There’s an old saying that one man’s hero is another man’s villain. Sports certainly prove that. Fans cheer a guy on their team that the other side boos heartily and where you stand can adjust your thinking a lot. Outside New England, folks rant on Tom Brady for cheating with the footballs but in Boston, he’s hailed as a hero. Of course, should a guy suddenly switch teams, the opinion can change majorly. LeBron James proved that when he bolted Cleveland for Miami and the fans burned his jerseys in protest. A slightly muted reaction occurred when James left the Heat to return to the Cavs. It’s occurred in various other places but something about the NBA seems to bring the “bad boy” idea to the forefront and many players reveling in it.
For a long time, NBA players have played the role of “enforcers” and such, dealing out nasty hits and wicked shots and enjoying it majorly. Several use it to push their fame and while not popular, can be known for their great skills to make their teams champions and thus offset their attitudes. Of course, others can’t just overcome their reputations which follow them around, including in their post-playing days. Some are fearsome on the court but really nice guys off it while others are as bad as they are playing. From among the most successful teams in history to others that have very bad reps, the NBA is filled with guys who fans love to hate. Here are 15 of the top players cast among the greatest villains in league history and how nasty you have to get to rank above merely team rivalries. Here are the 15 most hated villains in NBA history.
15 15. Bob Brannum
14 14. Vernon Maxwell
His nickname of “Mad Max” was given for his clutch three-point shooting but could also be used for Maxwell’s attitude. He was a top-notch player and a key component of the Houston Rockets winning back to back championships in the mid-‘90s. But from the start, there was talk of him using cocaine before games in college, giving him a harsh rep. That kept to the NBA with trash talking and slamming opponents around and drew nine suspensions over his career. The biggest was a 10-game suspension for chasing a heckling fan into the stands.
13 13. Kevin McHale
12 12. Reggie Miller
He wasn’t as hated all around the league as others but Miller’s antagonism of New York Knicks fans was so huge that ESPN's 30 for 30 did an entire movie around it. Whenever the Pacers came to New York, Miller relished in mocking the fans, celebrating a simple dunk like it was a championship winner and taunting them non-stop. The most famous moment was when the Pacers came from behind to beat the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals and Miller made a choking sign to Spike Lee at courtside, igniting a feud that would last for years.
11 11. Karl Malone
10 10. John Brisker
Splitting his time between the NBA and ABA, Brisker has become something of a legend among the league for his erratic behavior. Playing for Pittsburgh, he scored a reputation so huge that when the team came to Salt Lake City, they had five pro boxers standing at courtside in case he acted up. He holds the record for the fastest ejection, going only two minutes against the Denver Rockets before being thrown out for a nasty elbow hit. He then charged the court three times until police literally dragged him away.
9 9. Rick Barry
8 8. Kevin Garnett
Tim Duncan is considered one of the nicest guys in the NBA but has been reported to hate Garnett with a passion. He’s trashed the wives of opponents and called Charlie Villanueva a “cancer patient” for a disease that leaves him hairless. He’s head-butted Dwight Howard, punched Channing Frye in the crotch and even trashed his Joakim Noah, who considered Garnett a hero of his. Just about every type of foul and infraction has been called on Garnett in his career with numerous ejections.
7 7. Kermit Washington
When you land a single punch that inspires John Feinstein to write an entire book, you’ve earned a spot on this list. A promising college player, Washington was drafted to the Lakers in 1973 and soon became a key part of the team, known for his rough play and ability to get into the faces of opponents. However, his injuries (which he kept quiet for worry on his job) led to his temper rising which set the stage for the now infamous game against the Houston Rockets in December of 1977.
6 6. Latrell Sprewell
His actions were so huge that even the sitcom “The Jamie Foxx Show” had a character threatening to “go Sprewell” on someone. Bold and big, Sprewell was known for getting in the faces of opponents and instigating a few fights and his trash talk made no friends either. An argument with a teammate had Sprewell returning with a 2X4 to threaten him and even threatening to shoot others. The highlight, of course was in 1997 when an argument with coach P.J. Carlesimo ended with Sprewell choking the man. This got him kicked off the team and got him a 68 game suspension.
5 5. Danny Ainge
A famous story is that before the 1987 NBA Finals, Ainge saw a group of fans wearing “I Hate Danny Ainge” t-shirts. Going up to them, Ainge congratulated them on the designs then bought one to wear himself for warm-ups. His numbers were modest but he was considered a good supporting player who had a skill of irritating the hell out of opponents. His time in Boston was memorable for instigating several bench-clearing brawls and his ability to throw opponents off their game was vital for the Celtics winning titles while making him hated by all.
4 4. Bruce Bowen
3 3. Dennis Rodman
2 2. Ron Artest
1 1. Bill Laimbeer
It may seem a bit unfair that Laimbeer isn’t remembered better for his work on the court. He was a fantastic player, a four-time All-Star and averaged double-doubles for seven straight seasons. But Laimbeer is forever known as the most loathed member of one of the most loathed teams ever, the 1980s Detroit Pistons. The winners of back-to-back NBA titles, they reveled in their label of “Bad Boys” and none were badder than Laimbeer. He would trash opponents constantly, slam them about on the court with elbows, slams, open punches and more. Whenever the refs caught him, Laimbeer loudly protested his innocence and act like he was victimized. Also, he took falls that were ridiculously theatrical and yelled about unfair treatment.
You can’t count how many players were victimized by Laimbeer's brutal style and it was half-joked that outside of his parents, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who said they liked him. For all his skill on the court, it’s that style that makes Laimbeer the player just about every NBA fan agreed was the guy in the league to boo mightily.
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