many of today’s players to exaggerate contact and irritate just about everyone. Basketball is a physical game, particularly in the post, so it is frustrating to see players making a meal out of physical contact to get calls. It loses them respect, and it is also incredibly irritating to watch. Although Divac is one of the greats, his flopping is responsible for a lot of today’s players making the most of any kind of physical contact.
6 Metta World Peace
Ron Artest/Metta World Peace/Panda Friend may have provided some great humor over the years, as well as a number of not so funny incidents, but he is also incredibly annoying. Although an elite defender, Artest would always get under players' skin with cheap shots, dirty plays and over the top fouls. In addition to this, he has also been unprofessional at times, asking for a month off because he was tired from promoting his rap album, smashing video equipment, swearing at fans and publicly criticizing his coach. It is never dull with Metta World Peace, but often he will be irritating for teammates, coaching staff, the opposition as well as the fans.
5 Shane Battier
It sometimes seemed when Shane Battier was playing that instead of trying to force opponents into tough shots or get a stop he was trying to take a charge. He would dangerously put himself in front of players attacking the basket, and although often successful it was a miracle that nobody got seriously injured. During the latter stages of his career he would do little else than try and take charges and of course flop to sell the contact. He was also a pesky defender, and although in some cases this should be celebrated, he would also irritate players by covering their vision with his hand and often hit people in the face. Battier became more irritating towards the end of his career where he became a role player, but he was also a smart, professional and skilled player.
4 Bill Laimbeer
Although Isiah was the face of the “bad boy” Pistons and played a role in getting under peoples skin, it was really Laimbeer who was doing all the dirty work. Laimbeer contributed little to the game other than hard fouls, cheap shots and doing anything possible to wind up the opposing team. Although effective, Laimbeer was often not playing basketball and was a dirty player that annoyed everyone outside of Detroit. Laimbeer was particularly unpopular in Boston, largely due to his clothesline/chokehold on Larry Bird which led to Bird’s ejection in Game 4 of the 1987 Conference Finals.
3 Anderson Varejao
Although Varejao has worked at his game and become a skilled player, he is still incredibly irritating to watch and he annoys the opposition to no end. He has a penchant for flopping rather dramatically (this is emphasized by his hair flopping around upon contact), and for a long time he did little more than this. He is also one of the softest Big Men to have played the game, constantly complaining to referees about the physical battles down low. Only the strong survive down in the post, and Varejao is the equivalent of someone telling the teacher when things get a bit physical. Varejao will often get his way in today’s game, but if he were to play back in the days of Shaq, Ewing, Mourning, Olajuwon and Malone then he wouldn’t stand a chance.
2 Bruce Bowen
Bruce Bowen commands a lot of respect and he was a key figure in helping the Spurs to win three NBA titles, but he was also a particularly irritating player and particularly for the opposition. He was an elite perimeter defender, but he also had a few dirty tricks up his sleeve which would drive opponents up the wall and even put them in danger, most notably this includes stepping under players as they shoot which causes them to land on his foot and roll their ankle. In addition to this, Bowen was also very limited offensively except shooting the corner 3 where he was deadly. When a player only has one weapon offensively it can be infuriating to see them use, and succeed, with this time and time again.
1 Reggie Miller
Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that Reggie Miller excelled at irritating both players and fans. Miller takes great pride in his ability to annoy and irritate, which of course only makes him even more infuriating. With a stick figure frame he looks out of place on the basketball court, but he managed to excel despite this which is only the tip of the iceberg in what makes him the most irritating player of all-time.
Miller was also a notorious flopper on both ends of the floor, he would relentlessly trash talk opponents, complain to refs, wind up the crowd (this includes a famous argument with Spike Lee), hit questionable and unlikely shots and revel in the hatred that the opposition and fans had for him. He is unquestionably one of the all-time great shooters and clutch players, but also an incredibly irritating one who knew exactly what he was doing and loved every second of it.