NBA's Biggest Cancers
1. Dennis Rodman
Rodman wormed his way through the NBA like an infectious virus.
He kicked a photographer. He head-butted a ref. He bickered with coaches. He took off his sneakers before a game was over. He was fined, and suspended, and while drawing attention to himself, drew energy away from his teams. His short-lived relationships with Madonna and Carmen Electra were just a few public examples of how he had trouble getting along with one other person, much less entire teams (which really includes coaches, the front office and fans). His Newport Beach escapades showed he didn't give a whit about being a good neighbor.
Few questioned Rodman's determination on the court. Because he was so good, and played on winning teams, he got lots of chances, and lots of special treatment. But when the going got tough (think Dallas, his last stop in the NBA), Rodman was of no use at all.
2. Isaiah Rider
Talk about trouble. He has been North (Minnesota). He has been South (Atlanta). He has been Northwest (Portland). He has been high (in Denver). He has been in sunny L.A., with the Lakers. A great talent, a 16.7 ppg scorer, wasted everywhere he went. The 2000-01 season, with L.A., provided a recent sampler of a 30-year-old who'd never grown up.
Things didn't start out well -- Shaq made it clear he wasn't happy that the Lakers had acquired Rider. Rider proved Shaq knew of what he spoke, continuing his old stuff. Lateness (showing up 15 minutes tardy for one practice, he gave Phil Jackson a note from a hotel manager, saying it was the hotel's fault for missing his wake-up call). A suspension for violating the NBA's drug policy. A missed flight. For nine NBA seasons, Rider proved again and again, with team after team, that he was nothing but a kindling of talent that could ignite a blaze of bad news.
3. Donald Sterling
This is a guy who proves the point that you can make millions in one business (real estate) and still be a complete dolt in another (running a sports team). His biggest celebrations as longtime owner of the hapless (yet, surprisingly enough, still "Big Market") Clippers have been his famous "lottery parties," during which he hoped that some second-rate Hollywood wish-we-were-insiders would drown out memories of the Clippers' most recent humiliating season with cheap wine served in plastic cups. This is a guy who once asked his head coach to tape the players, in order to save a few bucks on a trainer's salary. Who slashed his scouting budget, to save a few bucks. Who has shuffled through head coaches the way George Steinbrenner used to. And who has shown players (and fans) how much he cares by keeping his payroll among the lowest in the NBA.
And it ain't gonna stop. As an opposing scout was recently quoted in Sports Illustrated, "Owner Donald Sterling let another summer go by without locking any of his players into long-term deals. This is his one chance to have a really good team, and the fans are showing their support, yet he still refuses to put money into a club that is the envy of every other franchise in the league. ... If they were playing for just about any other owner, I'd say these guys (were) going to make the playoffs."
The "choking incident" might have been a mano-a-mano thing -- at least a few people sympathized with Latrell, saying that if any coach could inspire such wrath, it was then-Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo, who Seattle Times sportswriter Steve Kelley called, after the incident, a "fatuous fathead."
Spree and his behavioral demerits spend many a game in civilians.
When he arrived in New York, it seemed like Spree was a new man, with new maturity. And maybe he really would prove to be the Knicks savior. But no. He skipped training camp. He arrived late at games. He walked out of mandatory team meetings.
And on and on. Now, the hand jive, complete with banishment, fines, half- or un-truths, and a lawsuit that can be nothing but a distraction. For a while, it looked like the Knicks had a new, genuine leader, but Sprewell hasn't led the team anywhere, and clearly hurt his teammates by not revealing his hand injury right after it happened.
Lots of Knicks fans like Sprewell. Knicks fans also like winning. But you can't have both.
5. Marvin Barnes
Before he even got to the pros (Barnes played six seasons in the ABA and NBA), "Bad News" Barnes earned his nickname by beating a Providence College teammate with a tire iron. During his great rookie season with the Spirits of St. Louis, the former All-American left the team and then said he wanted to renegotiate his contract. Then he got into trouble with drugs. He got into trouble for carrying a concealed handgun. He got into trouble with alcohol. And on and on and on. He squandered his great talent, and became a hot potato, moving from the Spirits to the Pistons to the Buffalo Braves, ending his career, fittingly, with the last-place Celtics in 1978-79.
6. Roy Tarpley
Tarpley, the Mavs hugely-talented center, entered the NBA as part of the draft class of 1986, and is part of the reason that draft year is so often lamented. In 1991, he was banned from the NBA, for cocaine use, for almost three years, and the Mavs, one of the worst teams of the '90s, sank to their lowest depths without him. Then, less than a year after signing a six-year, $22 million contract and returning to the court, he was banned again in 1995 for drinking alcohol, which violated his aftercare agreement.
Even after his NBA career ended, being around Tarpley was bad news -- he was arrested on charges of burning his girlfriend's stomach with an iron, then he failed to show up for his court date. Perhaps he was in Greece, or Russia, or Poland, or China -- among the places he played while barred from the NBA. "He could have been one of the great ones, no question," said Richie Adubato, who coached Tarpley in Dallas.
7. Jason Williams
"White Chocolate" might be sweet sometimes, but he's not good for a team's health. With the Kings, he was suspended for violating the league's drug policy, he was fined for getting into it with fans, and he followed the John Rocker P.R. Handbook when he made derogatory comments about Asian-Americans and gays. Sacramento management was glad to see him go. With the Grizzlies, he's, well ... let him speak for himself. After an 8-for-23 night during which he was personally responsible for six turnovers (including a spectacular behind-the-back pass to Sonics coach Nate McMillan), he said, "We suck. We suck. We're the worst team in the league. You can print that." We did, Jason. Did it help your team?
8. Rasheed Wallace
Wallace's slew of technical fouls and Rage Against The Refs act is getting old.
There's nothing technical about the foul influence Wallace has had on the Blazers, who he has led to -- how many is that? -- zero championships, despite his great talent and the excellent players who've surrounded him. The Rage Against The Refs act is just old, and it doesn't work. Wallace's technical fouls disrupt the game, give easy points to opponents, and lead to self-inflicted early trips to the locker room. No matter how good you are, when you're not injured, and you're not playing, you're doing nothing but hurting your team.
9. Micheal Ray Richardson
Richardson, back in 1986, achieved the most dubious of NBA firsts, becoming the league's first player to be banned for drug use after he tested positive for cocaine for the third time. The All-Star guard had admitted he had a problem, had undergone multiple rehabs, but the drug use didn't stop.
Richardson played eight seasons in the NBA, bouncing around from the Knicks (where he was supposed to be the next Walt Frazier) to the Warriors to the Nets, and the four-time all star was the Nets' leading scorer when he was finally banned. "He'd play well, then 'go on three- or four-day binges,' (Richardson) said," wrote the Denver Post's John Henderson. "He missed flights. He missed games. The stats didn't show it, but insiders could tell."
The Hackensack (N.J.) Record named Richardson the "biggest waste" of the 1980s, and when Richardson finally recovered, he showed what he could do on the basketball court -- in Europe, where, post-NBA, he enjoyed a lengthy, successful career (well, if you don't count the time Knorr Bologna of the Italian League released him after he tested positive for cocaine).
10. Vin Baker
Before he was traded to the Celtics, here's the impact Baker had on Seattle last season: with him, the Sonics were 26-29. When he was out of the lineup, they were 23-4. Enough said? Maybe not. Here's what an NBA scout recently told SI about the Sonics going into this season, without Baker: "There was a bad aura around him that carried over to the other players, plus he demanded the ball and took a lot of time when he got it, which bogged down the offense."
And here's what ESPN.com's Frank Hughes wrote about Boston's acquisition of Baker: "It might look good for a month, it might look good for four months. But I know Vin Baker ... this is his modus operandi on a basketball court: Work really hard for a little while, because he wants to prove people wrong, and then when they are sold that he has changed, start slacking." Hughes' final words on Baker's four-year, $56 million deal: it's "going to cost the C's their soul."
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