Look at NBA stars such as Stephen Curry. Not only is Curry extremely talented and marketable, he's also someone who carries himself as the consummate pro, a hard worker, a team player, and a team leader at a relatively young age. On the other side, consider someone like DeMarcus Cousins, who puts up insanely big numbers but puts his coaches through hell and back. You bet he's going to be making this list, just like he did in a previous TheSportster list of unprofessional players. But this time, we're not talking about the players per se, but rather the exact things they did to be called unprofessional.
When we talk about unprofessional displays, we don't necessarily mean playing dirty or getting into brawls with opponents. We're talking unprofessionalism on a broader sense; this may include any variety of actions detrimental to the team, such as openly feuding with teammates or coaches, or making comments that are unbecoming of a professional athlete. And that leads us to this list — 15 NBA players and their corresponding unprofessional displays.
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15 DERRICK COLEMAN
Derrick Coleman had a successful 14-year NBA career, but as the first overall pick in the 1990 draft, it could have been better. Oftentimes, it would be his bad temper and tendency to underachieve that put him at odds with coaches, and if it wasn’t for his attitude, we’d probably talking Hall of Fame for this strong, athletic player who once had a great all-around game for a power forward.
Coleman was at his worst behavior in early-1995, as he played for the New Jersey Nets in what would be his last 20-10 season. In a game against the Utah Jazz, he referred to the Hall of Fame power forward as an “Uncle Tom,” using the derogatory term for a subservient African-American man. Trash talk or not, it was an uncalled-for comment, and Coleman's career went downhill from there due to injuries and attitude. And he didn't exactly mellow with age either, as he was one of several players involved in the Indiana vs. Detroit "Malice at the Palace" brawl of 2004.
14 ALLEN IVERSON
What do you think about when you hear the name Allen Iverson? You probably remember that killer crossover dribble of his. You may think of his prodigious scoring ability, and how he averaged at least 30 points per game five times in his career. And you may also think of four words – “We talkin’ about practice.”
After making the 2001 NBA Finals, the Philadelphia 76ers had largely underachieved in the 2001-02 season, getting edged by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. With coach Larry Brown calling him out in the post-Game 5 press conference for missing practice, Iverson answered (pun intended) with an extended rant that had him dropping the word “practice” almost as often as he’d drop buckets in a game.
That postgame tirade may not have the explosive profanity of Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price’s 77-F-word meltdown of 2015, or the rage of Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green’s “The Bears are who we thought they were!” rant of 2006. But Iverson's casual, almost nonchalant delivery and the clear attempts to troll Larry Brown make his "practice" spiel one of the most memorable sports rants of all time.
13 DWIGHT HOWARD
We remember the time when Dwight Howard was still a solid citizen, a defensive monster for the Orlando Magic who seemed on track to becoming one of the NBA’s greatest big men of all time. Then he joined the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2012-13 season, and it looked obvious to everyone that it was D12’s addition that would send the Lakers to the Finals and bring them back to championship glory.
Instead, Howard turned into a prima donna of the worst kind, but it was his comments against Kobe Bryant that stand out as the most unprofessional of 2012-13. Bryant was merely acting concerned that Howard's injuries were affecting his game and his mental focus, but he shot back at Kobe, telling the press that he's "not a doctor" and has no right to comment on the severity of his injuries.
Howard was gone after the Lakers underachieved their way to an early playoff exit, and wasn’t that much better-behaved during his time as a Houston Rocket. Fortunately, he seems to be turning the corner with the Atlanta Hawks in 2016-17, though we may have to wait and see on that.
12 BOB PETTIT, CLYDE LOVELLETTE, AND CLIFF HAGAN
In 1961, Pettit, Lovellette, and Hagan were the top three players on the St. Louis (later Atlanta) Hawks. They also happened to be white Southerners adjusting to their new African-American teammate Cleo Hill. Hill was a dynamic 6'1" guard out of historically black Winston-Salem, and before Earl Monroe emerged as an even higher-profile graduate of the school, Hill was confounding defenders with his athleticism and fancy scoring moves. A first-round pick in the 1961 draft, Hill scored 26 points in his debut, and had several more double-figure games through mid-November.
It was around that time when the aforementioned Big Three of the Hawks allegedly began freezing Hill out, denying him the ball as his minutes and shot attempts progressively diminished. Stories vary as to whether this was racially-motivated or a simple case of three veteran superstars insecure at the arrival of a talented young prospect who could jeopardize what was then a far more tenuous way to make a living. Whatever the case was, Hill never played in the NBA again after averaging just 5.5 points as a rookie.
11 MARVIN BARNES
This list, not surprisingly, has a few examples from the 1970s, a decade when many NBA players were openly using drugs, especially cocaine, and ruining promising careers in the process. One of those players who snorted their careers away was the late Marvin “Bad News” Barnes. A talented, athletic forward who dominated in the last few seasons of the ABA, Barnes’ goofy personality gave birth to several funny stories from his time in the renegade league. These include his remark about not wanting to “get on no time machine,” as his flight would have left Louisville at 8:00 a.m. and arrived at St. Louis at 7:56 due to the difference in time zones.
Sadly, Barnes was a shell of his old ABA days when the NBA absorbed the league. Drugs were compromising his game at that time, and he would admit later in life to have snorted cocaine on the bench while playing for the Boston Celtics. Certainly, that’s not something anyone could get away with in today’s NBA.
10 D’ANGELO RUSSELL
As a Lakers fan since childhood, this writer is somewhat disappointed to see multiple Lakers mentions on this list. And while D’Angelo Russell isn’t the last Laker included, he’s also the team's most recent example of unprofessionalism. During his rookie season in 2015-16, Russell recorded teammate Nick Young’s confession that he wasn’t 100 percent faithful to rapper Iggy Azalea, his then-fiancee. The video was meant to be a prank, but it leaked out, led to the couple’s eventual breakup, and resulted in Russell being ostracized by his teammates for a good long while.
There’s no way to condone cheating on your partner, and all those so-called “Bro Codes” can be overrated, if not outright sexist at times. But Russell’s actions were a detriment to team chemistry on an already-awful Lakers team, and that’s why, to quote WWE’s Chris Jericho, he just made the list.
9 SCOT POLLARD
Scot Pollard was always a strange dude, a career backup center better-known for his ever-changing hairdos and facial hair than anything he ever achieved on court. Right ahead of his final NBA season in 2007-08, Pollard quipped that he settled for #66 with the Boston Celtics because they wouldn't let him add an extra "6" to the number — you know, because it's the Number of the Beast. But while that was merely an offbeat comment that serves as a classical example of Pollard's, um, quirkiness, it was far from being as controversial as one he made a few months prior, as a Cleveland reserve.
Staring into the camera as the Cavs were in the middle of a timeout, Pollard blurted out the line "Hey kids, do drugs!", doing it merely for laughs. But since that was such an audible comment, he soon received major backlash for seemingly encouraging young people to get high, and quickly apologized for a cheap attempt at humor gone bad.
8 DEMARCUS COUSINS
When Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t exactly been a paragon of professionalism at times in his NBA career, calls your relationship with coaches the worst he's ever seen, you know that you’re a piece of work. That’s the case with DeMarcus Cousins, who may be the Sacramento Kings’ franchise player, but is a constant headache for coaches. In fact, one can even say that Cousins is responsible for the high turnover rate of coaches in SacTown, no thanks to his frequent tantrums and trade demands.
It’s hard to pick that one moment when “Boogie” was acting at his most unprofessional, but we’re probably going to go with the not-so-obvious; the time he had a confrontation with ex-NBA player and San Antonio Spurs commentator Sean Elliott. Upset at some remarks Elliott had made about him, Cousins confronted the former Spurs forward as both men engaged in a heated argument. And for the cherry on top, Cousins referred to Elliott as “immature” after the game. Now if that isn't a case of the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what that is.
7 SPENCER HAYWOOD
In his only ABA season in 1969-70, Spencer Haywood achieved the extremely rare feat of simultaneously winning Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in a professional league. And when he joined the NBA the very next season, he made a smooth transition, consistently putting up 20-10 games until the mid-1970s. Then he got hooked on cocaine, as his game suffered and he bounced from team to team. By 1979-80, he had joined the Los Angeles Lakers, and while his numbers were way down, he seemed happy and contented as a key reserve for an eventual championship team.
That was until his coke addiction reared its ugly head in the 1980 Finals. Normally mild-mannered coach Paul Westhead had had it with Haywood nodding off at practice, and even showing up late to a game because he was too busy getting high. He was dismissed from the team before the Lakers’ championship-winning game, and while he played a few more years in the NBA after that debacle, he retired as another sad case of wasted talent.
6 MAGIC JOHNSON
Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s paints a picture of Johnson as someone who had the ear of Lakers owner Jerry Buss from his very first day with the team. And in the early stages of the 1981-82 season, Magic was simply not getting along with head coach Paul Westhead, a nice guy who nonetheless had trouble implementing his complex system with a Lakers team used to his predecessor Jack McKinney’s far simpler running game.
With the Lakers struggling under Westhead, Johnson openly demanded that he be traded, and many suggest that since he otherwise enjoyed playing for the Lakers and palling around with their jet-setting ladies’ man of an owner, that was his way of getting Westhead fired. And he was fired alright, resulting in a brief period of time where Magic was the most hated man in the NBA, even in his adopted home of L.A.
5 REGGIE HARDING
Well before KG, Kobe, and the preps-to-pros standouts modern fans grew up watching, the Detroit Pistons had local product Reggie Harding, a tall, well-built (7’0”-250) center who became the first NBA draftee who never played college ball. He was quick and athletic for a player of his size, and showed a great deal of promise on court, starting for most of 1963-65 for the Pistons. But he was a loose cannon with a drug problem, and he'd reportedly show up to games with a gun, also using that gun to bully teammates such as Terry Dischinger and Flynn Robinson (during his brief run with the Bulls). Fortunately, no one was injured as a result of these purported incidents.
Harding’s unprofessionalism, however, truly showed when he was in the ABA. Playing for the Indiana Pacers in the renegade league’s maiden season in 1967-68, the troubled seven-footer was so upset at the Pacers’ GM that he threatened to shoot him during a live TV interview. Additionally, he had allegedly done the same to a supposedly racist teammate. Harding was out of pro basketball by 1968, and died in 1972 after a fatal shooting. He was only 30.
4 LANCE STEPHENSON
Talk about being “Born Ready” to piss people off. A talented high school prospect who dropped to the second round of the 2010 draft after one unremarkable college season, Lance Stephenson came closest to living up to his schoolboy billing with the Indiana Pacers in the 2013-14 season. He was a strong all-around guard who stuffed the stat sheet and made fantasy basketball owners happy, and played some solid defense. He was also an annoying trash talker, and that was most apparent in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the top-seeded Pacers lost to the Miami Heat.
As a result, casual fans now know Stephenson as the guy who blew into LeBron James’ ear, earning him serious backlash from the press, and even from Pacers executives. Beyond the ear-blowing incident, he was a complete troll in that playoff series, and since leaving Indiana, Stephenson’s career hasn’t quite recovered, as he’s now firmly in NBA journeyman status in every sense of the word.
3 GILBERT ARENAS AND JARVARIS CRITTENTON
Once upon a time, Gilbert Arenas was one of the NBA's brightest stars. And while he's only 34 years old now, he's been out of the NBA for three years, with injuries playing a large part in his rapid decline. But there was also the matter of that little incident with teammate Jarvaris Crittenton, the incident that led to his suspension for a huge chunk of the 2009-10 season.
For those who don’t remember, Arenas was then playing for the Washington Wizards when he and Crittenton were accused of firing guns in the team locker room. The two Wizards guards were apparently beefing over gambling debts, and the fact that the incident had happened on Christmas Eve of 2009 makes it even more shocking. Arenas was suspended indefinitely in January of 2010, and when he returned to the Wizards for the 2010-11 season, he wasn't quite the same "Hibachi" he was prior to the gun scandal.
Crittenton, on the other hand, never played in the NBA after 2009-10, and is now serving time for voluntary manslaughter in relation to a 2011 murder case.
2 DENNIS RODMAN
Although he was one of the baddest “Bad Boys” on the successful Detroit Pistons teams of the late-‘80s and early-‘90s, Dennis Rodman was still an angel compared to the likes of Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. It was only during his runs with the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls when he really let his freak flag fly, dyeing his hair more often than some people change underwear, dating Madonna and marrying Carmen Electra, and getting in all sorts of trouble with NBA officials. He was truly living up to the title of his autobiography Bad As I Wanna Be, in other words.
Out of all the notorious incidents in his NBA career, none stand out like the time Rodman tripped a cameraman in an early-1997 Bulls game, then kicked the poor fellow in the groin for good measure. He ended up paying the cameraman $200,000 in damages, and served an 11-game suspension for the violent attack. No wonder he fit in well in WCW, where he wrestled a few matches as an ally of "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and the rest of the villainous New World Order (nWo).
1 LATRELL SPREWELL
It’s been almost two decades since it happened, yet no NBA player has acted as unprofessionally as Latrell Sprewell did on December 1, 1997. Then playing for the Golden State Warriors, Spree was practicing with the rest of the team, when their fiery coach P.J. Carlesimo simply asked his All-Star guard to “put a little mustard” on his passes. After a brief back-and-forth between coach and player, Sprewell reacted to the “put a little mustard” request by putting his hands on Carlesimo’s neck, threatening to kill him as he choked the coach for a good ten seconds or so. And for good measure, Sprewell attempted to punch Carlesimo after he had already showered and changed following the first attack.
That wasn't the first time Sprewell acted like a WWE heel toward his teammates. Prior to the Carlesimo incident, which got him suspended for the remainder of the 1997-98 season, Sprewell had also carried a two-by-four during a heated argument with the normally low-key Jerome Kersey. And in his second NBA season, then-coach Don Nelson had ripped his shirt while trying to separate Sprewell and Charles Barkley-esque (in build only) forward Byron Houston.
To Spree’s credit, he had mellowed down considerably after being traded to the New York Knicks for the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. But during his days as a Warrior, he was a man who took his team’s nickname way too seriously.
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