Everybody loves a good villain in sports. Well, maybe not everybody but I sure do. The NBA has graced us with plenty of terrific heels throughout the years so I figured I would lay out my personal top 10. Here we go:
Honorable Mention: Latrell Sprewell
After the Knicks lost their staple villain/instigator of the 90s in the summer of 1998 (we’ll get to him in the actual top 10), Sprewell immediately arrived in Knick-land to fill that role of team heel perfectly. In fact Spre’ may have filled that role a little too perfectly at times. Here’s a couple great examples of his villainous debauchery:
At junior college, Sprewell and some of his teammates were arrested for stealing batteries from a convenience store.
He got in fights with Byron Houston and Jerome Kersey in practice at different times. After the Kersey scrap, Sprewell returned with a 2×4, but was restrained.
In addition to those 2 gems, the peak-villain point of Latrell’s career is when he choked his coach P.J. Carlesimo during a Golden State Warriors practice in 1997 resulting in a 68-game suspension, the 2nd longest suspension in NBA history.
#10 Bruce Bowen
It’s funny to think a superstar like Tim Duncan, who is the polar-opposite of a villain, had a teammate play a key role during 3 of his 5 championship runs who was arguably considered the dirtiest and most dangerous defender of the 2000s.
He has countless examples of dirty play. In fact, Reddit user BearsNecessity did a great job compiling a history of Bowen’s dirty plays here. With that being said, his most villainous moment has to be when he kicked Wally Szczerbiak right in the face:
#9 Charles Oakley
Before truly establishing himself as one of the star players of the 90’s Knicks, Charles Oakley was essentially Michael Jordan’s bodyguard protecting him from cheap shots and wasn’t afraid to dish out some punches of his own establishing himself as someone you really didn’t want to mess with even if he was a rookie/sophomore in the league.
However, mostly due to the emergence of Horace Grant, Oakley was dealt to the New York Knickerbockers for Bill Cartwright in the summer of 1988. New York is truly where Oak would establish himself as one of the greatest villains in NBA history.
His time with the Knicks featured a preseason scrap with Charles Barkley, more than a few run-ins with Dennis Rodman like this one, this scuffle with the Sonics Xavier McDaniel as well as the time he hopped right into a fight between Alonzo Mourning & teammate Larry Johnson. Charles Oakley is the epitome of 90s smash-mouth basketball.
#8 Draymond Green
I’ll admit there’s probably recency bias behind putting Draymond ahead of the 3 guys I’ve already listed instead of in the honorable mention section but that doesn’t change the fact that Drayond Green is without a doubt a terrific modern-day NBA villain.
Whether it’s his infamous kick pitcured right above this paragraph, his dick-punch on Lebron that eventually led to a game 5 suspension and contributed to the blown 3-1 lead or his countless other cheap shots and shit talking (like calling Lebron a bitch).
What really makes Draymond such a great heel/villain though is the way he embraces the role. A perfect example of this is the way he seems to genuinely enjoy the “Draymond Sucks” chants in Cleveland:
Another great instance of this full embrace is when he was wearing a “quickie” shirt in the Quicken Loans logo to Golden State’s most recent championship parade and calling out Lebron during his speech:
#7 Rasheed Wallace
Without a doubt the most loudest and most abrasive member of the rough and tumble mid-2000s Pistons, Sheed’s temper and loud mouth throughout his career earned him the 3rd most technical fouls in NBA history with 317.
Unlike the next guy on the list, Sheed claims that he wouldn’t be willing to take personal shots like insults about other players’ families. Rather, he would keep his trash talk mostly game-related and other funny things, like referring to Aaron Afflalo as Aflac.
His most infamous example is clearly his phrase “Ball Don’t Lie!” that he would yell out anytime an opponent missed a free throw that they were shooting due to a Sheed foul he felt was a bad call by the ref. Here’s a great compilation of instances of him yelling it out:
However, Sheed’s trash talk hasn’t ended with his retirement. The most recent examples were him just going right after Raef Lafrentz completely unprovoked at the end of this gem of an unfiltered leak of KG’s Area 21:
And then even more recently he celebrated Lebron’s finals loss with the always hillarious Michael Rapaport:
#6 Kevin Garnett
KG is unquestionably one of the best/harshest/loudest trash talker in NBA history and the fact that he was one of the 2-3 best power forwards in the league throughout most of his career meant he could more than backup his shit talk with his MVP-caliber game.
While this infamous Tim Duncan mother’s day insult has never been proven, there are plenty of other examples of Garnett taking downright cruel verbal shots at other players, namely calling Charlie Villanueva, who suffers from alopecia, a cancer patient.
However, on a lighter note, my personal favorite is when KG allegedly told Melo his wife LaLa tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios. This would lead to an in-game scuffle/fake-tough guy fight between the two stars (at the time) and also prompted Melo to wait by the Celtics bus post-game to confront Garnett:
#5 Charles Barkley
Barkley was the very definition of a vicious short and stocky pitbull. Being a 6’5″ post player in arguably the most physical era of basketball, Barkley kind of had to be a bad motherfucker.
With that being said, probably the most iconic villain moment during Sir Charles’ NBA career was when he wrote his own lines for this infamous Nike commercial where he explains to viewers that he is in fact “not a role model”:
#4 Danny Ainge
While many younger and more casual Boston fans might see Danny Ainge as a villain in his current role as the Celtics’s gm with his recent trading of the top pick and refusal to meet the Bulls’ asking price for Jimmy Butler, Ainge was actually one of the NBA’s scrappiest & dirtiest pests in throughout the 1980’s and the early 90’s.
Danny completely embraced this role, stating himself at one point: ”I got labeled a villain, and I started to love it. It got me fired up on the road. And I’m not claiming innocence. I deserved some of it.” Personally, this type of embracing the villain persona/role is what seperates a truly great villain from a good to average one.
With that being said Ainge didn’t exactly have a choice but to embrace the heel label as he really was a dirt player. A prime example of his dirty play was when he literally whipped the basketball right in Mario Ellie’s face on an inbound play:
#3 Dennis Rodman
It’s pretty ironic that one of the NBA’s most iconic villains has now become buddy-buddy with North Korean dictator and real life super-villain Kim Jong Un. But this is about NBA villains not actual evil dictators.
Despite not having much natural basketball talent compared to most of his NBA peers, Rodman was one of the best defensive players of all-time and a key member of both the 2-time champion Bad-Boy Pistons and the second Bulls 3peat who earned 7 rebounding titles in his career.
The Worm made up for his lack of pure skill by bullying his opponents both with physically and verbally. He would do literally anything he could to get an edge on his opponents, like this instance with Karl Malone:
Rodman was such a dirty player throughout his career that the Youtube Channel Hoops Fun was able to make a great top 10 video of the Worm’s fights and altercations that’s almost 8 minutes long:
#2 Bill Laimbeer
When you are the most hated member of the Bad Boy Pistons, arguably one of the most hated teams ever and a team featuring Dennis Rodman, like Bill Laimbeer unquestionably was, there’s no denying your status as a premier villain in the national basketball association’s history books.
Laimbeer was arguably the dirtiest player ever, constantly throwing elbows, cheap punches and insults at any and every opponent. What made him even more hateable than the guys previously mentioned on this list is the fact that he would feign complete ignorance and innocence anytime a ref caught him in the act.
Probably his favorite target for dirty play was Larry Bird and Laimbeer was one of if not the only player that was able to get under Larry Legend’s skin regularly. Probably the most famous example of this is game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals:
In addition to all of that, as if his dirty physical play didn’t already cement his villainry, Laimbeer popularized and arguably invented something that is used by many players in today’s NBA and universally despised by fans: the flop.
#1 Ron Artest
Ahh Ron Artest aka Metta World Peace aka Pandas Friend. As someone who grew up mostly on 2000s basketball, Ron Ron is truly the epitome of an NBA villain. I’m pretty sure every true basketball fan remembers exactly where they were November 19th 2004, i.e. the Malice in the Palace:
That moment where Artest jumps into the stands after getting a beer thrown at his face arguably caused the rule changes that have led to the essential entire ban of physical play and hard defense to give us the modern NBA that many fans and former players deem soft. In addition, this incident would earn Artest a 75 game suspension (the rest of the 2003-2004 season) that is still the longest suspension handed out in NBA history.
With that being said, Artest was anything but soft. As if you couldn’t figure it out watching the Malice in the Palace above, Ron Ron was an absolute lunatic who, despite being one of the best 2-way players in the league throughout his career, constantly threw out elbows and committed several dirty fouls. His most infamous instance of (player-on-player) violence is definitely his elbow to James Harden’s face:
*Villain Prospect Watch: Grayson Allen*
While I’ll admit simply playing for the Duke Blue Devils will make even Superman look like a douchey villain in most basketball fan’s eyes, Grayson Allen would be a villain whether he played for Duke or for the Peace Core’s official basketball team.
Grayson’s dirty play got so bad this year that he was indefinitely suspended by Coach K. To add fuel to Allen’s villain fire, the suspension was lifted after just one game in true Duke fashion.
Now if you’re just an NBA fan and don’t pay attention to college ball at all you might be wondering what Grayson does that makes him so hateable and such a dirty player. Well, my friends, that would be the way he has perfected the art of tripping other players:
Keep in mind Grayson is a junior who only logged 9.6 minutes per game as a freshman, so all of the incidents in that video are from just 2 full seasons of college ball. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not an NBA team gives him a shot after his senior season and whether or not Grayson will bring his tripping and dirty play to basketball’s top league.