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In every era in NBA history, there have always been villains. In today's game it is no different.

From Dwight Howard to LeBron James; coaches; owners; officials; and even executives, there are people involved in pro basketball that fans just love to hate.

What does it take to become a villain? Well that may vary, but one thing is for sure: If you see your name showing up on a list of the NBA's biggest villains, you aren't exactly Mr. Popularity.

Here is a look at the top seven villains in the NBA right now. 

7. Nicolas Batum

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During the first four years of his NBA career, Nicolas Batum didn't normally have the reputation as a villain. 

However, that changed in the eyes of many during the 2012 Olympic Games in London when Batum's native France took on Spain in the quarterfinals.

In the closing moments of the contest with Spain's lead comfortably in hand, Batum landed a vicious punch to the groin region of Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro which was totally uncalled for.

To go along with his groin punch, Batum also gained heat for his reaction to it after the game in which he stated "I wanted to give him (Navarro) a reason to flop," which showed he had little sympathy for the altercation.

Navarro and Spain may certainly have been guilty of flopping at times, but no one deserves that kind of blow, especially during a basketball game. It is enough to warrant Batum's spot on the list of the NBA's biggest villains right now. 

6. Mark Cuban

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Brandon Wade/Getty Images

This list is not only reserved for players, but also executives like Mark Cuban who has always been amongst the NBA's biggest villains.

With the possible exception of Dirk Nowitzki, no one has been a bigger star in the Dallas Mavericks' organization since Cuban became the owner than Cuban himself. 

As a Mavs fan myself, I would be the first to point out Cuban's success since joining the franchise in Dallas to combat those who are quick to criticize Cuban's executive decisions.

However, I can't always defend Cuban's brash attitude, and controversial remarks.

Cuban is certainly not one to shy away from voicing his opinions and sometimes he goes over the line when criticizing officials or the league. 

Cuban's ego can also get in the way of his intelligence at times. Many criticize Cuban for trying to make the games and team about him and not the players by sitting right behind the Mavs' bench and often getting into it with players from the opposing team. 

5. Joakim Noah

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Joakim Noah's villainous ways go back to his time at Florida and then transition into his NBA career with the Chicago Bulls.

Noah is a villain because of his willingness to always speak his mind which often ignites controversy. Among other things Noah has said that the city of Cleveland "really sucks", Kevin Garnett is "ugly" and "mean" and that the Heat are "Hollywood as hell."

Assess for yourself the validity of any of those statements, but the fact is that all of them have gotten Noah into some kind of hot water, with either the media, the league, or NBA fans.

Noah also has a marijuana charge on his record from 2008, as well as his highly noted use of a gay slur caught on camera in 2011.

All of this combined assures that Noah is amongst the biggest villains in the NBA right now, and he probably won't be going anywhere anytime soon. 

4. LeBron James

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If this list was made a year ago, it is safe to say that LeBron James would have taken the number one spot with ease. 

James was just a year removed from "The Decision" which already garnered him enough hatred to land on top of the list of the NBA's biggest villains, but he also was coming off an embarrassing performance in the NBA finals in which he failed to live up to expectations and lost in a stunning upset to the Dallas Mavericks.

However, just one year later, LeBron has been redeemed.

In 2012, James has won the trifecta of winning the NBA MVP, NBA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal. Much of the hate for LeBron and the Heat has died down over the last year, and no longer can anyone ever call LeBron ring-less ever again.

Still, there are those out there who will always hate LeBron for things he has done in his career, specifically since leaving Cleveland.

With "The Decision" broadcast; his choice to join D-Wade on the Heat; the "not five, not six, not seven" statement; and infamous "What should I do?" commercial, James will have his haters likely for the rest of his career. Nothing he accomplishes will ever take them away. 

3. Metta World Peace

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

No one has ever mistaken Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) for being anything other than a villain in his NBA career.

For a long time, Ron Artest was the biggest of all villains in professional sports due to his role in the Malice in the Palace brawl in 2004. 

However, in recent years it had seemed as though as Artest's career was beginning to fade slightly, as was his reputation.

He became an NBA champion with the Lakers, changed his name legally to Metta World Peace, and even has been actively involved with several charity organizations in recent years. 

However, in 2012, the old Ron Artest came breaking out of the shell of Metta World Peace in a regular season game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After a dunk, World Peace was celebrating on his way back down court when he viciously elbowed Thunder guard James Harden in the head causing him to have a concussion. 

Worse yet, World Peace still claims it was an accident (if anyone thinks it was an accident, I invite you to watch the video again) and didn't even call Harden afterwards to check up on him. Certainly sounds like a villain to me. 

2. David Stern

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images

David Stern has seen the league prosper tremendously during his reign as commissioner.

However, Stern seems to consistently make questionable choices that lead to him being amongst the biggest villains in the NBA.

While the laundry list of Stern's controversies is too long to list, in recent memory Stern has done two things in particular, just in the last year, that have reestablished his villainous persona.

First, in the offseason last year, coming off an ugly lockout that cost the NBA 16 regular season games and already had Stern's reputation among fans on the rocks, Stern vetoed a trade that would have sent Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers. The league owned the Hornets at that time. They instead shipped him later to the Lakers' cross-town rival, the Los Angeles Clippers.

Although he implied to be doing so in the interest of fairness to the league, there certainly have been many more lopsided trades in NBA history. Many argue that it wasn't his right to step up and veto the trade after it was approved by Hornets' management. 

This year, even while the 2012 team was drawing comparisons to the 1992 Dream Team, Stern and NBA owners came forth with a plan to limit the amount of NBA players who participate in the Olympics by making it 23-and-under only.

This plan was met with immediate backlash from fans and players, including Kobe Bryant, who famously called it "a stupid idea."

If you want to know exactly why Stern is so high on the list of NBA villains in fact, just listen to his reception at the 2012 NBA draft. I rest my case.  

1. Dwight Howard

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Dwight Howard was at the height of his popularity in the 2008-2009 season, during which he led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals before they eventually fell to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, Howard will be playing for the Lakers in the 2011-2012 season, and likely beyond it. Howard's fall from being one of the most well liked stars in the NBA to basketball's biggest villain has been a swift one.

Howard understandably became frustrated with the Magic when they did not make improvements in the last few seasons, and many believed he would opt out of the final year of his player option and move on this offseason.

However, Howard never gave a solid straight answer about what he wanted to do. He was constantly changing his mind, and when he did make demands, he was so specific in the teams he would accept a trade to that it was impossible for Orlando to get anywhere close to equal value for him.

Through it all, Howard basically was responsible for getting both his head coach and GM fired in an attempt to keep him after he had amended his contract to stay with the Magic, only to ask to be traded yet again.

Howard's constant flip-flopping was more than most politicians, and his treatment of the Magic organization was seen by many as dreadful. 

Howard may be amended if he wins big in LA, but many will never get over Howard's behavior over the last year, and he is easily the NBA's biggest villain right now. 

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