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NBA PM: The NBA’s Best Villains

Joel Brigham looks back at some of the best villains in NBA history and why they were hated.

Joel Brigham

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Derrick Rose will make his return to Chicago on Friday night, and he seems pretty aware of the fact that the fans there aren’t going to be all that happy to see him.

“I know I’m going to get some boos here and there,” Rose told Ian Begley of ESPN.com. “It’s all part of the game, all a part of the sport.”

While it’s hard to predict exactly how Rose will be received when he finds his way back to the United Center, there’s no question that he left the team on terms that weren’t necessarily 100 percent amiable. At Chicago’s media day a year ago, he talked about preserving his body for free agency in 2017 and then clearly spent a good chunk of his last season with the Bulls on cruise control. Between that and all of his injury drama over the course of the last four years, Rose hasn’t necessarily endeared him to fans in Chicago. Some booing is not only possible, it’s likely.

Despite all of that, Rose isn’t a villain in the minds of most Bulls fans, especially with him being so connected to the city off the court. He won an MVP trophy as a Bull and helped return the organization to a respectability unheard of since Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson left the team in 1998. He’ll get booed, but he’s nowhere near the top of the city’s list of most detested visiting players.

There have been plenty of truly great NBA villains over the years. These are guys who annoyed opposing players at the very least, and often injured them physically at worst. They are guys who pestered the hell out of fans and reveled in boos the way most players respond to cheers. In today’s AAU culture, there really aren’t a whole lot of true modern-day NBA villains, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some true, antagonistic gems in the recent past. Here’s a look at the dastardliest of them:

Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers – Just about everybody who knows Reggie Miller loves the guy, and it’s easy to see why. He’s funny and insightful as an analyst, and nobody questions that he was one of the biggest personalities of his era. In New York, though, Miller remains arguably the most hated opposing NBA player of all-time, and with good cause. It would be enough to hate the guy for always playing so well against them (remember eight points in nine seconds?), but the fact that Miller jawed at fans at Madison Square Garden mercilessly only made it worse. In the 1990s, there was no bigger sports heel in New York than Miller, whose choking gesture toward Spike Lee during the 1994 playoffs remains one of the decade’s more entertaining moments.

Rick Barry, Golden State Warriors – Barry was one of his era’s greatest scorers, but he was also, as Dave Hollander of Slate once put it, “the most arrogant, impossible son of a bitch ever to play the game of basketball.” He drove his teammates crazy by hogging the ball and belittling them throughout the course of his career. Robert Parish once said, “[Barry] was always looking down at you.” Former Warriors exec Ken Macker added, “You’ll never find a bunch of players sitting around talking about the good old days with Rick. His teammates and opponents genuinely and thoroughly detested him.” At age 27, Barry wrote his autobiography, and in it he included a quote from his own mother in which she calls him “greedy,” as well as anecdote about him punching a nun. The fact that he left the NBA for more money in the ABA didn’t endear him to fans, either, and of course to this day he’ll apologize for none of this. The guy was great at basketball, but he apparently was so detestable his own teammates couldn’t stand him.

Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics – Maybe the best way to describe Ainge early in his career in Boston was as an “agitator.” He pushed buttons all the time, and it often got him into quite a bit of trouble with the opposing players who felt his play was particularly dirty. He once annoyed seven-foot center Tree Rollins so much in the 1983 playoffs that Rollins threw an elbow at Ainge, which followed with Ainge tackling the gigantic man and instigating a brawl that would result in a frustrated Rollins chomping Ainge’s finger down to the tendon. It was gross, but a perfect illustration of how much this guy got under people’s skin. Ainge got socked a time or two over the course of his career, but he was a good sport about being so abhorred. At the 1987 NBA Finals, he bought an “I Hate Danny Ainge” shirt from opposing fans and wore it for warmups. He was a king among agitators in the 1980s, and he’s still got the scar from that finger nibble to show for it.

Ron Artest, Indiana Pacers – As a person, Metta World Peace really is the best. He’s a goofy, enigmatic dude who speaks his mind and is actually great with the media. People like the guy now that he’s older and has cooled off a bit competitively. But in his prime, Artest did some things that made him one of the most dangerous and hated players in league history, including the “Malice at the Palace” debacle that cost him a full season of peak basketball for a Pacers team that had title aspirations that year. Not only did he leap into the stands to sock a fan he thought threw a beer at him, but the fact that he was laying on the scorers’ table to taunt Ben Wallace and Pistons fans in the first place was the detestable act that led to the tossed booze. Other stories, like the one about how he applied to work at a Circuit City his rookie season in Chicago to get a discount on electronics, are more a testament to what an odd duck Artest can be, but he was a legitimate stinker in the mid-aughts. It was no coincidence, after all, that he was wearing Dennis Rodman’s #91 when he got into the fight that cost him 77 games.

Bill Laimbeer, Detroit Pistons – Laimbeer was the baddest of the “Bad Boy” Pistons, not only because he attempted to decapitate Karl Malone with his forearm and happily got into drag-out fights with everyone from Alonzo Mourning to Charles Barkley, but also because he’d lay some of the league’s hardest fouls and then act surprised when the ref blew the whistle. It was like the Tim Duncan face, except after having criminally assaulted another human being. Laimbeer was such a pest that he even got Larry Bird to lose his cool in an incident that involved Bird launching a basketball at Laimbeer while the Pistons and Celtics were separated in the midst of a particularly chippy game. Laimbeer was actually a pretty great player, averaging a double-double for seven straight seasons and making four All-Star teams, but he’s best remembered for being a massive pain in the rear end. Or, in Malone’s case, a massive pain in the face.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8qhDXUD2Xc

Dennis Rodman, Chicago Bulls – The best way to personify what Rodman was in the 1980s and 1990s is to view the tape of him flopping all over Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone in the 1998 NBA Finals, making it impossible for him to run down the court because of Rodman’s non-stop flailing elbows and legs:

Keep in mind that Malone was also one of the dirtiest players of his era, but even he couldn’t out-Rodman a guy who made a career of pestering bigger, stronger players throughout his time in Detroit, San Antonio and Chicago. As part of those “Bad Boy” Pistons early in his career, he certainly made his mark as a tough guy playing alongside Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, doing everything he could to lay the hammer on opposing players. He famously shoved future teammate Scottie Pippen about fifteen feet into a row of chairs during the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals in what was then labeled a “flagrant foul” and what today would likely get him suspended for 20 games. He also once tackled Alonzo Mourning to the ground, kicked a cameraman in the groin and smiled annoyingly through every incident. The guy was a legend as far as villains go. We may never again see his equal.

***

Rose might be viewed as something of a minor villain upon his return to Chicago on Friday night, but whatever boos he may get are nothing compared to the vitriol these other guys inspired in fans and opponents during their heydays. The league is a different place now, and modern rules about violence in basketball make it almost impossible for villains like these to emerge today. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, though, there were some bad, bad dudes wreaking havoc on the National Basketball Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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