Top 10 NBA villains of all time

Bad Boys

“I am not a role model … Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Charles Barkley’s words ring true for many villains. How do you get the image as a villain? Through fights, trashtalking, foolishness or from being an enforcer.

First things first: We do want to glorify violence. The fact that fighting and what today are considered unsportsmanlike fouls used to be part of the game is bullshit. Back in the day, villains showed how much the sport lived off emotion and how little they thought of the individual person. Villains could even define their franchise with this attitude.

Here is a list of players who lived up their image as villains in the NBA.

10. Rasheed Wallace
Admittedly, Rasheed Wallace was not a big villain, though referees might see that differently. “Sheed” was hit with 317 technical fouls in his career with his 41 Ts in a single season still unmatched. After Wallace set the record in 2000-01, the NBA changed its rules, instituting a one-game suspension for a player after receiving 16 technical fouls.

Wallace was definitely entertaining, making his outcry of “Ball don’t lie” fashionable. He had a special way of trashtalking to get under his opponents’ skin, especially after they missed shots. Of course, the trash talk also led to him being kicked out of games. In addition there was his unforgettable press conference in which he answered every question by saying: “Both teams played hard, my man.”

9. Gilbert Arenas
Arenas embodies more a clown than a villain but in December 2009, this characteristic nearly ended up in tragedy. After teammate Javaris Crittenton provoked him during a game of cards, Arenas brought four unloaded guns into the locker room and demanded Crittenton to pick one of them. Crittenton responded by pulling out his own gun, which was loaded, and pointing it at Arenas. Both players remained unharmed.

Arenas, who was an extravagant trashtalker, was suspended a couple of weeks later by commissioner David Stern for the final 50 games of the season after he entered a circle of his Washington Wizards teammates, cocked his fingers into a gun and playfully shot them. Arenas would only play 87 more games the rest of his NBA career due to knee injuries.

8. Matt Barnes
Another way of being a villain is haVing a dirty style of playing. And part of Matt Barnes’ scouting report should include flagrant fouls. Team that with a healthy dose of dirty language and Barnes had to dish out 414,276 dollars in fines over his 14-year career – making up 1 percent of his career earnings.

Barnes seemed to look for confrontation. For example, in October 2015, Derek Fisher had a relationship with Barnes’ estranged wife. When Barnes found out, he got into his car, drove 150 kilometers to “beat the shit out of” Fisher. Kanye West was inspired by the quote and wrote the lyric: “Now I’m ’bout to drive 90 miles like Matt Barnes to kill”.

7. Charles Oakley
Few players personify the role of enforcer like Charles Oakley. During his early days with the Chicago Bulls, “Oak” protected Michael Jordan and would later serve as the de facto bouncer for the New York Knicks for a decade. Oakley duelled it out with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer and Larry Johnson. Oakley paired his will to combat with trashtalk. After being suspended while playing with Toronto he said: “I didn’t think I hurt the team … I think the league hurt the team by putting them in Canada.” And years after he retired, Knicks owner James Dolan had Oakley kicked out of Madison Square Garden.

6. Rick Mahorn
Oakley’s enforcer counterpart in the Eastern Conference was Rick Mahorn. At the end of the 1980s, Mahorn did play only four years with the Detroit Pistons, but he characterized the team’s “Bad Boy” attitude. How much so? In the 1988 playoffs, Mahorn deliberately stepped on Kevin McHale’s foot, which had earlier been broken.

Mahorn is believed to have been involved in 16 fights between 1980 and 2009, second place behind the unofficial Bad Boy boss Bill Laimbeer. He carried on his attitude as a coach. As an assistant coach for the WNBA team Detroit Shock, Mahorn ran over into a dispute and was subsequently suspended for two games.

5. Latrell Sprewell
There are plenty of positive examples of meaningful player-coach relationships including Bill Russell and Red Auerbach; Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson; and John Stockton with Karl Malone and Jerry Sloan among others. And then there is Latrell Sprewell and P.J. Carlesimo.

In a 1997 practice for the Golden State Warriors, Sprewell lost it after being criticized by Carlesimo, threatening to kill the coach and choking him for seconds. That led to the then record suspension of 68 games for Sprewell.

Sprewell often rubbed his teammates the wrong way, whether that was with skirmishes with teammates or coming back from the off-season with a broken hand, which cost him a fine of 250,000 dollars.

You have to give Sprewell credit that his antics did not affect his play on the court. A year and a half later, he led the New York Knicks to the 1999 NBA Finals as the team’s leading scorer. And1 cemented Sprewell’s villain image with the legendary commercial in which he said: “People say I am America’s worst nightmare. I say, I am the American dream.”

4. Ron Artest 
Ron Artest laying on the scorer’s table at the Palace of Auburn Hills in November 2004 almost seemed like meditation – fitting for Metta World Peace. But things ended up being anything but peaceful. Artest ended up brawling with Detroit Pistons fans, resulting in the longest suspension in NBA history: 86 games.

That is reason enough for Artest to be mentioned among the villains of the game. But over the rest of his career, Artest was also considered a defender who was easily agitated and willing to throw an elbow. He justified his tough playing style with an anecdote from his childhood days when a friend was killed on the court after someone broke a metal leg from a table and threw it at Artest’s friend and it hit him in the heart. It seems fitting that after winning the NBA title in 2010 Artest thanked his psychiatrist.

3. Kermit Washington
While “The Shot” is one of the highlights of Michael Jordan’s career and that of the NBA’s history, “The Punch” is one of the league’s darkest chapters. Kermit Washington unleashed a punch in December 1977 that nearly killed Rudy Tomjanovich on the court at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. The incident did not only change the careers of Washington (he and his family received death threats) and Tomjanovich (physically and psychologically burden, he ended his career three years later), but also the NBA.

The league policed future incidents much stricter with even an admitted punch being punished. Fist fights were commonplace back then. Even the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke Kent Benson’s jaw and his own hand when he punched Benson – just two months before “The Punch”. Still, no player in NBA history is connected to violence on the court more than Kermit Washington.

2. Dennis Rodman
Would Michael Jordan have become the GOAT without Phil Jackson? Dennis Rodman could have profited even more from the zen-master if he would have been with him longer. After all, what coach would have accepted getaways to Las Vegas or to appear on a wrestling show after important playoff games? In this way, Rodman was almost a villain within his own team.

There were very few players who on the court knew so well how to get into their opponents’ heads. “Rodzilla” would also dish it out against others, such as head-butting a referee or kicking a cameraman in the crown jewels. Even after his career, Rodman never shied away from his villain image – for example when he sympathized with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

1. Bill Laimbeer
The Detroit Pistons as the “Bad Boys” would not have existed without Bill Laimbeer. No other Piston embodied the villain mentality as much as Laimbeer. The center provoked opponents, dished out elbows – even some fists, ran under jumpshooters and was himself known as a flopper. All that made him the most-hated player of his time. Some see that as the reason Laimbeer has never been given the chance as a head coach in the NBA.

“He was a dirty player – he wanted to hurt you,” remembered Larry Bird. Even though Bird and Laimbeer were involved in a fight, there was not a single instance involving Laimbeer that really sticks out.

His reputation resulted in unusual scenes such as the Chicago Bulls mascot beating up a Laimbeer puppet. There was also the video game “Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball” in which Laimbeer was the commissioner and fired all the referees, creating a style of play without rules and allowing for the use of weapons.

Dishonorable Mentions: Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson, Vernon “Mad Max” Maxwell, Kevin McHale, Calvin Murphy, J.R. Rider und Isiah Thomas.


by FIVE Magazine #170 – Top 10 NBA villains of all time – Text: Manuel Baraniak

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