As sports fans, our favorite players usually tend to be guys that remained loyal to one franchise, one city, for their entire careers. You think of modern names like Derek Jeter, Larry Fitzgerald and Mario Lemieux. They have all been almost universally loved for their commitment to just one team instead of leaving and trying to find greener pastures. Even in the NBA, we have seen players like that recently in the form of Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.
At the end of the day, though, you have to remember that the NBA is a business just like any other. While the athletes are there for competition and trying to bring home a title, they aren’t always happy where they are. Sometimes a player will leave for money, sometimes it’s for more exposure, and sometimes they just don’t like the city that they’re playing in.
Because of this, a lot of players have been deemed as traitors, turning their backs on the franchises that gave them a chance in the first place and making them villains to the fanbases that once loved them. There are some very famous players that have turned their back on their respected franchises, and here are the 15 biggest names to do so.
15 Dwight Howard
After losing Shaquille O’Neal to the Los Angeles Lakers (we’ll get to that later), the Orlando Magic wandered around in mediocrity for years. Things bottomed out for the Magic after the 2003-04 season when they finished 21-61 and won the draft lottery. With the first pick, they took Dwight Howard out of high school, hoping that he would be the next Shaq. Things were going well as Howard became a perennial All-Star and was considered the best center in the league, helping the Magic get to an NBA Finals.
Howard was considered the best center in the league and helped Orlando reach an NBA Finals without winning, why does that sound familiar? That’s because O’Neal did the exact same thing, and they also had one more thing in common. Howard demanded a trade to the Nets, Lakers or Mavericks since he didn’t think Orlando was going to be able to build a title contender. Howard would get his wish and was traded to the Lakers, completing the Shaquille O’Neal parallel.
14 Chris Webber
One of the best college basketball players of the past 25 years, NBA teams were lining up for the services of Chris Webber out of Michigan. Webber unsurprisingly went number one overall in the 1993 NBA Draft, getting scooped up by the Orlando Magic. As soon as that happened, the Magic shipped Webber off to the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors spent a king’s ransom to obtain Webber, shipping off Anfernee Hardaway and three first round picks (1996, 1998 and 2000).
Webber enjoyed a fine season with Golden State, winning the NBA Rookie of the Year title thanks to 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. However, Webber wasn’t happy with the way he was being used. Gregg Popovich, a Golden State assistant at the time, said that Webber “wanted to be Magic Johnson". We wanted him to be more like Karl Malone.” Despite being set up for success, Webber demanded a trade and was then sent to Washington in exchange for Tom Gugliotta and three draft picks.
13 Dennis Rodman
Coming out of Southeastern Oklahoma State in 1986, Dennis Rodman was a perfect fit for the Detroit Pistons, who were already assembling “The Bad Boys.” Rodman was the 27th overall pick that year and joined the rugged squad. Along the way, they would win a pair of NBA Championships while Rodman was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1991. Things were going well until Chuck Daly left Detroit and Rodman said his desire to play basketball was “sapped.”
Rodman started skipping practices and road trips, earning a bevy of suspensions. Rodman then demanded a trade despite having three years and nearly $12 million left on his contract. Rodman was sent to the Spurs along with a draft pick and Isaiah Morris for Sean Elliott, David Wood and a first round pick. As if that weren’t bad enough, Rodman would join the Pistons’ biggest rival, the Chicago Bulls, just a couple of years later and win multiple championships.
12 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The Milwaukee Bucks were a new franchise back in the late 1960s and they needed a cornerstone player to build the team around. They got just the man in 1969 when they landed the first overall pick, and it was obvious that they should take Lew Alcindor out of UCLA after he had one of the best college careers of all-time. Alcindor was a star right away, and by his second season was averaging 31.7 points and 16.0 rebounds per game, leading the Bucks to the 1970-71 NBA Championship.
Afterward, Alcindor changed his name to Abdul-Jabbar and spent four more seasons in Milwaukee. Abdul-Jabbar and Milwaukee had a good relationship and he was set to be the franchise player for another decade. However, Abdul-Jabbar demanded a trade, simply because he didn’t want to be in the midwest. He ended up requesting a trade and was shipped to the Lakers for five players that wouldn’t really help the Bucks. It would take several years for the team to rebuild because Abdul-Jabbar’s desire to leave the midwest.
11 Vince Carter
After helping the North Carolina Tar Heels reach the NCAA Final Four twice, Vince Carter was the fifth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Warriors, who then traded him to the Toronto Raptors. Carter followed up a strong rookie season with a string of dominant seasons that saw him peak at 27.6 points per game. Carter’s highlight slam dunks and exciting plays brought a lot of fans to Toronto as the team improved. Unfortunately, they would miss out on the 2004 NBA Playoffs.
Doing so resulted in the front office firing the coaching staff and General Manager Glen Grunwald. Carter wasn’t happy with management for doing so and claims that ownership promised a lot of star players to surround himself with. When that didn’t happen, Carter started acting out by fighting with teammates and coaches alike. Carter saw the bench more often and demanded a trade, getting his wish by being sent to New Jersey for three players and two first round draft picks. When Carter made his first appearance back in Toronto, fans laid into him and even wore bibs with his number 15 on them.
10 Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady is another player that turned his back on the Raptors and Vince Carter actually had something to do with it. McGrady was the ninth overall pick out of Mount Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina back in 1997 and didn’t receive a lot of playing time in his rookie season. McGrady said that his lack of minutes was wearing on him, but things improved when Butch Carter became the head coach and the team acquired Vince Carter.
McGrady would eventually become a starter and was averaging 15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the 1999-2000 season. McGrady was best friends with Carter, but said that he didn’t want to play second fiddle to him anymore. When he became a free agent after his third season, McGrady opted to sign with Orlando instead of returning to the Raptors. McGrady cited that he also wanted to play with Grant Hill and move closer to his hometown.
9 Robert Horry
A former first round pick of the Houston Rockets, Robert Horry was traded to the Phoenix Suns and had a falling out quickly there. Horry got into an altercation with Danny Ainge, which ended with Horry throwing a towel at his coach. Unhappy with Horry, the Suns would trade him to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1997 after being suspended. Horry was never really a full-time starter while with the Lakers, but he was instrumental in helping the team win multiple championships.
After the 2002-03 season, Horry decided not to rejoin the team and instead signed with the Spurs, the team that the Lakers had been competing with for the Western Conference title repeatedly. Horry said that he signed with San Antonio so he could be closer to home, but later admitted that he left Los Angeles “with so much hatred for that team” because of the fact that they wanted Karl Malone more than him, so signing with the rival was the best thing to do.
8 Carmelo Anthony
After leading Syracuse to an NCAA Championship in 2003, Carmelo Anthony was selected third overall by the Denver Nuggets. While with the Nuggets, Anthony improved quickly and was named to three All-Star teams, and even helped the team reach the 2009 Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets would have been content with signing Anthony to a long term deal after the 2009-10 season, but Anthony did not accept.
Instead, he started to request a trade that didn’t happen at first. Anthony narrowed down his choice of trade destinations to just the Knicks, which put the Nuggets in a terrible spot. They couldn’t sign Anthony for a long deal since he wouldn’t accept it, and they couldn’t get much out of the Knicks knowing that New York had leverage since Anthony was a free agent to be. Eventually, a deal got worked out between the two, though it hasn’t helped the Nuggets much.
7 Chris Bosh
We’re only just past the halfway point in the list, and we already have the third player that has turned their back on the poor Raptors. Toronto made Bosh the fourth overall pick in the famous 2003 NBA Draft out of Georgia Tech, and had a solid rookie season. Starting in 2005-06, Bosh had a stretch of five seasons with the Raptors where he would average at least 22.3 points per game and averaged a double-double in three of those seasons. After the 2009-10 season, Bosh was one of the free agents that was most sought after.
Bosh barely gave Toronto the time of day in terms of negotiations as he said that “I had to leave Toronto” to win a championship. So what he did was become part of a super team with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Miami. Raptors fans booed Bosh upon his return to Toronto while a member of the Heat, and he took it as a compliment.
6 Dwyane Wade
Weren’t we just talking about this guy? Dwyane Wade seemed like he would be with the Miami Heat forever after they drafted him fifth overall in 2003. Wade was a 12-time All-Star in Miami and helped the Heat win three NBA Championships. Wade was there back in the days of Shaquille O’Neal, and he stayed there through the Big 3 era with LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Now, only Bosh remains as Wade has decided to leave the place where he became a star.
Wade was on a one-year deal for the 2015-16 season worth $20 million. According to sources, the Heat were willing to bring Wade back once again, offering him a two-year deal that was worth $40 million despite his numbers dropping to 19 points per game with only 4.6 assists per game. Wade was upset with management (especially Pat Riley) and decided to leave for an extra $7.5 million over the same time span with the Bulls, where he will have to pay a lot more income tax.
5 Shaquille O’Neal
The six degrees of separation on our list continues, this time with one of the best big men to ever play in the NBA, Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal was the top prospect in the 1992 NBA Draft and the Orlando Magic won the lottery for the LSU product’s services in what was expected to be the biggest franchise turnaround of the modern era. The Magic improved dramatically almost overnight and reached the NBA Finals in 1995.
After the next season, O’Neal became a free agent and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, causing the Magic to have a franchise reset of sorts. O’Neal left partly to get more exposure in the big city, but also claimed years later that it had to do with a poll from the Orlando Sentinel newspaper. 91.3% of fans said Shaq wasn't worth the money he was being offered. O’Neal was being teased by his Team USA teammates over the poll and he decided to find greener pastures in L.A.
4 Charles Barkley
Shaquille O’Neal’s current TNT studio analyst partner, Charles Barkley, also has a reputation for turning his back on a franchise. The 1984 fifth overall pick from Auburn landed with the Philadelphia 76ers and made multiple All-Star teams where he would establish himself as one of the better all-around players in the game due to his scoring and rebounding capabilities. Barkley also established a reputation as a hot head that got into fights on the court and was even suspended for spitting on a fan, but missing and hitting the wrong one.
The 76ers still tried to keep Barkley happy, allowing him to change his number and basically get away with stuff that most players couldn’t. Instead, Barkley said that he was discouraged that the team wasn’t going to be able to win the big one and he wanted out. Begrudgingly, the 76ers traded Barkley to Phoenix in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang. The trade was one of the worst for the 76ers, and there really wasn’t an alternative.
3 Michael Jordan
Almost everyone knows that Michael Jordan briefly retired from the NBA to play baseball, but not many people see it as turning his back on the Chicago Bulls. Jordan was at the height of his career in Chicago, and the team had just won the previous three NBA Championships. In October 1993, Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA. It also happened to be a few months after Jordan was spotted gambling in Atlantic City, leading people to believe he was taking up baseball as a way of avoiding an NBA suspension.
Either way, it put the Bulls into a very tough position when their franchise cornerstone disappeared before the 1993-94 season. The Bulls had a solid season without him, and they finally got him back late in the 1994-95 season when his baseball career hadn’t taken off. Thankfully, it had a happy ending as Jordan came back to the Bulls to win three more championships.
2 LeBron James
Thanks to the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James has become a bit of a heroic figure once again after being the villain for so long. He actually started his career as a hero, though, when he was drafted first overall by the Cavaliers in 2003. The Ohio native was thought to be the next Michael Jordan and would hopefully lead the Cavaliers to a long awaited NBA Championship. The Cavaliers came close on multiple occasions, but just couldn’t bring it home.
In the summer of 2010, James had the much awaited “Decision” where he chose to form a super team with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. LeBron became a villain in Cleveland overnight as they thought he would be re-signing with the team and fans set his jerseys on fire. For years, LeBron was the most hated player in the NBA, but that has since changed thanks to his return to the Cavaliers and winning the NBA Finals in 2016 with a legendary performance and an epic comeback.
1 Kevin Durant
Once LeBron James was no longer vilified by NBA fans, a new face had to step up and take his spot. In the summer of 2016, fans found their guy. Kevin Durant was the cornerstone of the Thunder (then SuperSonics) franchise ever since he was drafted second overall in 2007 out of Texas. In his nine seasons with the franchise, Durant didn’t win an NBA title, but did win an MVP award and reached the NBA Finals.
This summer, it seemed like the Thunder had done everything they could to keep Durant happy so that he would sign with the team and he would have made more money in Oklahoma City. Instead, Durant decided to chase a title by joining the Golden State Warriors, who finished the 2015-16 regular season with a record 72 wins. What made it worse for fans was the fact that Durant had criticized LeBron James and Chris Bosh just years earlier when they joined forces in Miami.