Everybody seems to love a bad boy, especially NBA fans. Those fans who don’t love a bad boy at least love to hate them. Over the years, the NBA has seen plenty of players who can be characterized as bad boys. These aren’t necessarily dirty players but rather players who aren’t afraid to trash talk, aren’t afraid to be controversial, and have no problem playing the villain. These players knew they were polarizing and hated but were happy to embrace it. Quite frankly, the NBA could use a few more bad boys nowadays, and so, let’s look back at some of the most notorious bad boys in NBA history.
If you saw Barkley play, you know that he played basketball with a little bit of an edge. That was probably the case because he was a little bit of a misfit. He wasn’t as thin or agile as most small forward nor was he as tall as most power forwards. However, Barkley made it work because he was a physical player who was aggressive and intense on the floor. It’s those same traits that gave him the reputation for being a bad boy who was always ready to mix it up with opponents.
On more than one occasion, Barkley was involved in an on-court fight. Even off the court, he would get mixed up in some extra-circular activities, including the time he threw a guy through a bar window, later stating his only regret about the incident is that he didn’t throw the man from a higher floor. Of course, the things that made Barkley a bad boy also made him one of the best power forwards to ever play the game. At the time of his retirement, he was just one of four players in NBA history to rack up 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists in his career, which is no small feat.
Iverson was also destined to become a bad boy in the NBA. When he was still in high school, Iverson was involved in an infamous incident at a bowling alley in Virginia that landed him in jail. As we know, that wouldn’t be the last time he got people’s attention for something he did off the court. His famous comments about the importance of “practice” and his propensity for wearing gaudy jewelry didn’t exactly paint him as a wholesome, hard-working player. Iverson was also known to exchange words with both other players and the media, adding to his reputation as being a self-centered bad boy.
But putting all of that aside, there is no doubt that the guy had game. He became the shortest player in NBA history to be drafted no. 1 overall, and that lack of size may have put a chip on his shoulder. Iverson always played like he had something to prove, and when he proved himself, he let his opponents know about it with his trash talk. Naturally, that got him into trouble and earned him his reputation for being a bad boy. However, that’s exactly who Iverson is as a person, and he found a way to make it work for him on the court.
Would a bad boy rack up technical fouls like they were going out of style? The answer is obviously yes, which is exactly why Wallace fits the textbook definition of a bad boy. He holds the all-time NBA record for technical fouls with 317, as well as the single-season record with 41, which means he essentially got one every two games. Both records are probably as safe as Wallace’s reputation as a bad boy with a bad temper. Even when he wasn’t arguing calls with refs to get himself all of those technicals, he was talking trash with other players, including the famous line “balls don’t lie,” which he said after Goran Dragić missed a free throw after Wallace received a technical.
However, it’d be a tad unfair to paint Wallace has nothing but a bad boy. Yes, all of his technical fouls and subsequent ejections probably cost his teams a few wins over the years. But he was also a great player who was named to the All-Star Team four times. Wallace was a fierce rebounder and defender who made a big difference during the second half of the 2003-04 season after being traded to Detroit, playing an important role in the Pistons winning the NBA championship that year. At times, his bad-boy antics were a distraction and a detriment, but Wallace usually made up for it when he managed to avoid technicals and stay on the court.
It doesn’t get much worse than choking your coach over a disagreement, which is why Sprewell will forever go down as one of the biggest bad boys in NBA history. As the story goes, Sprewell didn’t take kindly to Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo telling him to put a little more zip on his passes, and when Carlesimo approached him, Sprewell assaulted him, chocking him for close to 10 seconds before his teammates could pull him off. He ended up being suspended for the rest of the season after the Warriors voided the rest of his contract.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only time Sprewell found himself in trouble. He somehow got a second chance with the Knicks after the choking incident but continued to have problems. In addition to walking out of team meetings and arriving late for games, he showed up to training camp with a broken hand, declining to tell the Knicks beforehand. Getting lost in the shuffle is the fact that Sprewell was a four-time all-star, although three came before the incident with Carlesimo. However, the chocking incident changed the entire course of his career. Afterward, Sprewell was forever viewed as a bad boy and one of the most feared players in the league, not because of his ability but because of his volatility and temper.
It might be impossible for any NBA player to top Rodman as the NBA’s biggest bad boy of all-time. At the same time, there’s probably no other player who could ever embrace that reputation the way Rodman did. After all, he called his autobiography Bad As I Wanna Be. Rodman looked the part of a bad boy with his body covered with tattoos and piercings, not to mention his always-changing hair color. He also played the part of a bad boy on the court, always getting into scuffles with opponents and arguing with refs, receiving more than his fair share of game ejections. In some of his more serious incidents, Rodman head-butted an official and also kicked a cameraman positioned on the baseline in his most sensitive area.
The bottom line is they didn’t call him “The Worm” for nothing, and if you weren’t following the NBA while Rodman was an active player, you missed out on quite the show. However, his antics and downright weird behavior both on and off the court were usually worth it. Rodman was one of the best defensive players and rebounders of his generation and perhaps all-time. He led the NBA in rebounds for seven straight seasons from 1992 to 1998 and was twice named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. Perhaps more importantly, he was part of five teams that won an NBA championship, including Chicago’s three-peat from 1996 to 1998. When his playing days were over, Rodman continued to embrace his persona as a bad boy and villain as a pro wrestler and reality TV star, proving that once a bad boy, always a bad boy.