The NBA is the most player-driven league in professional sports. Its stars are the most recognizable and also some of the most outspoken athletes of today, which is a major reason why the league is so marketable and popular on social media.
Not all NBA players are beloved, though, and because basketball is such an intimate game, people have very strong opinions about the game’s most recognizable players. Many of the league’s biggest draws are simultaneously its most polarizing players, with LeBron James being the prime example.
Most basketball fans enjoy arguing for and against certain players, but a select few stars, for one reason or another, really grind the gears of many. To recognize these infuriating yet captivating ballers, here are the top-10 most hated NBA players right now.
10. Stephen Curry
The hate for Curry has dampened since his ascension to superstar-status back in 2014-2015, but many still harbor resentment for the sharpshooter. Some view him as a representation of everything wrong with modern basketball: too many 3-pointers, lack of physicality, arrogance, superteams, etc.
People also despise how Curry’s 2015-2016 Warriors broke Michael Jordan’s Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a regular season, especially because Golden State did it in a more finesse way. Even James stans disliked Curry taking the spotlight from the “King” and becoming the first unanimous MVP, so Curry’s greatness arguably hurts his likeability to certain people.
Nevertheless, now that Golden State’s superteam is disbanded, Curry should see great affection from the masses as he returns from injury. People, as well as the league, miss him playing.
9. James Harden
Harden’s haters came out of the woodwork in the past couple of years after the generally positive early part of his career. Since he won MVP in 2018, Harden is often criticized for his laziness on defense, his excessive flopping and his shortcomings in the postseason. All of these points are valid and also apply to plenty of other players. Harden just seems to bear the brunt of the blame.
If he wins a championship, Harden’s reputation and legacy should drastically improve. As of now, he’s generally viewed as a terrific offensive player whose stats are inflated because of Houston’s style of play and someone who can’t get it done at the highest level. A great playoff-run should change that. The bubble provides him the opportunity to do so.
8. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is probably less hated now than ever, yet he still makes this list because of his lasting reputation. On the Rockets this season he garnered much less scrutiny than he did in his 11 seasons in Oklahoma City, where he was often blamed for the Thunder’s exits in the playoffs and not getting Kevin Durant the ball more. People respect his intensity and effort but loathe his decision-making.
His relationship with the media doesn’t help matters. It’s obvious Westbrook doesn’t like talking to reporters and has little patience for questions he deems idiotic, so the demeanor fans see in clips on Twitter gives off a bad vibe. Like Harden, a deep playoff-run should alter Westbrook’s reputation.
7. Patrick Beverley
Beverley is the worst player on this list, yet he still often stirs up controversy around the league. He routinely talks trash about his superior opponents both on and off the court — once saying that James is “no challenge” to guard — despite not being a star himself. Yes, he’s a fantastic perimeter defender, but he carries himself like he’s the best guy on the court. It both helps his team win and annoys fans watching him.
The Clippers point guard also infamously tore Westbrook’s meniscus in the 2013 playoffs when he recklessly went for a steal as Westbrook was calling a timeout. Beverley developed a reputation of a dirty player ever since and hasn’t backed away from that distinction in either his play or comments to the media.
6. Jimmy Butler
Butler is undeniably a positive influence on his new Heat team, but before his move to South Beach, he was seen as somewhat of a locker room issue. He unabashedly criticized his teammates in Minnesota for being soft and forced the Timberwolves to trade him, which altered his once positive image.
Lately, Butler rubs fans the wrong way not for his intense desire to win but for his highly-publicized work ethic. One of the first stories to come out of the Orlando bubble was that someone complained about Butler doing ball-handling drills in his room at night, and many people saw this as yet another case of him wanting people to know how hard he works at all times. He should be respected for his dedication to the game. Everyone doesn’t need to hear about it several times a year, though.
Additionally, 76ers fans hate him for choosing Miami over their team this past offseason.
5. Rudy Gobert
The Jazz center was a generally well-liked star before the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Some felt him tearing up after not making the All-Star team last season was somewhat odd, but that’s hardly a reason to hate someone.
Gobert then became the scapegoat of the sports world when he contracted COVID-19 following a viral video of him needlessly touching reporters’ recording devices. He didn’t take the virus seriously and even had a feud with teammate Donovan Mitchell because he spread the virus to him. Gobert was memed and clowned relentlessly on social media because of this incident. He’ll probably never live it down.
4. Kyrie Irving
Irving unquestionably gives vast amounts of money and resources to worthy causes, using his platform and wealth to make real changes in the world (as do others on this list). He’s done some damage control with his reputation because of these actions, but his personality gets under the skin of many who love to watch him play but hate to hear him speak.
Take your pick of what foolish ideas Irving has spewed over the years. Believing the Earth is flat, suggesting NBA players disband and start their own league, thinking he could force his way out of Cleveland and be the leader James is right away, and so many other soundbites that make you cringe. No matter how you slice it, Irving is a charitable guy who says weird things and hindered a talented Celtics team for two seasons. Maybe he’ll turn the page in Brooklyn.
3. Draymond Green
The main reason Green angers so many is that he trash talks like he’s a superstar but in reality is the biggest beneficiary of Golden State’s recent dynasty. Yes, he’s a very good player and superb defender. He is no way, however, anywhere close to the type of player he thinks he is.
Green has the biggest mouth in the league (both literally and figuratively). He’s the emotional leader of the Warriors and has the edge they needed during their championship seasons, but hearing someone constantly say how he and his team are so great eventually gets old. Green even had a habit of kicking players in the groin at one point. He just needs to calm down a bit.
2. LeBron James
James is perhaps the most polarizing player in NBA history. He’s the league’s most popular and influential player, as well as the game’s unquestioned best player for nearly a decade. With hype coming out of high school and so much success in his 17 seasons, immense attention to his every action was inevitable.
His infamous “Decision” to leave Cleveland for Miami in 2010 instantly made him the most hated man in the sports world. It wasn’t necessarily the changing of the teams that angered folks as it was the television production he organized around the announcement. People felt he was overly self-absorbed and simultaneously ruining the balance of power in the league, and James played into that villain role in his first season with the Heat.
James gradually improved his reputation after winning his first title in 2012 and has since silenced many of his early critics who felt he wasn’t clutch or a good enough leader. Conversely, he’s annoyed many because of his dramatic tendencies, threatening Jordan's G.O.A.T. status and unparalleled influence on his team’s rosters and league happenings.
Critics of James are often unfairly harsh on a player so spectacular, a teammate so well-liked and a man so philanthropic and socially conscious. But he does sometimes send cryptic tweets about his team, play into the media dramatization of the sport and make terrible dad-jokes, all of which basketball purists despise.
1. Kevin Durant
If you’re a new NBA fan, it might be difficult to imagine a world where Durant was viewed as extremely likable and almost “too nice.” Nike even created a marketing campaign around him trying to dispel the notion that he was too nice of a guy to win a championship.
Durant’s move to Golden State in 2016 completely changed his image. He was called a sell-out, a cheater, a traitor and any insult one could call someone thought to be mentally-weak. Fans will forever resent him for ruining the competitiveness of the NBA for the better part of three seasons. It was even worse that he joined the winningest team in league history that he blew a 3-1 lead to in the Western Conference Finals the season before. The optics were awful and his lack of understanding of the controversy made it even worse.
When he tore his Achilles tendon in the 2019 Finals, many people didn’t know how to feel. Durant is obviously enthralling to watch play and (true) fans don’t root for injuries, but it now seems like he’s entering a new phase of his career. Hopefully, Durant comes back healthy, happy and improves his relationship with the media and fans. Only James has endured similar hatred as an NBA player, so hopefully the worst of it is Durant’s past.