Sports fans love to idolize players. Their overall passion means they constantly pour their hearts into supporting their superstars. There’s something special about an elite athlete carrying the love of an entire city. But when they break that trust, these stars can quickly go from hero to villain.
Today, we looked at some of the most infamous stories in NBA history. Most of these athletes broke their fans’ hearts by moving to other franchises for money or to chase rings. Others made controversial choices that prevented them from even stepping onto the court. Check out the list below via Bleacher Report.
25. Ben Simmons
Philadelphia is arguably the toughest city to become endeared as a sports star in the United States. Fans maintain passionate support for their teams but also turn toxic very quickly. Simmons discovered this the hard way in 2021. The 76ers star was viewed as the future of the franchise but then it all went wrong. However, it’s easy to forget that the franchise unsettled him by considering a trade for James Harden.
Then, Simmons’ form deteriorated drastically. He played badly through the postseason before it all came to a head during the offseason (via CBS Sports). Simmons failed to report to their training camp before refusing to attend media duties. When he finally showed up, he refused to engage at all. Coach Doc Rivers kicked him out and suspended him for acting out. He quickly became the villain of the franchise even if it wasn’t entirely his fault.
Irving knows how to infuriate a franchise better than anybody else in the NBA. Before he annoyed every Nets fan, he wreaked havoc in Boston. There’s no doubting his skill because he’s one of the best in the league on his day. But he is also a mercenary with some dubious opinions. Everybody thought that the Celtics had the makings of a new superteam but then Irving spurned them.
They expected him to sign a new contract and drive the franchise to glory. He had teammates like Jayson Tatum and Al Horford but the Nets turned his head. Irving went from hero to villain in Boston in the blink of an eye (via Forbes). He had the chance to be a franchise icon but he opted to chase the money and the glory in New York. Maybe the Celtics dodged a bullet in the end.
It looked like the Toronto Raptors and Carter were a match made in heaven. The franchise drafted him in 1998 and he quickly emerged as one of the league’s best players. After becoming the face of the city, he set multiple records and became a five-time All-Star. However, he wanted more and requested a trade in 2002. But the Raptors weren’t forthcoming so Carter shut down.
While he did suffer injury woes, Carter definitely embellished some of them. His general lack of effort was obvious because he just didn’t care anymore (via SBNation). Meanwhile, he allegedly told other teams the plays Toronto was about to run. In sum, he bullied the franchise into allowing him to leave. Finally, the Raptors accepted and sent him to New Jersey in one of the most one-sided trades in NBA history. He was definitely a villain at that point.
Harden instantly became a massive villain in Texas after he ditched Houston for Brooklyn in 2020. He initially fell out with Oklahoma City but that was somewhat understandable because he wanted to be the main man. In Houston, he definitely achieved that role. The team was effectively in his image but that wasn’t enough for “The Beard.”
He forced an exit in 2020 after turning up to training camp late. The L.A. native made it clear that the Nets were his first-choice destination and he duly got his wish. Houston sent him north as part of a four-team trade (via Sporting News). But he had irrevocably damaged his image in the city after becoming one of their most iconic stars. It’s a shame that he threw away his legacy, but he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
Garnett is another player who became synonymous with one franchise before turning his back on them. He played for Minnesota for 12 seasons before leaving the organization for the Boston Celtics. The NBA icon made it clear he was chasing rings. He also had an increasingly unworkable relationship with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. This effectively killed fans’ hopes of Garnett ending his career in Minneapolis (via Bleacher Report).
He succeeded in his mission to win an NBA Championship in 2008. Insanely, the Celtics retired his No. 5 jersey before Minnesota made any kind of similar gesture. However, the 15-time All-Star’s connection to the franchise became so fractious that it just wasn’t possible. Fans forgave Garnett as time passed by but initially, they treated him as one of the league’s biggest villains.
Thomas led the Detroit Pistons with distinction during their ’80s heyday as ‘The Bad Boys.’ It’s too bad that we can’t stop here because he eventually turned from hero to villain. New York fans loath Thomas because he brought the franchise to its knees. After failing as coach of the Pacers, the Knicks handed him another chance. First, they made him their President of Basketball Operations.
But this was disastrous because their wage bill inflated and their results got worse. Somehow they thought it was a good idea to make him head coach but it wasn’t. They missed out on the playoffs in both of his seasons in charge. Meanwhile, he harassed a female executive during his tenure in the Big Apple. She successfully sued the franchise for almost $12 million (via Yahoo Sports).
Sprewell’s clash with coach P.J. Carlesimo is the stuff of legend. He was one of the Warriors’ biggest stars and helped inspire them to the postseason in 1994. Clearly, he was one of their best players but his time in San Francisco ended very badly. An argument broke out between the player and head coach during practice. Suddenly, Carlesimo found Sprewell’s hands around his neck.
The NBA didn’t take kindly to this and slammed him with a massive 82-game ban and a huge fine (via ESPN). Converse also ended their sponsorship deal with him. This was the beginning of a descent into darkness for Sprewell because he was embroiled in many chaotic situations. He missed the start of the season for the Knicks after he broke his hand fighting on his yacht during a party.
Allen was part of an iconic unit of Celtics stars. He helped the franchise win the championship in 2008 alongside Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. This should have been the start of a dynasty but Miami came calling. His teammates saw this as a massive betrayal because they were major rivals at the time. He turned down a more lucrative Boston contract to sign with the Heat.
Former teammate Rajan Rondo said that Allen remains a persona non grata. He didn’t even invite the NBA villain to a team reunion. “It will be a long story about that, but it is what it is,” Rondo told The Undefeated. “I don’t know a good analogy to put this in. It just wasn’t the greatest separation. It wasn’t the greatest thing that could’ve happened to us as a team, a bond. We were at war with those guys. To go with the enemy, that’s unheard of in sports.”
Paul is one of the most polarizing figures in the NBA. First, he’s one of the greatest point guards in history. He also took the Suns within touching distance of a championship. But he left New Orleans in extremely controversial circumstances when it looked like he would join the Lakers. However, that move never happened and Lakers fans grew to loathe him (via The Sportster).
It didn’t help that he joined their local rivals, the Clippers. Furthermore, Paul has a reputation for being a bad teammate. Rajon Rondo is adamant that Paul is not a good person. He said: “Everyone wants to believe Chris Paul is a good guy. They don’t know he’s a horrible teammate. They don’t know how he treats people.” In short, Paul is apparently more of a villain than he appears.
Young is an NBA villain for the modern era. He followed in the footsteps of Reggie Miller by driving the Knicks crazy. The Hawks star destroyed his opponents before bowing to the crowd at MSG. Instantly, the Atlanta hero became a hate figure in the Big Apple. It was perfect theatre because he created he immediately created a new image for himself. And that’s good for business.
Reggie Miller explained how he felt about the villain role. He said: “I embraced wearing the black hat, and it kind of looks like Trae enjoys being on the road, performing at the highest stakes and quieting crowds (via Outkick).” He’s correct because these different characters and storylines make the NBA more interesting. But Young must back it up or fall on his face.
Malone is arguably the Utah Jazz’s greatest-ever player but that doesn’t make him a good human being. In fact, posterity doesn’t look back kindly on this villain. He boasts many Jazz franchise records but he also behaved horribly on the court and in his life off the court. First, he was an exceptionally dirty player. Then there is his repugnant treatment of women. When he was 20, he impregnated a 13-year-old girl.
It’s safe to say he wouldn’t have gotten away with that in the modern world. He also had twins with his partner with they were both 17. But he signed away his rights to the children because he didn’t want to acknowledge them. It wasn’t until they reached middle age that he wanted to meet his grandchildren. Finally, he allegedly made a pass at Vanessa Bryant in 2004 (via The Daily Beast).
Boozer is one of those players who didn’t appreciate what he had. He thought that he was amazing but he was basically a Walmart version of LeBron James. Cavs fans appreciated Boozer because he added a lot to the team. But they grew to hate him over time. His status deteriorated when contract negotiations between the player and the franchise fell apart (via Fansided).
The Utah Jazz offered him an $80 million contract that was too good to refuse. That’s reasonable but there was one problem. He had already verbally committed to the Cavs. However, there was nothing on the dotted line so he was able to walk away. This infuriated the city of Cleveland. For a few years, he became the most loathed NBA player to quit the franchise until a certain King James.
On paper, Crittenton is the biggest villain on this list because he’s serving a 23-year sentence for manslaughter. However, the main reason why he’s on this list is because of his clash with Gilbert Arenas. The pair were teammates in Washington D.C. when their feud escalated spectacularly. A card game on a team flight became something much more toxic after Crittenton lost money.
It resulted in Arenas bringing four unloaded guns into the team locker room the following week. But Crittenton aimed his own loaded weapon at his teammate (via ABC News). The Wizards’ star never played basketball again because he continued to have trouble with the law. A gang-related shooting ended with him serving time behind bars. Also, it meant that fans only hear Arenas’ side of the story.
Miller enjoyed 18 seasons with the Indiana Pacers, where he was definitely a hero. But not every team had the same respect for the five-time All-Star. In fact, the Knicks loathed him because he antagonized their team and fans every time he traveled to Madison Square Garden. He once went for eight points in 11 seconds against his fierce rivals and was even the subject of a documentary.
The Pacers’ all-time great explained that he relished his status as one of the league’s most hated players. “Becoming the villain, that’s almost bestowed upon you,” Miller told Sports Illustrated. “It was bestowed upon me from my clashes with the New York Knicks. Not everyone is going to be able to wear the white hat and be cheered and adored in important buildings.”
The man formerly known as Ron Artest was one of the Pacers’ best players. Then he played a central role in the infamous ‘Malice at the Palace’ and enshrined himself as an NBA villain. The NBA slammed him with a record 86-game ban after the incident but his franchise stood by him. However, his teammates were disgusted when he requested a trade after his suspension ended.
This infuriated everybody because he demonstrated no loyalty to his team (via ESPN). As a result, he moved to the Sacramento Kings before going on a tour of the NBA. As well as this wild incident, Artest lost a lot of respect after a domestic violence conviction. He actually served over 20 days in jail because of the incident. Then, a court cited him for cruelty to animals after he starved his Great Dane. In sum, he’s not a good guy.
Riley is the only coach on this list but he’s here for a very good reason. He was in charge of the New York Knicks for one of the most exciting periods of their recent history. The Hall of Famer led the Knicks for four seasons in the early 1990s. They made the postseason every year and even played in the Finals but lost against the Rockets. It appeared as though they were in touching distance of a win but it never came.
Suddenly, Riley was gone. He sent a fax saying that he wanted total control over the team and a controlling stake in the franchise. Then, he went on a merry jaunt to Greece. Riley never coached the Knicks again because he took charge of the Miami Heat in 1995 (via Sportscasting). Meanwhile, Riley became an instant villain because fans resented the way he walked out on their team.
In hindsight, it’s remarkable that Bryant’s reputation recovered to the extent that the media almost deified him after his death. The incident in 2003 tarnished his image in the eyes of many because it was very shady. A 19-year-old hotel concierge accused him of violating her in his hotel room. Bryant was the NBA’s golden boy at the time but this instantly turned him into a villain.
The case didn’t go to trial because a judge believed the victim was unfit to face questioning. However, Bryant and his attorneys settled with her in a civil suit. “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way that I did,” Bryant said in an infamous statement. This came after he admitted to adultery (via ABC News).
In 2015, Jordan agreed to sign a new four-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks. The deal was worth $80 million and fans were excited to keep one of their best players. Meanwhile, Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban breathed a sigh of relief. But then Jordan stunned the NBA when he did a faster U-turn than a race car driver. The Brooklyn Nets swooped in and offered him $88 million over the same time period.
Jordan duly accepted and rode out of Texas like Lee Van Cleef in a Spaghetti Western. Instantly, he sealed his status as a villain in Dallas because he betrayed their trust. Incredibly, Jordan even acknowledged this because he tweeted an apology to Cuban (via Bleacher Report). However, the owner wasn’t impressed and refused to accept the apology. That’s because he didn’t think that Jordan even wrote it.
Usually, nobody blames a top player for leaving a weaker franchise at the end of their contract. But fans cannot accept it when athletes mess around and act as though they’re going to stay. That’s exactly what Howard did before he abandoned Orlando for the Lakers. He became a Magic hero when he inspired them to a Finals against his future team. But he became frustrated when they failed to build on this.
That’s understandable but his later antics were unforgivable. Howard’s demands effectively saw Orlando’s GM and head coach lose their jobs. Furthermore, he made it impossible for them to achieve his full trade value. Instantly, he became one of the most hated figures in the NBA (via Orlando Sentinel). Everybody in Orlando considers him a villain because of his lack of loyalty.
Arenas was the second half of one of the most moronic lockerroom incidents in sports history. After Javaris Crittenton annoyed him at a card game, the Wizards star came back with four unloaded guns. He told his teammate to pick one of them. But he didn’t expect Crittenton to whip out his own pistol and threaten him with it. The reason Arenas ranks higher is because he was a better player.
Allegedly, Arenas also threatened to burn Crittenton’s car with him in it. He was the face of the franchise at the time and a three-time All-Star. But this was the beginning of the end of his tenure in Washington. Needless to say, the league and local law enforcement didn’t take kindly to his antics. He received a lengthy suspension as well as two years’ probation (via USA Today).
The hometown hero instantly turned to villain when he made ‘The Decision.’ This became one of the most notorious moments in NBA history because of James’s stature in the sport. However, he decided that he wasn’t in a position to win a ring in his native Cleveland. That’s why he departed for Miami in 2010, where he earned two of them. But Cavs fans felt betrayed and burned his jerseys in the street (via Sportscasting).
Eventually, James returned and healed his relationship with his hometown after helping them to an elusive championship. They accepted his second departure to the Lakers and recognized the different circumstances. But his initial decision to leave provoked an incredibly visceral reaction. Fans hated him for the decision and the team owner made sure to rub it in.
There was a time when O’Neal was the best player in the NBA, but he overstayed his welcome in L.A. This is all about his relationship with Kobe Bryant or lack of one. O’Neal was the face of the Lakers but the rise of the “Black Mamba” threatened this status. That’s why ‘Shaq’ undermined his teammate and attempted to bully him as he came off as a villain. But Bryant’s brilliance continued to shine.
In the end, fans were relieved when O’Neal left the franchise for the Miami Heat. It was better for the team because the drama was gone. Shaq’s form had gradually deteriorated as injuries and age caught up with him. After Bryant’s death, O’Neal revealed his personal shame. “The thing that hurt me was all the stuff that I wanted to say, I hadn’t said it. I never said it,” he told USA Today.
There’s no denying that Leonard is one of the biggest mercenaries in the NBA. He goes from franchise to franchise in pursuit of rings and riches. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because elite athletes have short careers. But the manner in which he departed San Antonio definitely rankled their fanbase. They expected him to stay put when he ditched them for the Toronto Raptors.
Now some analysts believe that he is lowkey sneaky. “Kawhi Leonard is a guy who throws stones and hides his hand. And when it comes down to it, we have let him off the hook for too long,” ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins said. “He’s a guy that flies under the radar and has been doing sneaky stuff, been getting catered to, and just because he’s quiet we don’t address him.”
It’s ironic that the most-hated players were often the most loved. That’s the case of Durant who was an icon in Oklahoma City before he quit the franchise. When he departed, fans burnt and even blew up his jerseys because they felt such a sense of betrayal. The Golden State Warriors were delighted to bring the 10-time All-Star to the West Coast. But they didn’t know that he would betray them too.
His on-court feud with teammate Draymond Green in 2020 revealed what everybody knew (via Clutchpoints). Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets with a cloud hanging over him. The reason he provokes such a passionate reaction is that he’s a brilliant player. But he’s definitely out for himself which is something that fans can’t accept. That’s why he’s well and truly earned villain status.
It’s safe to say that the Brooklyn Nets didn’t expect this when they rolled the red carpet out for Irving. They attempted to create an instant contender by bringing Irving, Durant, and finally, James Harden to New York. Immediately, there was talk of a new NBA superteam but then Irving threw a spanner in the works. He missed most of his first season because of injuries.
Then the Nets fell short in the playoffs against the Bucks. However, Irving made the full transition to villain after refusing to accept a vaccine in 2021 (via FOX Sports). This went against New York state mandates and meant that the Nets couldn’t play him. It was a very frustrating position for the franchise because there was nothing that they could do except look at trade options.