We’re still more than three months away from the start of the 2016-17 NBA regular season, yet the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments has already started.
When Kevin Durant decided to join the Golden State Warriors, he did more than build the latest basketball super-team. The Dubs will undoubtedly be the villains during next year’s championship pursuit. How could they not be? No one outside of the Bay Area wants to root for a Goliath that seems poised to conquer all would-be challengers. For subverting the spirit of competition, the Warriors will be reviled.
But will they be the most hated team ever? With the proliferation of social media and the echo chamber of the Internet, it’s certainly possible. On the other hand, Golden State will face some stiff competition from these squads — teams that were loathed for being too good, too boring, too physical or just too easily despised. These are the franchises we loved to bash, even as they made us weep.
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Seriously, take your pick with the purple and gold (assuming you’re not a Lakers fan). Wilt Chamberlain more or less started the trend of super-teams back in 1968, when he joined the Lakers just a year removed from winning the title with Philadelphia. That’s ancient history, however, so we don’t really pay that team much mind these days.
There are plenty of other Lakers squads we’ve despised over the past 20 years or so, however. We bemoaned their dominance during the height of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s run through the league. We raised the volume on that criticism when Gary Payton and Karl Malone came aboard, taking solace in the Detroit Pistons vanquishing the Lakers in the Finals. And when Dwight Howard and Steve Nash came to Los Angeles to join Kobe and Pau Gasol, we watched with glee as the team crashed and burned.
It’s nothing but petty jealousy, we’ll admit. Honestly, though, envy makes the best fuel for anger anyway.
The less time spent on the early-00s Portland Trail Blazers, the better. They were a collection of amazing basketball talent that had no intention of putting it all together for the sake of winning games. The Blazers had it all in the worst possible way. There were arrests (oh, that’s why they were the Jail Blazers), there was Rasheed Wallace setting an NBA record for technical fouls in a season at 41, and just for good measure, Bonzi Wells decided to flip off the fans in 2003, after Portland was fed up with this roster.
Outside of the run-ins with the police, there was a certain sense of entertainment that came along for the ride with the Blazers teams. Yet if you enjoyed that spectacle, chances are you did so with a smirk on your face. You heathen.
You’re damn right the Spurs make this list of the most hated teams!
On the surface, it’s ridiculous. Gregg Popovich is a coaching deity. Tim Duncan is beloved; to call him hated days after his retirement is rubbing salt in the wound. The Spurs helped revolutionize offensive basketball over the past few years. How could we hate them?
Actually, it’s pretty easy — especially if we’re talking about the Spurs from a decade ago. As the NBA was in the middle of changing its rules, allowing zone defense and taking out hand-checking, Pop and his San Antonio crew devised one of the most heinous defensive schemes we’ve ever seen. They throttled opposing offenses, driving down scoring and turning one of the world’s most beautiful games into a slow march toward a miserable end. Not to put too fine a point on it, but any team that considers Bruce Bowen a big part of its championship core is a team that plans on winning through sheer force of will.
When people talk about the Spurs being boring, these are the teams they mean. And they’re right.
For a half-decade, New York defined basketball with one word: Pain.
Any drive toward the rim against Patrick Ewing’s Knicks might as well have been a request to take an elbow to the throat. If Ewing himself wasn’t the one delivering it, you’d have to deal with Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley knocking you to the deck. John Starks was a top-notch trash-talker who made a career out of getting in other players’ heads.
The Knicks were blue-collar to the bone, which in any other context would endear a team to these United States of America. Instead, New York managed to make Reggie Miller — Reggie [expletive] Miller — into a national icon.
Before WWE superstar Eddie Guerrero coined his catchphrase of "Cheat to win," the Detroit Pistons of the late ’80s lived that same gimmick.
It’s hard to call any modern NBA team "dirty" when you compare it to Isiah Thomas’ squads. Between Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer, the Pistons had more underhanded tricks than your local quasi-legal gambling hall. Rick Mahorn was no stranger to putting people on the ground, either; in today’s game, he would be whistled for two flagrant fouls before the first quarter ended.
Detroit’s tactics secured two titles for the Pistons, so you can’t really question the approach. But a team that embraced its "Bad Boys" moniker earned every ounce of hatred it received.
Oh, LeBron. LeBron, LeBron, LeBron.
The King won back a lot of admiration with his 2016 Finals performance. Bringing a title home to Cleveland will give you a lot of leeway like that. Yet it was just five years ago that we pilloried LeBron for everything related to his departure for Miami.
The Decision was atrocious (if you ignore all the money it raised for charity), and the massive in-arena event where James said the Heat would win "not one, not two …" titles was worse. More than the actual events that unfolded, though, our current fan environment made LeBron the most reviled player in decades. Every time he came up short in the clutch or had a run-in with coach Erik Spoelstra, we were there to mock him on Facebook and Twitter. That mockery amplified among like-minded critics, until we’d turned James into a choker who abandoned his home to have Dwyane Wade carry him to a championship.
So have fun, KD! We’re probably going to tear you apart over the next year-plus. But if you win championships, we’ll eventually forget all about it.