Ranking the 5 Biggest Villains in the NBA
Personality reigns supreme in the NBA. It’s a league and a product predicated on highlighting each player’s unique persona.
Take good-guy Steph Curry, or mind-sherpa Kyrie Irving. Fans may not know these individuals as well as they might hope, but there’s little doubt basketball players flex and flaunt their personalities more than other professional athletes.
The NBA is an immense cocktail of characters. And not everyone can be a hero. Whether as a cultivated schtick, unfair circumstance, or an undeniable aurora, some players around the league are villians through and through.
These aren’t the men who sought bigger contracts or greener pastures. That’s not evil, that’s just good business. Instead, the biggest villains in the NBA are far more sinister.
The Greek Freak might not be the most obvious choice for this list. But when you dig a little deeper, it all begins to make sense.
Giannis is an athletic force unlike any other. Milwaukee selected the Greek Freak 15th overall back in 2013, embarrassing each of the other organizations that drafted before the Bucks.
Ever since, Antetokounmpo has been making teams pay. He’s punishingly athletic, and has a near super-human obsession with getting better. He’s also charming, well-liked, and philanthropic.
Except I’m not buying it. It’s all too good to be true. I’ve been on this case for years. Back in 2015, I asked Giannis about the possibility of being a villain. He told me he hoped to make friends with everyone in the league.
An endearing alibi for sure. Even I was smitten at the time. But what did Giannis do not four weeks after our chat? This:
In 2016, Giannis signed a four-year, $100 million contract with the Bucks. It was a team-friendly signing that left money on the table for Milwaukee. The perfect cover for an evil player like the Greek Freak.
Now his Bucks are taking the NBA by storm. He’s a horrifying point-center hybrid surrounded by shooting and an elite coach. In the pantheon of loveable villains, Greek Freak reigns supreme.
2. Jimmy Butler
The Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota is well-documented, and textbook villain. How he hasn’t been traded yet is beyond my comprehension.
It’s not that Butler is evil for wanting a trade. That’s normal in the NBA. After all, he was sent to Minnesota, he didn’t sign there. He’s neither the first player to demand a trade, nor will he be the last.
Instead, it’s the bizarre and brazzen way he’s gone about exercising his will that has made Butler into such a villain.
Since news broke of his trade request, we’ve seen immensely cryptic interviews, chesty, awkward team practices, and MVP-level play. It’s been a roller-coaster for Buckets and the Timberwolves.
I don’t know if Butler is a calculated troll or a mad-hatter. Either way, he’s the top villain in today’s NBA hands down. Can you imagine if he ends up in Miami with evil honorable-mention Pat Riley?
3. Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge has been an irritant in the league for quite some time. As a player, he had a reputation for being as pugnacious and as difficult as they come.
Ainge also spent three seasons with the Blue Jays and helped open a chain of hat stores. I’m not sure if those things are evil.
Ainge’s track-record as an NBA executive has more than secured his villain status. His appropriate moniker “Trader Danny” doesn’t do his swindling justice. Let’s quickly revisit some his biggest, most evil moves from recent memory:
First, Ainge fleeced the Nets back in 2013. This move has helped propel his Celtics into title contention, while Brooklyn is still wandering the desert of NBA mediocrity.
More recently, Ainge bamboozled the Philadelphia 76ers into a draft swap that netted Boston rising star Jayson Tatum and a (protected) 2019 first-round pick via the Kings. In exchange, he left Philly doing its best to maintain Markelle Fultz’s already maligned career.
Not to be outdone, Ainge unceremoniously shipped Isaiah Thomas off to Cleveland in exchange for Kyrie Irving just a few months later. IT was an unquestioned hero in Boston and across the NBA, but villainous as ever, Ainge traded him away without batting an eye.
Danny Ainge is a cold-blooded, plain and simple. A gentleman’s villain. The sort of evil figure who plays 3D chess while his opponents are playing checkers.
4. Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard is nothing short of a tornado. For when he blows into town, your best bet is to hunker in the basement until he’s moved on.
Howard has been a perpetual disappointment since leaving Orlando, usually leaving a disjointed locker room and disappointed fanbase in his wake. From Houston to Los Angeles, Atlanta to Charlotte, he has been fool’s gold of the highest order.
Now, Dwight is a friendly, loveable guy. Above all else, he’s a relic from a different NBA. Now with the Washington Wizards, he’s hoping to shoot threes to help expand his game. Sure.
What makes Howard such a perfect villain is his botched attempt to be a hero. He famously dawned a Superman outfit during the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest. Which would be fine, if that nickname didn’t already belong to Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaq and Dwight have, understandably, not always seen eye-to-eye on this issue. Howard has refused to back down, recently saying O’Neal is probably “insecure” about the whole issue.
This is, of course, preposterous. Howard is the second-coming of Shaq that never came, and stealing his nickname before promptly failing to escape his shadow is a pretty tough look for Dwight. Pretty evil of Dwight to deny this complex and instead continue to scorch earth across the NBA.
5. Zaza Pachulia
Injuries are no laughing matter. And I think we all know Zaza Pachulia has never intentionally hurt a fellow NBA player.
All that said, he has a particularly villainous knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just ask Kawhi Leonard. Or Russell Westbrook. Or Kevin Durant.
Like I said, sometimes you earn an evil status just by pure circumstance. I can’t think of a single thing Zaza could do to rid himself of his villain status among casual NBA fans.
Now in Detroit, the native-Georgian is teaching Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond his secrets. That could be a big problem for the rest of the league.
There’s quite a few folks around the Association that didn’t make the list here. Be sure to follow @OTGBasketball on Twitter and beyond and let us know who you think the biggest villain is in the NBA.