Despite David Stern’s best efforts to turn the NBA into a family-friendly, PG affair, there are still a handful of legitimate bad boys reminding fans of a time when the league had a little bit of an edge.
There are loose cannons like Metta World Peace, scrappers like Rajon Rondo and legitimately scary dudes like Zach Randolph keeping the tough-guy legacy alive in an ever-softening league.
Sure, it’s better for the NBA’s mass appeal if fans and families have assurances that wild-eyed giants won’t come barreling into the stands looking for trouble. But from a pure entertainment perspective, it’s always nice to have an element of unpredictability around.
The “bad boys” on our list have earned their stripes in a variety of different ways, but they all share a reputation as players you really don’t want to mess with. Put another way, if you’re heading down a dark alley, you’d much rather have these guys with you than against you.
Nobody here is afraid of giving a hard foul, cursing out an official or coming to blows on the court.
Be sure you don’t make any direct eye contact with your screen. You wouldn’t want to anger the members of our updated NBA bad boy rankings.
The rest of the gents on this list probably shared a disappointed sigh when they caught wind of Amir Johnson’s embarrassing tough-guy impression. Any time a player loses a tug-of-war with a referee and then chucks his mouthpiece in a fussy fit, he’s not going to earn too many “bad boy” points.
Johnson got a demerit among his peers and earned dishonorable mention here for his little tantrum.
Always keep in mind that there’s a pretty clear line between losing your cool and losing your dignity. Johnson did the latter on Dec. 10.
To his credit, the eight-year vet apologized and rightly characterized his outburst as “childish” after he had time to simmer down. His behavior was a good example of how not to end up in our rankings.
Kevin Garnett is always a controversial figure in the discussion of the NBA's baddest. On the one hand, KG barks at everybody. On the other, he doesn't bite.
Roundly cited as the league's most hated player, Garnett has a knack for irritating his peers with cheap shots, posturing and menacing stares. But aside from the occasional chest bumping, Garnett never really puts his money where his mouth is.
The cranky vet might be a tough guy, but it's hard to be sure because he almost exclusively picks on players who are younger and smaller then he is. Intimidation is a big part of being a bad boy, but in today's NBA, you've got to do more than make faces and growl to be rated highly in the bad boy rankings.
Chris Paul rarely starts trouble, but when he feels disrespected, watch out. Despite the fact that he's usually the smaller player in a one-on-one confrontation, CP3 is always willing to stand up for himself.
He doesn't directly instigate, but he has the ability to provoke his opponents with a variety of crafty (almost dirty) tricks.
He'll slow down in hopes of being run over, slap defenders' hands away and "accidentally" throw elbows when he drives the lane. Always looking for contact, Paul is never afraid to get involved when a situation escalates.
And remember: Never, under any circumstances, is anyone allowed to touch his head.
Though he's become slightly more domesticated in his old age, Rasheed Wallace, king of the technical foul, is still definitely a bad boy. He's prone to flying off the handle at any time, and he's never been afraid to talk plenty of trash.
Sure, he tends to direct a lot of his yelling at officials, but we should never forget that he once possessed the kind of tough-guy credibility that allowed him to get Alonzo Mourning to back off with only a few words.
Wallace gets major points for taking on beasts like Mourning and especially "Grade A" loose cannons like Bonzi Wells. Unlike Garnett, 'Sheed doesn't care who offends him; he's ready to scrap with anyone.
Kendrick Perkins certainly wears the scowl of a bad boy, and he definitely gets points for facing off with one of this list's top-ranking members (more on that later).
The Oklahoma City Thunder center might be most worthy of a spot here for his frightening flagrant fouls. If things aren't going right for his team, Perk is always willing to vent his frustration by knocking opponents flat.
Coming up with the Boston Celtics, Perkins seems to have learned the art of intimidation from Kevin Garnett. Unlike KG, though, Perkins tends to back up his words with dangerous action.
In DeMarcus Cousins, we have our first bad boy who makes the list on the strength of his total unpredictability. He isn't afraid to mix it up with anybody, including sideline commentators. You never know what's going to set him off.
Based on size alone, Cousins is a seriously intimidating figure. What makes him even scarier is his history of completely losing his temper in the middle of a play.
The league's officials are certainly cognizant of Cousins' propensity for bursts of violence, and he's been the subject of some of the quickest ejections in recent memory.
O.J. Mayo probably wishes he'd been ejected before this happened, though.
Rajon Rondo doesn't fit the typical mold of a bad boy, but he's got all the credentials. Rondo's tough, prone to a few dirty plays and ready to fight at the drop of a hat.
Besides his general grittiness, he isn't afraid to belly up to some of the league's most dangerous figures—including the man we just ranked at No. 6.
He'll defend his teammates at all costs, which is a true mark of what we're looking for here. Not only that, but Rondo's always been willing to get into it with some of the league's biggest stars, as his clothesline on Dwyane Wade made clear.
He ranks fifth here, but only because the four men ahead of him are bona fide bad boys.
Matt Barnes is the second L.A. Clipper to make the list, and it's a good thing he's here. With all the disrespect Blake Griffin's flopping and posturing engenders, L.A. needs a few wild cards to keep opponents in order.
The tattoos and arrests help, but it's really Barnes' penchant for shoving that earns him a spot here. Griffin, now a teammate, can attest to just how nasty Barnes can be when he's wearing another jersey.
Think of it this way: If you're on a breakaway, the last guy you want chasing you is Barnes.
Let's allow Stephen Jackson to make his own case, shall we?
Somebody tell serg Abaka. He aint bout dis life. Next time he run up on me im goin in his mouth. That's a promise. He doin 2 much.
If we can get past the spelling and grammar, the best part about Jackson's tweet on Dec. 7 is that his team wasn't even playing Serge Ibaka's. This was just something Captain Jack felt he needed to broadcast.
Picking a fight and making threats against a player hundreds of miles away is a clear sign that the San Antonio Spurs vet is taking his bad boy game straight into the social-media age.
But it's really the element of sheer moxie that helps him stand out. He's never afraid to take a big shot, and he always welcomes a tough defensive assignment. Antics and craziness aside, Jackson's fearlessness extends to his play on the court very effectively.
Now, will somebody please tell "serg Abaka" not to "run up on" Jackson? You know, just for his own safety.
Zach Randolph is easily one of the toughest players in the league, thanks to a rough upbringing that taught him never to back down from anyone.
He's certainly had a history of confrontation, but in this season alone, he has hip-tossed Blake Griffin (who always seems to be on the receiving end of bad boy behavior) and tried to fight Kendrick Perkins in the locker room after being ejected for trying to do the same thing on the court.
Z-Bo is as rugged as they come, but he's not the NBA's No. 1 bad boy.
Fair or not, Metta World Peace's career will forever be defined by the moment when he crashed into the stands in Detroit in 2004. Though he has thankfully never duplicated that behavior, MWP remains the NBA's baddest man.
A mixture of brute strength and sheer unpredictability, the player formerly known as Ron Artest is capable of anything. He commits unspeakably hard fouls, throws vicious elbows and inspires unparalleled fear among his peers.
What's most terrifying about his wildness, though, is that it's impossible to know when an eruption is coming. In that sense, he's kind of like a time bomb without the timer; he just explodes randomly.
With a style of play that seems designed to irritate and harass the opposition, MWP practically invites confrontation. At this point, nobody in the league is willing to react to his pokes and prods, though. They've all seen what happens when World Peace loses it.
Until he retires, Metta World Peace will hold the crown as the NBA's No. 1 bad boy, largely because nobody else on earth has the guts to try and take it away from him.