Biggest Traitors in NBA Free Agent History

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2012

Biggest Traitors in NBA Free Agent History

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    Free agency drastically changed all sports, and the NBA is no different. Its history has a handful of departures that have caused certain players to be labeled as traitors.

    As you will quickly notice, the traitors on this list tend to spurn a small market for a bigger one. The appeal for playing for a big market team is clear, especially in today's NBA where superstars are obsessed with becoming as marketable as possible.

    However, leaving a city that has fully embraced them often tends to rub fans across the league the wrong way.  

    While Dwight Howard will not appear on this list because he never hit free agency, he is on this list in spirit. If he had decided not to sign away his opt-out option, he would have left the Orlando Magic in free agency if they hadn't traded him. 

    The players on this list can take solace in the fact that they all won NBA championships with their new team, but were considered traitors at the time of their defection. 

    It should be noted that players on this list earned the right to be unrestricted free agents, thus shouldn't be viewed negatively if they chose to make a decision that is best for them. 

Robert Horry

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    Robert Horry is without a doubt one of the most clutch three-point shooters in NBA history. He has hit more shots in a big moment than entire divisions in today's NBA, and that isn't an exaggeration.

    However, that isn't why Horry appears on this list. 

    While he was a solid overall player, he didn't have the talent to warrant his seven NBA titles in 16 seasons. 

    He is on this list because he was a key member of the Los Angeles Lakers three-peat at the beginning of the last millennium but joined the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. 

    As it turned out, Horry won another two championships with the Spurs while the Lakers became a mess after being taken out in five games agains the Detroit Pistons in the 2003 NBA Finals. 

    No one can say that Horry wasn't opportunistic. He saw that the Lakers were on the decline, and the Spurs were the better team and made his decision based on those thoughts. 

    It clearly worked for him, as he is among the all-time leader's in NBA titles, but he did leave the Lakers for one of their biggest rivals. 

    Due to some plays that were viewed as dirty later on in his career, Horry didn't retire as a player that was revered across the league. Luckily for him, the word champion label has stuck more than traitor stigma.

    Horry earned the distinction of being a champion somewhere along the way of winning his fifth ring, but his decision to leave Los Angeles for San Antonio will never be forgotten by the purple and gold. 

Dennis Rodman

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    What is left to be said about Dennis Rodman? 

    At this point, not much; but at one point he was a member of a Detroit Pistons team that Michael Jordan couldn't get past. 

    He was a member of the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons team that were more physical than their opponents, and it showed over the course of a playoff series. Simply put, the Pistons teams that Rodman was on in the late 1980's and early 1990's wasn't a team that anyone wanted to trifle with. 

    When the Pistons and Bulls faced off in the late '80's there was no love lost. Both teams fought to the last second and played as tough as they could from tipoff to the final buzzer.

    At the time, if anyone had brought up the idea that Rodman might one day join Jordan the idea would have been ridiculed. 

    The unthinkable happened in 1995 when Rodman signed with the Bulls. As history shows us, Rodman's presence on the glass and toughness contributed to Jordan's second three-peat. 

    While the Pistons were a completely different team by the time he signed with the Bulls, it still didn't sit well with fans who watched the blood baths between the Bulls and Pistons. 

    For what it's worth, Rodman was never on a Bulls team that didn't cap off their season by winning the NBA title, a fact that makes Pistons fans sick to this day. 

Shaquille O'Neal

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    In his prime, Shaquille O'Neal was one of the most unstoppable forces in the history of the NBA. 

    At 7'1" and over 300 pounds, he was virtually unguardable if he got decent position, which he did routinely. 

    The Orlando Magic hit the jackpot when the won the lottery in 1992 and earned the right to draft the franchise changing center. 

    Shaq did just that. He won rookie of the year in 1993 then led them to the 1995 NBA Finals where the Magic were blitzed by the Houston Rockets. 

    Honestly, Magic fans should be happy that they got eight seasons of Dwight Howard because O'Neal was in Orlando for half of that time. Granted, the NBA was much different in the the mid-1990's, but it is often overlooked that Dwight was the cornerstone of the Magic for twice as long as Shaq. 

    When Shaq realized that Orlando just wasn't a big enough pond for him, he went to the second biggest market, Los Angeles. If he hadn't been so successful in purple and gold, then maybe Magic fans would be over his departure.

    But O'Neal was extremely successful as a Laker, and will always be remembered in their pantheon of great players. Heck, most people remember him as a member of the Miami Heat rather than one of the best players in Magic history.

    When Shaq and Kobe Bryant couldn't coexist any longer, the Lakers brass traded the former to South Beach. 

    While O'Neal didn't sign with the Heat in free agency, the fact that he helped raise a banner for the league's other Florida based team doesn't help Magic fans cope with his departure any easier. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabar

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    Kareem Abdul-Jabar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer, and things like that don't happen by accident. You don't score 38,387 points without being noticed, especially when you win five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Before Abdul-Jabar found his way to Hollywood, he was the heart and soul of the Milwaukee Bucks from 1969-1975. In fact, he led them to the NBA title in his second season so one could argue that Bucks fans have little reason to be outraged by his departure.

    When was the last time the Bucks have been among the league's best teams, let alone the league's best team?

    It has definitely been a while, as a generation worth of Bucks fans haven't seen the level of success that Kareem led them to in 1971.

    Since LeBron James' famous decision to bring his talents to South Beach, he has been compared to Abdul-Jabar due to latter's decision to leave Milwaukee.

    In the NBA, teams that draft well tend to be successful but it is hard to convince the league's elite players to be content in small markets.

    Why would Kareem choose to stay with the Bucks when the Lakers offered more perks and a better team?

    He wouldn't, hence his decision to move to the west coast.

    The success that Abdul-Jabar had in Los Angeles let him off the hook for leaving a small market for a greener pasture. 

LeBron James

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    LeBron James is working on being vindicated for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010 ( although he will never be truly forgiven for spurning his hometown fans). 

    However, his decision to leave the Cavaliers—and his choice to allow ESPN to air his free agency moment—made him one of the most disliked players in NBA history.

    With one decision, LeBron transformed himself from one of the league's most popular players to one of the least popular, ever. While this wasn't his intention, even the best intentions fail to create the results we desire, such was the case for King James.

    Luckily for James, winning NBA titles is a good elixir for whatever perceived wrongdoings were made in the past.

    The decision will always be part of LeBron's legacy, that much is certain. The level in which it defines the career of one of the best basketball players will be contingent upon his future success

    If he were able to come close to matching Jordan's six rings, while not making any boneheaded decisions, then he could be considered a top-three player in league history when he hangs up his jersey.

    How many players could you say that about?

    Not many, that's why LeBron's decision to bring his talents to South Beach was viewed as such a betrayal. 

    James was from the Cleveland area, and he single-handedly carried the Cavs into the postseason. As he entrenched himself as one of the most talented players in NBA history, he also became one of the league's most popular players.

    While James' betrayal was overstated at the time, his decision to leave Ohio changed the NBA forever.  

    LeBron's story was too perfect. He was the hometown kid who was good enough to keep his small market team among the league's elite. 

    Unfortunately for Cleveland, all things come to an end, including the King's tenure in Cleveland.