The 25 Dirtiest NBA Players in League History

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The 25 Dirtiest NBA Players in League History
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Who are the 25 dirtiest players in NBA history? That's a question that's hard to answer because "dirty" is such a hard thing to define. Different people consider "dirty" in different ways.

Let me start this off by saying that dirty is not bad. If you want a list of the league's dirtiest players it's going to look very similar to a list of its best defensive players. Great defense is knowing how to get away with being dirty.

Some players have a reputation for being "dirty" because of a single hard foul or cheap shot but otherwise weren't necessarily dirty players. A perfect example of this is Kermit Washington and his infamous punch of Rudy Tomjanovich.

The punch was delivered in the middle of a brawl with Tomjanovich running at Washington.

Washington had already been punched by Kevin Kunnert and retaliated by punching Kunnert. Tomjanovich was rushing in to make peace.  From Washington's perspective though, he was in a fight and Tomjanovich is running at him and so he throws a punch. It's a reasonable defensive action in the midst of a brawl.

However, the replays of the event didn't show the scuffle that led up to the punch and Washington's entire career has been defined by that single incident. He didn't throw the first punch in the fight, Kunnert did.

A lot of NBA players have thrown punches. Just none connected as hard, or did as much damage as Washington's did. It nearly killed Tomjanovich.

My point here is this. That single incident makes a lot of people call Washington one of the dirtiest players in NBA history, but that incident wasn't part of a play, and there's nothing to suggest that apart from that instance he was a dirty player. 

There are other famous cheap shots. Bynum's inexcusable foul on J.J. Barea last year for instance, or the infamous Kevin McHale clotheslining of Kurt Rambis. 

No single play defines a player. No single incident does.  

It's as much about being persistently insidious. It's about doing little, bothersome things to gain position, and get steals or get an opponent off his game. It's not about Chris Kaman grabbing the junk of an opponent going for a rebound. 

This list is more about who is good at being dirty than it is a recounting of the hardest fouls or most famous violent instances in NBA history.

Also "dirty" changes with time. Today's dirty players wouldn't have been dirty in the 80s. So how do you compare them? For that matter how do you compare players of the 50s and 60s with players of today? The rules were different and the idea of a dirty player didn't even exist. 

Additionally, to really know if a player is dirty or not you have to actually watch him play. I suspect that by modern standards Bill Russell was probably one of the craftiest, dirtiest players of all time, but all I have are suspicions.

I can't watch the games that Russell played, and if anyone wrote about who was dirty back then, I can't find it, so it's hard to know who is really dirty from yesteryear.

That's why for the most part this list is going to be modern players within the last 30 years. The omission of earlier players is because it's just hard to know who should and shouldn't have been included. 

So with that explanation, here are the 25 dirtiest players in NBA history. 

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