Pro basketball players don’t always play fair. Like it or not, that’s the truth. Some of the very best NBA stars are also excellent at the dark arts as well. That’s as true for basketball as it is for every other sport. So today, we’re going to concentrate on NBA players renowned for their mastery of the more ‘questionable’ aspects of playing the game.
Some of these stars were phenomenal talents who also knew how to commit ‘invisible fouls’ to great effect. Others were defensive experts for whom the occasional foul was just part of the territory. Finally, you have the crazies who lived on the edge and would just snap with dramatic results. Check out our list of the dirtiest players in NBA history right here:
24. Michael Jordan
Everybody knows the legend that is Jordan. His shoes have been on sale for over 20 years. How many other athletes will ever have the same amount of influence? MJ is a six-time NBA champion and a 14-time All-Star. In short, he’s one of the greatest to play the sport and a true marketing gamechanger.
But Jordan would also be the first to say that if you didn’t cheat, you weren’t trying. He was superb at invisible fouls. Basically, this is when you use your body to disguise the illegal move you’re doing. For every 10 fouls he committed, he was probably only caught once.
Bell is on this list because he is one of the most aggressive players in NBA history. Every game he played was an emotional rollercoaster that may see him doing something crazy. In short, his lack of self-control makes him so compelling as an individual.
Remember the time he clotheslined Kobe Bryant? Bell did whatever it took to win. That attack came after Bryant slyly elbowed him several times during the playoffs in 2006. He also infamously kicked Italian NBA star Andrea Bargnani in 2007. Now retired, he was a great defender despite his volatile nature.
Rondo is a real nasty gremlin of a player. The Lakers star had his best days with the Boston Celtics but is still going strong at the age of 33. They say that small dogs are more aggressive than bigger ones because they feel constantly threatened. Maybe Rondo was the same.
Many opponents on the other team wanted to punch him, but he’s the type of player every team needs. He once sent Kirk Heinrich flying into the scorers’ table and got away with it. Rondo also famously invaded the Miami Heat’s huddle, causing chaos. That’s the type of player he is.
The Lakers star was one of the greatest players of his generation. But he was also capable of being exceptionally dirty. In sum, his methods were straight out of the Michael Jordan playbook. Like the Bulls legend, he was a master of getting away with fouls. That’s a talent in and of itself.
Bryant was also brilliant at winding up opponents. Not only was he liberal with his elbows, but he also always slapped his marker on the follow-through. He would physically abuse you while scoring points galore. It was a total nightmare to play against him.
One of the pioneers of dirty play, Stockon was good at all of it. He was a master at committing technical fouls and also flopping to the ground like a dying fish. This made him one of the most frustrating players anybody could come up against. A brilliant athlete, but dirtier than a toilet after Thanksgiving dinner.
The Utah Jazz legend is the all-time NBA leader in steals with 3265. That’s 1006 more than Jason Kidd, who is second on the list. Stockton’s physical style of play saw him labeled by Jazz fans as ‘old-school.’ But if you weren’t on his team, it translated to extremely dirty.
When you’re built like Howard, it’s a good idea not to mess with you. Maybe that’s why Howard is such a nice guy because he knows nobody will mess with him. Furthermore, it’s also incredibly difficult to compete with him, because the eight-time All-Star is a physically imposing opponent who knows how to use his bulk.
A three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Howard is fantastic at his job. But let’s be real, sometimes you have to break the rules for your team’s sake. Howard’s star status has seen him get away with a lot of fouls that other players simply wouldn’t. It all depends on the strength of the referee.
Elbows just are not fun. If you were playing against Malone, you could bet that you’re going to be on the receiving end of one of his limbs. ‘The Mailman’ must have thrown thousands of illegal shots throughout his career. This has given the former Utah Jazz man a notorious reputation.
Nobody was safe. Michael Jordan, David Robinson, and Hakeem Olajuwon were three of his most high-profile victims. But a special mention has to go to Isaiah Thomas. Malone left the former Pistons’ man needing 40 stitches after a filthy smash. A great player but not somebody you wanted to be jumping next to.
If your nickname is ‘Oak Tree,’ then it stands to reason that you’re one of the hardest men in the history of the NBA. Somebody should probably have taken a blood sample to make sure he was human because he was tough as teak. Oakley would fight anybody in his path, so you wouldn’t want to be there.
He’s also one of the best rebounders in NBA history. Oakley played over 1000 games in the league and was also famed for his durability. A fierce competitor, he was an All-Star and also an All-Defensive First Teamer. Some players pretend to be tough, but few have Oakley’s natural aura of intimidation.
Another exceptionally nasty piece of work, Garnett had a whole toolbox of cynical tricks. One of his favorite things to do was to slap his opponents in the testicles when went go for a jump shot. That’s actually so bad, it’s hilarious. On the court, you really didn’t know what he was capable of.
Sure, Garnett is one of the greatest power forwards of all-time. He won’t care what anybody says about him. But it’s definitely true that he was as mean as they come on the court. Garnett even called people ‘cancer patients.’ His cynical style was as psychological as it was physical.
Off the court, Mutombo was and is the nicest man in the world. Definitely one of the most legendary and influential international stars in NBA history, his defensive capabilities were fantastic. But you can’t underestimate how dirty he was as well. Let’s talk about his elbows.
Mutombo caused at least 25 separate injuries with his elbows. These injuries included at least five broken noses, several eye injuries, and a number of players needing stitches. It’s a wonder nobody broke his finger when he did his famous wag. Behind that smile is a very tough man.
Now most famous for being Kim Jong Un’s favorite American, Rodman was actually a very good basketball player. It’s easy to forget that because his friendship with the North Korean dictator has made him a joke figure. But Rodman was a filthy power forward more than capable of using the dark arts to his advantage.
Rodman is actually the greatest statistical rebounder in the history of the game. From 1991 to 1998, he averaged nearly four more than anyone else in the league. Elbows, feet, pushing and shoving were all used to great effect. He also lived on the edge. Just ask that cameraman he attacked. Following that, the NBA suspended him for 11 games.
Laimbeer was so aggressive on the court that he actually inspired a video game. That’s right, we’re talking about Bill Laimbeer’s Combat basketball. It actively encouraged violence, kind of like ‘Death Race’ crossed with basketball. This only served to make him an even more mythical, infamous figure.
The Pistons were famous for The Bad Boys in the early ’90s. Laimbeer was their ring leader. Not only did he commit intentional fouls in every game, but he did it with glee. This made him a fan favorite in Detroit but despised by his opponents. Dennis Rodman said he’d be remembered as a thug but Laimbeer was more than that.
O’Neal’s longevity has definitely upped some of the more negative statistics on his record. He finished his career with 10 ejections and an amazing 171 technical fouls. Of course, his mere presence on a basketball court made him literally one of the biggest targets in the division.
Opposing teams would go after ‘Shaq’ because let’s face it, he was brilliant. Occasionally he’d react in violently, like when the time he almost killed Brad Miller. Luckily he didn’t connect because that would have ended very badly for him. But he was also excellent at invisible fouls too.
A veteran of ‘The Malice at the Palace,’ it should come as no surprise that Jackson is on this list. After brawling in the stands with fans, the NBA suspended him for 30 games without pay. They also ordered him to take anger management classes. So of course, he’s one of the most ejected players ever with 11.
Jackson has a tough reputation. But he’s also well-known for being incredibly charming and patient with ordinary people. He took no prisoners on the court but that’s why his fans loved him. If you came up against him, you’d probably not have felt the same way.
One of Michael Jordan’s greatest opponents, Payton is one of the best point guards of all-time. A nine-time All-Star, Payton is also an NBA champion. He had some of the best man-to-man defense in the league, playing with a level of intensity that often rubbed his rivals the wrong way.
His 278 technical fouls are the third-most in NBA history. Meanwhile, he has 11 ejections on his record. But Payton is the only point guard ever to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. Sometimes when you’re playing at Payton’s level, things go wrong. That’s just part of his intense genius.
Barnes played 15 seasons in the NBA and lived on the edge in every one of them. He gained a reputation for being one of the fiercest competitors in the league and was never afraid to have a confrontation with anybody. That’s how he got as well as 32 flagrant fouls on his record.
Once, he went to fight Derek Fisher when Fisher was coaching another team after a petty dispute. In short, Barnes really didn’t care. Remember when he tried to rattle Kobe Bryant by feigning a pass into his face? These are the types of things that got him in trouble more than once.
Miller might not seem like an obvious name but he was the type of player to talk himself into trouble. Officials ejected 12 times during his career. Most of the time it was because he trash-talked his way into trouble. He also committed 175 technical fouls during his career.
He was superb at getting under the skin of his opponents, including the likes of Michael Jordan. Miller was a superb shooter – in fact, one of the best in NBA history – but every legend has a dark side. That’s how the Indiana Pacers legend found himself in trouble more times than he’d like.
One of the dirtiest NBA players since 2010, Smith is currently a free agent. A wide variety of offenses have seen him banned nine times in his career. The list of controversies seems to go on forever. His longest suspension was for violating the terms of the NBA Anti-Drug Program.
Smith is famous for committing fouls. But he’s also been very successful, winning an NBA ring with the Cavaliers. Will that satisfy his victims on the court? The short answer is no; however, Smith won’t care. A real game-changer at times, he was the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year.
A true hothead, Cousins is not the most suspended player ever. But take a look at his record and you can see why he’s so high on this list. Cousins is a savage but has got more stable as he’s got older. In 2014, he infamously punched Patrick Beverley in the stomach. Later that year, the NBA suspended him after 16 technical fouls.
Cousins has struck people in the groin and slammed others in the head with his forehead. Now he’s in trouble off the court with domestic assault allegations. A red mist is always on the forecast when this man is in the area. But he did win four All-Star awards in a row, so he’s doing something right.
When someone tells your mother that you’re a thug, that’s probably when you should take a look in the mirror. Why did Mark Bowen that to Martin’s mom? The short answer is because he is a thug. He has a well-deserved reputation. In short, Martin was one of the NBA’s hardest enforcers.
His style of fouling was very old-school. This meant that there was no attempt to disguise his actions. Ironically, he came into the league as a very athletic player. However, after suffering injuries, he adapted his style of play. Suddenly, the NBA had a really tough player on their hands. That’s why he got 12 ejections.
Wallace was a real record-breaker. But probably not the way that most people would want. He spent his career physically hurting his opponents and verbally abusing officials. In short, he wasn’t the nicest person to step onto a basketball court. But nice doesn’t make you a four-time NBA All-Star or an NBA champion like he is.
The former Trail Blazers and Pistons star holds the NBA all-time record for most technical fouls with 304. He also has the single-season record with 40. One of the most frustrating things about him was the way he’d act innocent after flagrantly fouling somebody. After 29 ejections, you’d think he would haved learned his lesson.
Pierce wasn’t just good at being bad. He also could have had a career in acting because he truly had a flair for the dramatic. Not only did he commit fouls himself, but he was excellent at feigning illegal contact. Honestly, he could have been an Olympic diver because he was so quick to hit the deck.
This is more infuriating because it’s the most cowardly form of foul play. At least when someone roughhouses you, it’s clear-cut. He once needed a bathroom break and faked an injury. The medical staff brought him off in a wheelchair. Two minutes later he was back on playing as if nothing happened. That’s next-level deception.
Statistically one of the dirtiest players in NBA history, Bowen wasn’t just clumsy or crazy. No, this small forward was malicious. In short, this brought his foul play to the next level. At one point, the NBA literally had to warn him to stop committing fouls all the time. He was a master of the dark arts.
It obviously worked for him because he’s a three-time NBA champion and an NBA Defensive Player of the Year. One of his biggest tricks was to stick his foot under his opponent’s feet when they went up for a jump shot. Basically, this ruins ankles and knees. Bowen caused serious injuries to players including Steve Francis and Vince Carter. A wild man.
Has there ever been a man with a more contradictory name? Formerly known as Ron Artest, World Peace is definitely deserving of a place on this list. He was a key player in the infamous ‘Malice at the Palace’ incident. In short, that brawl was the biggest and most violent in NBA history.
However, it’s not just that. The NBA suspended him 13 times for various displays of violent conduct. To sum up, if you get in his way, then you can expect to take a nasty elbow. World Peace was genuinely a great player during his NBA career. But this crafty, wily defender was more than capable of cynical play.