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.