Top 20 NBA “Bad Boys” of All Time

Introduction

The NBA bad boy persona is one fans hate, coaches stress over, and teammates love. Defined by their trash-talking, physical style of play, off-court lifestyle, and arguments with coaches, bad boys have been apart of the NBA since its inception. Often the glue to their championship teams, these players instilled fear into their opponents who faced them. These are also guys that move through life with their own set of rules. This list will highlight these talented but baggage-carrying players.

#20 ZaZa Pachulia

ZaZa has toed the line of clumsy and dirty on numerous occasions. There was the famous incident where he fell onto Russell Westbrook’s lower leg after getting “tangled” with Nick Young’s feet. There was the even more famous incident where he stepped under Kawhi Leonard’s landing spot on a corner three, forcing Leonard to miss the entire postseason and the Spurs to lose the playoff series. While his teammates such as Kevin Durant have called it clumsiness, other neutral parties like Kyrie Irving have called the incidents “unacceptable”. With these incidents in mind, I tend to lean dirty.

#19 Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk is on this list for the very same reason as ZaZa Pachulia. He was the main piece in the infamous brawl after shoving Kelly Oubre Jr. into the stands. This of course happened in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on national TV. Before this event, Olynyk dislocated Kevin Love’s shoulder in the 2015 playoffs. In the incident, Kelly Olynyk pulled Kevin Love’s arm away from a potential rebound but wouldn’t let go of it. He used the same maneuver with Brook Lopez. There are just too many weird incidents with Olynyk’s name at the front and center. While he has turned it around with the Heat, people shouldn’t forget his involvement in some of the most controversial incidents in the past decade.

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#18 Matt Barnes

Matt Barnes is one of the most polarizing players on the list and truly personifies a “love-hate” relationship. He was beloved by his teammates for his incredible loyalty and willingness to put his reputation on the line while also loved by fans for raising awareness against cancer. However, he was hated by opponents for his nagging trash-talking, technical fouls, and aggressive defense. Off the court, he headlined many nightclub incidents and engaged in arguments with fans. His most famous incident occurred when he drove over 100 miles to fight Derek Fisher. Matt Barnes was one of a kind.

#17 Patrick Beverley

Patrick Beverley is the modern NBA’s version of a bad boy. The late second pick had to make a name for himself in the NBA and choose to focus his game around tenacious defensive intensity. Beverley often plays tight full-court press on his guys and is one of the leagues most voracious trash talkers. He’s famous for his feud with Russell Westbrook after he injured the point guard’s knee, sinking the Thunder’s playoff chances in the process. Beverley is that game-changing pit bull-type of player, one that will always be at the center of skirmishes and brawls.

#16 Stephen Jackson

I had to include Stephen Jackson on the list given his role in the Malice at the Palance – one of the biggest sports altercations in history. Jackson was fined for his role in jumping into the stands and making contact with a fan. However, Jackson’s bad-boy persona did not end there. Jackson was known as an avid trash-talker to not only his teammates but also to the refs. He was consistently in the top five in technical fouls and has dissed quite a few players like Chandler Parsons and Tony Parker in his post-NBA analyst position.

#15 Chris “Birdman” Andersen

Chris “Birdman” Andersen makes this list because of his unconventional style, swagger, and approach to life. He lit up screens with his bird-shaped mohawk, vivid tattoos, and feisty attitude on the court. While a great teammate, many NBA players hated going up against the Birdman because he played with a physicality missing in the modern NBA. His effort when on the court – coupled with his feisty nature which led to many technical fouls were some of the few incidents that solidified himself as a “bad boy”.

#14 Gary Payton

Gary Payton is considered by many to be the NBA’s greatest trash talker and, for that reason, has to make the list. While 6’4’’ and only 180 pounds, Gary ‘the glove” Payton never backed down from a fight. The guard was known for talking about people’s mothers, personal situations, and underground scandals. Here’s a quote from Gary Payton himself: “If I knew something about a person’s mother, if he had just gotten a drunk driving charge, I would go at the situation. It might be cruel to some people but I would go at it.” Yes indeed it was cruel and a definitive characteristic of a “bad boy”.

#13 Ben Wallace

Often considered the piece that brought back the attitude of the old Detroit Pistons, Ben Wallace easily fits the mold of a bad boy. Coming into the league undrafted, Wallace had a massive chip on his shoulder and used this chip to make himself known on the defensive side of the floor. He brought a blue-collar approach to the sport – tough, physical-minded defensive with a side of attitude. He was continuously the center of hard fouls and technicals which opponents did not take likely. While Wallace wasn’t “dirty”, his attitude, trash-talking, rough play would have been embraced by the original bad boy Pistons. I mean his shove started the Malice at the Palace.

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#12 Rick Mahorn

A former bad boy Piston, Rick Mahorn made a name for himself after he left the Pistons. He was an immense trash-talker who along with Bill Laimbeer welcomed flagrant fouls. However, his most infamous incident occurred in the infamous 76ers-Pistons brawl. Mahorn, a now 76er, was fouled hard by former teammate Dennis Rodman. After an interjection by Bill Laimbeer, a full-on brawl had emerged, leaving both benches empty and Mahorn and fellow bad boys Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, and Bill Laimbeer at the middle of it. This event and Mahorn’s presence on the Bad Boy Pistons brought him on this list.

#11 Isaiah Rider

Isaiah Rider makes this list more for his off-the-court incidents than on-the-court behavior. While he was a trash-talking and racked his share of technical fouls, Rider wasn’t involved in egregious dirty plays or brawls. Instead, Rider jumped from team to team due to gambling in public, marijuana possession, and assault on a female sports bar manager. His worst incident came after showing up late to a game, and instead of serving the suspension, asked for his immediate release. Rider’s off-court antics put him on this list.

#10 Draymond Green

Draymond Green is the heart and soul of the Golden State Warriors and a key figure in their championship success in the mid-2010s. Green received this accolade for his loud persona, in-your-face attitude, physical style of play, and on-court altercations. Green’s the most vocal and emotional guy on the court using that vocal energy to get under guys skin ex. Tristan Thompson in the 2017 finals. He’s berated refs on the sidelines and constantly has to monitor his technical fouls at the end of seasons. His louder than life persona deserves a spot on this list.

#9 Rasheed Wallace

Rasheed Wallace was the second member of the Detroit Pistons new-attitude era in the early 2000s. While Ben Wallace was the more physical player in the trenches, Rasheed Wallace was known for his cheap shots, vocal arguments with referees, and technical fouls always causing him to miss games. He’s racked up an insane 304 technical fouls an NBA record. He also shattered the single-season technical foul record at 41 in the 2000-2001 season. Wallace made record books for his bad boy style of play and, thus, deserves to be on this list.

#8 Latrell Sprewell

Latrell Sprewell makes this list for chocking his then coach PJ Carlesimo in 1997. The incident led Sprewell to serve a 68-game suspension. During that time, Sprewell was placed under house arrest for reckless driving and endangerment. His post-NBA playing career was also marked with controversy as has faced a slew of financial trouble and incidents. While on the court, players knew not to mess with Sprewell because of the choking incident. No bad boy on this list has gone this far with a coach and that is why Sprewell makes this list.

#7 Karl Malone

Karl Malone is a controversial figure in the NBA. Aside from his sexual assault allegations – which I won’t go any more in-depth – Malone was a menacing figure on the court known for his vicious cheap shots. One, in particular, came against Detroit Pistons guard Isaiah Thomas. Regarded as the dirtiest shot in NBA history, Malone sent a vicious elbow to the eye, landing Isaiah Thomas in the hospital with 40 stitches in his eye. Coupled with his trash-talking, Malone meets the criteria of an NBA bad boy.

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#6 Charles Barkley

Charles Barkley deserves to be on this list plain and simple. From his on-the-court aggressive play, scrappiness, and loudmouth to his bachelor lifestyle off the court, Barkley has been one of the most unique personalities in all of the sports. Barkley has been charged with throwing a man threw a bar window, faced huge gambling debts, and engaged in larger-than-life parties. His role as an analyst has seen Barkeley be unafraid to share his opinion or perspective on a situation. He’s called guys out and been downright mean in the process.

#5 Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson is an NBA legend and an all-time great. Part of this greatness stems from his competitive spirit, toughness, and heart he played with. What makes him a bad boy is the frequent arguments he got into with teammates and coaches, and his malicious trash talking. He wasn’t afraid to speak his own opinion with his infamous “Practice” press conference and released a rap song with controversial lyrics that the NBA condemned. Allen Iverson was always at the center of controversy and, thus, deserves to be on this list.

#4 Charles Oakley

Charles Oakley was one of those tough, physical-minded players that toed the line between tough and dirty. Oakley was beloved by fans and teammates for the energy he brought to the defensive side of the ball, but this same energy irritated opposing players. Oakley frequently got into fights with opposing teams. His most infamous brawl came when he body-slammed Charles Barkley into the ground and exchanged punches. Off-the-court, he was involved in a strange dispute with owner James Dolan, receiving a lifetime ban from the arena. Oakley is a bad boy all the way.

#3 Bill Laimbeer

While a calm and pleasant man off the court, Laimbeer makes this list solely for his on-the-court style of play. The heart and soul of the original Detroit Pistons bad boys team, Laimbeer was never afraid to play physical and commit hard fouls. While Pistons fans loved Laimbeer, he was universally hated within NBA circles. Embracing the villain role, Laimbeer changed the game by instituting the flop and flagrant foul criteria. Changing the game this much and being the heart and soul of the Bad Boy Pistons makes him very deserving of a spot on this list.

#2 Dennis Rodman

When you think of the phrase bad boy, Dennis Rodman has to come to mind. A bad boy is defined by their eccentric personality, bachelor lifestyle, and rule-breaking attitude. From his tattoos, piercings, and colored hair to his run-ins with the law and high-profile affairs lived life as a bad-boy off the court. On the court, Rodman often fought with officials, teammates, and opposing big men, landing him with fines, ejections, and suspensions. If not for the Malice at the Palace, Rodman would have been number one on the list.

#1 Metta World Peace

Ron Artest hated his bad-boy label so much that he had to change his name to Metta World Peace. But his label was not without just cause; he’s arguably more eccentric than Dennis Rodman. Peace has faced suspensions for promoting an album, given weird interviews, and changed his name numerous times. His most famous incident was his assault on a fan during the Malice of the Palace. It didn’t stop there with a shot cheap shot against James Harden’s head in the latter stages of his career. Metta World Peace is a fascinating individual who most certainly deserves the top spot.

  
Miles Jasper is an incoming law student studying employment and labor law. Miles’ passions lie within the salary cap, collective bargaining, and labor relations between leagues and their players. He also likes to analyze college prospects and participate in fantasy sports. In his free time, Miles is an avid runner who also enjoys poker, cooking, and watching movies.

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