Basketball is a mental game as much as it is a physical game. And one of the best ways to get under your opponents skin is by being dirty. Maybe it is a subtle elbow to the chest, maybe you stick out your knee a little on a pick or maybe you lock arms with another player for a rebound, but there are a whole host of ways of being dirty.
Nothing infuriates an opposing player like cheap and bush league tactics. For many younger basketball players, and many veterans for that matter, keeping poised and even keeled is an asset that many do not have, and the dirtiest players in the NBA know this. If everyone was able to keep their emotions in check and never retaliate, than the game wouldn’t be as dirty as it is, but the allure of frustrating someone only promotes dirtiness.
This is a list of the top ten dirtiest players of all-time. Some of these players were superstars and some of them were role players, but what they all share in common is the ability to break the rules and often times get away with it. Had these players been penalized every time they were dirty, they probably would have stopped. But these players excelled at the art of being dirty. They were the best at getting under their opponents skin and they were the best at gaining a competitive edge over their opponents.
Teams never want to play against dirty players, but these are the types of players that you want on your team. They are the types of players that you hate to play against and the types of players that give your team an edge and attitude.
10. Michael Jordan
You don’t become the greatest player of all-time by being the cleanest player of all-time. Michael Jordan did everything that he could to gain a competitive advantage, whether it was legal or not. Jordan was about winning, not about being a boy scout.
In fact, he was just as dirty on offense as he was on defense. Of course, Jordan’s most infamous play was when he pushed off Bryon Russell of the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. That play was clearly an offensive foul, but it was a superstar no-call that no referee in their right mind would call with the game winding down.
9. John Stockton
Don’t let the cover fool you. While John Stockton may look like a boy scout with his parted hair and high shorts, he was one of the dirtiest players in the league during the ’90’s. Even the loud-mouthed Gary Payton referred to Stockton as one of the dirtiest players in the league.
Cheap elbows and grabbing jerseys were a regular part of Stockton’s game. It is what made him one of the best passers and defenders in the game. Stockton wasn’t tall and he wasn’t athletic, but he was one of the toughest players that the NBA has ever seen. But you don’t get a reputation for being tough without being a little dirty.
8. Reggie Evans
For some reason, Reggie Evans has no regard for the bro-code. Evans did what no man is allowed to do when he grabbed Chris Kaman’s private parts. Evans literally put his hand up Kaman’s shorts and grabbed his private parts.
This is beyond a dirty play, but it is also the reason why Evans has been able to carve out a niche in the NBA. Players are afraid of him. He’s big, he’s mean, and he’s the guy that you don’t want to mess with. Why would you want to go up against a player that loves to bang in the paint for every rebound, tries to initiate contact, and on occasion, could grab your private parts?
7. Metta World Peace
If Metta World Peace is willing to punch a fan in the stands, imagine what he is capable of doing to players that he is competing against. The tough guy from Queens Bridge has choked opponents by the neck, grabbed and pulled jerseys, and elbowed James Harden so hard in the head that he was unconscious for a little bit. Metta has never been intimidated by anyone and is by far one of the dirtiest defenders that the NBA has ever seen.
6. Karl Malone
Karl Malone was a big man and he didn’t hesitate to use his elbows to his advantage. Malone squeezed the ball with his elbows after ever rebound and swung them around while he pivoted. But this wasn’t Malone’s dirtiest tactic. Malone was the master of slapping the ball out of your hands with lightning speed. There is no doubt that Malone had the quickest hands in the league, but referees never knew if he swiped at the ball or if he swiped at the opponents hands and arms. If you were going up against Malone, chances are that you were going to leave with his hand print on your arm somewhere.
5. Charles Oakley
The New York Knicks were the bad boys of the ‘90s and Charles Oakley was the enforcer. Oak was never the most athletic guy on the court and his midrange jumper kept you honest, but it was his toughness that made gritty New Yorkers so proud. Oakley wasn’t afraid of anyone. Even Michael Jordan knew that if he drove into the paint and Oakley was there, he was going to end up on the floor one way or another. This was New York Knicks basketball. There were no free paths to the lane and if you dared to enter, you’d be fouled and fouled hard.
4. Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman was no fool. Rodman was the guru of getting under your skin. There is no official statistic for this, but Rodman probably drew more technicals against him than any other player in NBA history. Rodman knew how to piss players off and that was one of his most underrated skill sets. Rodman was often accused of not playing basketball and engaging in histrionics, but it was his theatrical performances that made opposing players so frustrated.
Rodman did a karate kick with every rebound, interlocked arms with every box out and threw his body around like it was a dummy. Rodman felt no pain and that is why he didn’t hesitate to dish it out.
3. Rick Mahorn
The Bad Boys Pistons of the 1980’s were all dirty and Rick Mahorn was one of their main culprits. Some players are soft by nature and resist contact, but the big man in Detroit was anything but tissue paper. Some even nominated Mahorn as the baddest boy of them all and the one that paved the way for Dennis Rodman’s future. Mahorn may not have been a prolific scorer, but he made it up for it with his veteran sass and know-how.
2. Bruce Bowen
The San Antonio Spurs best perimeter defender was not in the league for his offense, but his defense. In fact, Bruce Bowen was so inconsistent on offense that he shot better from 3-point land than he did from the free throw line.
So, Bowen built his NBA resume upon defense. The 6’6 small forward was a menace on defense. He grabbed, he pushed, he flopped, and he irritated like the best of them. But his dirtiest move was placing his feet underneath the feet of jump shooters. As soon as a jump shooter elevated, Bowen slid his feet under theirs so that they would be afraid of landing on his feet and breaking their ankles. Everyone that has ever played basketball knows that this is probably the dirtiest play in basketball and Bowen was the best at it.
1. Bill Laimbeer
Bill Laimbeer was the posterboy of the Bad Boys Pistons. The original prototype of a big man that could hit threes, Laimbeer could also hit you in the chest and sometimes in the face. The Pistons were tough and Laimbeer made sure they lived up to that reputation. Laimbeer was a bully on the court and he didn’t care. All he cared about was winning.
It is what made him a four-time NBA All-Star and a champion on the court. Laimbeer is the quintessential example that nice guys finish last and dirty guys finish first.