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NBA Power Rankings: The 50 Biggest Fails in League History

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2011

NBA Power Rankings: The 50 Biggest Fails in League History

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    From Shaquille O'Neal and countless other superstars trying to rap, to unlucky and dumb decisions by teams and some ill-advised comeback attempts, the NBA sure has seen its fare share of complete failures.

    The NBA has seen a lot of great moments in its history, but, unfortunately, it has also seen its share of the ridiculous, terrible and just plain weird since its inception.

    It isn't just the modern-day NBA that produces plenty of internet-ready "fails" either; there is the anti-classic 19-18 game, inconceivable tape delay and anything that happened before 1954.

    The NBA is a game where fans are right on top of the action, and the superstars are right at their feet on display, which leads to the development of some very extraordinary personalities, and sometimes those personalities explode into a terrific moment of terrible.

    So, with so much crap to go along with all of the great going on in the NBA, we'd better get started counting them all down before we run out of time.

50. Kevin Garnett vs. Charlie Villanueva

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This gets my vote for the lamest moment of the 2010-11 season.

    During a Celtics-Pistons game, Kevin Garnett, known for his chippy play in recent years, allegedly called Charlie Villanueva a "cancer patient."

    Villanueva tweeted about it after the game, and Kevin Garnett retorted that he said to Villanueva, "you are cancerous to your team and our league."

    Riiiiight.

    Two things bother me about this.

    One, KG should have manned up to what he said. If he did then it would have been a two- or three-day ordeal, while now it's league history.

    Two, Villanueva tweeted about KG's trash talk? Really? Trash talk is supposed to be a man-to-man thing and left on the court, if you don't like it, then do something about it on the court, don't run to your Blackberry and tell on the guy.



49. The Microfiber Basketball

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    In 2006, the NBA started using a microfiber basketball that was supposed to absorb moisture and be "more consistent," whatever that may mean.

    Unfortunately, players complained that the ball bounced differently off the rim and off the floor and left their hands covered in small cuts.

    Plus, it was the ugliest innovation since the Microsoft Zune.

    The ball was only around until the end of December, lasting just over two months.

48. David Stern's Complaint Fines

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    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    David Stern has been great for the NBA in some areas, but when it comes to protecting his referees, he has been terrible.

    At the slightest hint of publicly complaining about refereeing in any given game, Stern will whip a player in the checkbook.

    It reached its peak when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $250,000 after the 2006 NBA Finals.

    Stern is trying to keep the integrity of the game high, but after the Donaghy scandal, it's hard to take a lot of the refereeing in the league at face value.

    In fact, it seems to me that any fines assessed in games where Donaghy was officiating should be refunded.

47. The Maloof Brothers

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The Maloof brothers inherited gobs and gobs of money after their father died, so they bought the Houston Rockets back in the '80s.

    They cashed out but got the NBA itch again in the '90s, buying the Sacramento Kings in the process.

    They did terrific until the mid-2000s when the Kings went way downhill, the economy busted and the Maloofs pinched pennies.

    It got so bad this season that they actually traded for Marquis Daniels, who had just bruised his spinal cord a few weeks earlier, so they could get over the salary floor.

46. Antoine Walker

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Antoine Walker made over $100 million in his NBA career, plus whatever endorsements he had during those 11 years.

    Then, in 2009, news broke that Walker was not only broke, but in debt several million dollars, declaring bankruptcy in 2010.

    It was so bad that Walker began playing in Mexico for the Guaynabo Mets and is currently in the NBA D-League, trying to complete a comeback.

45. Utah Boos Derek Fisher

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    Derek Fisher was a huge part of the Utah Jazz' s 2007 run to the Western Conference Finals. After the season, he requested a release.

    His daughter had developed a rare type of cancer in her eye, and Fisher wanted to move to a city that would better serve her needs. It just so happened that one such city was Los Angeles, where he played the following season.

    In his first game back in Utah, many fans booed Fisher mercilessly, some holding signs calling him a liar and a traitor.

44. Mark Madsen Dances

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    Mark Madsen is the epitome of a white guy in the NBA. He's big, he's uncoordinated and he is a perpetual ninth man.

    What's worse, Madsen is a stereotypical white guy in real life too, evidenced by the slick dance moves he showed off at the 2001 and 2002 championship victory parades in Los Angeles.

43. 1997-98 Milwaukee Bucks Alternate Uniforms

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    Do you see these monstrosities? No wonder the Bucks wore these for such a short period of time.

    Everything about these jerseys makes me wonder what teams were thinking in the 1990s, as there was at least one terrible jersey choice by each team during that time period.

    The giant Buck on the front of the jersey looks like it's supposed to be intimidating, but it just comes across as silly.

42. 2007 NBA Finals

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    Everything about this Finals sucked.

    There was only one game that bordered on exciting, as the Cavs made a comeback in the final game, taking the lead late but letting the Spurs go on a 12-3 run to close out the series.

    LeBron James didn't have a single LeBron James-ish game in the series, topping out at 25 points in Game 3.

    Aside from that, ABC endlessly used Tony Parker's presence on the court to promote Desperate Housewives using Eva Longoria's marriage to him as a horrible jumping-off point every time.

    The '07 Finals generated record-low ratings, grabbing a 6.2 according to Nielsen Media Research.

41. Wilt Chamberlain Acting

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    Wilt Chamberlain held a role in Conan the Destroyer back in 1984 that was just gut-wrenching.

    The big thing of the time was for movies to get some kind of sports star involved, with the high point being Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's role in Airplane!

    Chamberlain played Bombaata in the film, where he was supposed to protect a girl's virginity.

    Great casting guys, great casting.

40. One-and-Done Rule

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    The NBA changed the rules a few years back stating that basketball players must be one year removed from high school before they are allowed to enter the draft.

    This led to an endless number of one-and-done college stars that did more harm than good.

    College teams are constantly changing, leading to constant need for recruiting and endless talent turnover at the NCAA level.

    Also, it has led to a handful of controversies with players getting caught lying about high school grades or having someone else take standardized tests for them.

39. Front Office Michael Jordan

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    So far, the front office role for Michael Jordan hasn't quite worked out as well as playing on the court did.

    Jordan was a part of the crew that drafted uber-bust Kwame Brown in Washington and part-owner of a Bobcats team that wasted a No. 3 pick on Adam Morrison.

38. The Decision

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    The Decision was a failure on all fronts.

    LeBron James came across as a conceded superstar who wanted to be wooed by as many teams as possible and then have the whole world watch him as he decided where he wanted to go.

    He slapped a whole city across the face on national television and then picked a destination that many looked at as a cop-out.

37. Latrell Sprewell's Existence

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    Latrell Sprewell's problems started back in 1997 when he was with the Golden State Warriors.

    He had been criticized by head coach P.J. Carlesimo and told to keep his distance. Carlesimo then approached Sprewell, at which point Spree threatened to kill Carlesimo and then grabbed him by the throat.

    Later, insulted by a three-year $21 million offer from the Timberwolves, Spree made the comment that he had a family to feed, as if that $21 million wouldn't cover that.

    After retiring, Spree ran his yacht aground and had two mansions foreclosed.

36. Chris Anderson, 2005 Dunk Contest

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    What Chris Anderson did in 2005 set back white people athletically hundreds of years.

    Anderson is a good dunker usually, but in the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest, he failed miserably.

    He attempted one dunk over a dozen times, leading to the rule change that the dunk has to be registered within two minutes of touching the ball for the first time.

    The worst part about it is that this particular dunk started from the opposite end of the floor, and he never actually did the dunk he was trying to do.

35. New Technical Foul Rules

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    During the 2010 offseason, David Stern went another step farther in trying to make the NBA more family-friendly.

    Stern decided that he would give referees the ability to call a technical foul on a player if they talk back too much after a foul called or a missed call.

    This season, technical foul calls have increased along with the referees' control over games.

34. LeBron James Cover-Ups

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    Technically, these two were done by ESPN and Nike, but they are still terrible nonetheless, plus they involve an NBA player.

    The first was the confiscation by Nike of the tape when Xavier's Jordan Crawford dunked on James at a basketball camp in 2009.

    The next incident came when ESPN pulled a story about a wild party that LeBron James was invited to in Las Vegas.

    The story sheds an unfavorable light on LeBron, who is depicted partying with scantily clad women, drinking and doing what any 25-year-old would do in that situation.

    Really, both were unnecessary cover-ups.

33. Shawn Marion's Jumper

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    Shawn Marion is a good player in his own right and has been a good jump shooter in his time in the NBA.

    However, he has one of the ugliest jumpers I have ever seen in my time watching basketball.

    Marion looks like an alligator walking upright and shooting the ball with almost no jump in his jump shot and straight-arming it to the basket.

32. David Stern's Free Reign for Owners

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    David Stern's lack of policing his owners has led to the current NBA climate.

    His job is to protect the interests of the owners, so why not protect them from themselves? So long as a guy has enough money, he can buy an NBA team, and once he gets that team, he can do almost whatever he wants with it.

    This has led to the collapse of the Sacramento Kings and the takeover of the New Orleans Hornets by the NBA.

31. Lame Nicknames

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    CP3, CB4, AK47, D-Wade, D-Rose, D-Will, D-Fish, J-Kidd, T-Mac, KG, Z, KD, AI.

    How much lazier could we get with nicknames?

    There are a few out there that I would say are good nicknames, Paul Pierce is "The Truth," Brian Cardinal (is he even around anymore?) is "The Janitor" and Jason Williams is "White Chocolate"—those all sound good.

    However, I think we could do better, America.

30. The Kobe Bryant Ordeal

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    Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault back in 2003 by Katelyn Faber, a hotel employee in Colorado.

    The whole case led to Kobe having his image completely tarnished (although people didn't think very highly of him at the time).

    Now, we all have to deal with it being brought up every time anyone tries to say something good about Kobe Bryant.

29. "Next Jordans"

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    We have seen "French Jordan," "The Michael Jordan of Turkey" and  "Baby Jordan" over the years, and surprisingly enough, nobody has lived up to the hype.

    It seems that every few years, a player comes out of college, people start hyping him up and he is inevitably compared to Michael Jordan, so long as he isn't a point guard or center and has an extreme amount of athleticism.

    Inevitably, the player falls short.

28. 2009 New Jersey Nets' Start

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    2009 was a promising time for the New Jersey Nets. They had a billionaire owner waiting to be granted approval to buy the team by the league and a move to Brooklyn on the horizon.

    Unfortunately, nothing looked good in terms of actual basketball.

    They ran out to an 0-18 start, the worst start in NBA history, losing every game through December 3rd before finally breaking the snide against the Charlotte Bobcats on December 4th.



27. College Coaches in the NBA

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    Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Mike Montgomery, Tim Floyd, Billy Donovan and Jerry Tarkanian are just a few coaches that have seen success in the NCAA but failed miserably in the NBA.

    For whatever reason, they just can't translate the success for the most part, and every time a coach is looking to make the jump, this is inevitably brought up.

    The only coach to have success on both levels was Larry Brown, winning championships in both college and the NBA.

26. The 1956 NBA Finals

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    Whatever idiot suggested this idea better have been fired for it.

    The Fort Wayne Pistons faced off against the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956 in a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 formatted NBA Finals.

    The teams played every other day, splitting up each game with a travel day, which had to just wear out the players.

    The format was scrapped the following year.

25. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers

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    The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers registered the fewest wins of any team in the history of the NBA.

    Those Sixers won just nine games throughout the course of the year, boasting the legendary Fred Carter as their most consistent player.

    They allowed the most points in the NBA, got outrebounded by nearly eight rebounds a game and were the worst shooting team percentage wise of the 17 teams in the league.

24. The 1992-94 Dallas Mavericks

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    As bad as those 1972-73 Sixers were, the 1992-94 (yea, two years' worth) Dallas Mavericks were worse.

    Dallas' fight with futility started with the '92 NBA Draft, when they picked Jim Jackson with the No. 4 pick. They couldn't sign him until there were 21 games left in the year, at which point they had just won four games.

    They finished that season on a 7-14 run.

    Next season started even worse, as they ran out to a 1-23 start, eventually going to 2-30. They would finish 13-69.

    In those two years they had three top-four picks, four different coaches and only 24 wins.

23. Darko Milicic

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    Darko Milicic was supposed to be the greatest thing to come out of Europe since Dirk Nowitzki.

    Yea...that didn't exactly pan out.

    Milicic was supposed to be a jump-shooting big man with terrific defense—what more could you want, right?

    Detroit picked him second in the 2003 NBA draft ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

    I'll bet they'd like a mulligan on that one.

22. The Los Angeles Clippers

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    No team has had more bad luck, tough breaks and terrible draft picks. Combine that with an idiotic owner who won't sell until the front office interns are re-enacting Weekend at Bernies' with his cold, dead corpse.

    I wish I could go into detail about every Clippers' failure, but there is just too much to look into.

    Wow, even I think they should be higher, and I made the list.

21. The Streak

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    This season, the Cleveland Cavaliers went on a streak never before seen in any sport.

    The Cavs won a game over the New York Knicks on December 18th. They wouldn't win another game until February 11th, enduring a winless January in the process.

    Cleveland didn't just lose games, they got walloped, losing by double digits endlessly, and they ended up winning only two games in a span of 38 games.

20. Shaquille O'Neal Rapping

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    Nobody should ever give Shaquille O'Neal a microphone and a beat at the same time.

    Shaq as a rapper is utterly unbearable, but somehow his first album went platinum, recorded with Michael Jackson, Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls.

    Even more puzzling, Shaq put out a best-of album. How can anyone possibly justify putting out an album full of rapping by Shaquille O'Neal and then call it a best-of?

19. Chuck Hayes' Free Throws

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    Chuck Hays free-throw shooting should be shown to every child at the age of five to teach them at an early age how to not shoot a free throw.

    Hays' free-throw shooting is an absolute train wreck.

    He starts himself out iffy at the start, with his feet staggered. Then, as his knees straighten out, he just lurches, as if the referee just mooned him under the basket. He starts fading backward, finally letting go of the ball as his body is traveling in a completely opposite direction than it started.

18. Superstar Calls

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    Two steps is traveling? No, take three. Hey, take four so long as your name is Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Kevin Durant.

    Superstars have it good in the NBA, as David Stern and his army of referees are looking to protect the interests of the league, meaning they will do whatever it takes for the best players in the league to get favorable calls more often than not, so the fans will get what they came to see.

17. Bloated Contracts

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    Someone call Mark Cuban, I'm going to start talking about him.

    This man paid DeSegana Diop $32 million for six years of work and Erick Dampier $73 million for seven years.

    The rest of the league, not to be out-crazied, followed suit, leading to contracts like $42 million to Adonal Foyle for six years, after which he never averaged more than 4.5 points a game.

    Or, there is always the Miami Heat signing Brian Grant for $86 million over seven years back in 2000, coming off a year where he averaged seven points and five rebounds.

    And we wonder why a lockout is coming.

16. Eddy Curry

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    Speaking of bloated contracts, and the word bloated in general, Eddy Curry is the champion of being overpaid for little to no work.

    Eddy Curry was drafted back in 2001 by the Chicago Bulls with huge expectations, but when he was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat in 2005, they traded him to the Knicks.

    He had a good season for New York, so they gave him enough money to fill up the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    Curry signed a fat contract, got hurt, got fat and soon became "Eddy Curry's expiring contract."

15. The Jail Blazers

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    One of the least fan-friendly teams for one of the best basketball cities in America.

    The Jail Blazers era lasted from 2000 until the breakup of the team in 2003.

    Starting with Rasheed Wallace, Portland boasted a staff rivaled by only recent Cincinnati Bengals teams in terms of arrests and total jail time served.

    Qyntel Woods, Rod Strickland, Damon Stoudamire, Shawn Kemp, Ruben Patterson, Derek Anderson, Darius Miles, Bonzi Wells and Zach Randolph all had some sort of trouble during their time.

    Most were pot smokers and bad teammates, while others, like Ruben Patterson, pleaded guilty to sexual assault while with the Blazers, and others like Qyntel Woods, who was a dog fighter, were just scumbags.

    Also, Derek Anderson was once spotted going through a McDonald's drive-thru while the Blazers were playing a game in the Rose Garden.

14. Marv Albert Sexual Assault

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    Back in 1997, a media circus surrounded Marv Albert.

    Albert was accused of forcibly sodomizing and biting a woman with whom he had had a 10-year sexual relationship.

    Albert fought back, saying she was just trying to get back at him for ending their relationship.

    He eventually pled guilty after DNA tests proved the bites belonged to Albert, leading to him being fired from NBC.

13. The Cocaine Years

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    A good portion of the NBA spent most of the late '70s and early '80s sniffing their way through seasons.

    Cocaine was a huge problem in the NBA for the time period, leading to shortened careers, crazy scenarios a lifetime ban and the death of one promising young man, Len Bias.

12. Tape-Delayed Playoff Games

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Tape-delayed basketball by itself is a travesty, but when it's done in the playoffs, now that's just terrible.

    The U.S. wasn't exactly enamored by the NBA in the '80s, so CBS bought the rights to the playoffs and began airing some games on tape delay.

    The most inexcusable game that ended up on tape-delay in most of the country was Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals.

    All Magic Johnson did in that game was score 42 points, grab 15 rebounds and drop seven dimes, so yea, it was kind of a big deal.

11. Triple-Double Whores

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    The biggest name that is highlighted in my mind here is Ricky Davis, but more recently, Andray Blatche is guilty of this.

    Back in 2003, Davis was a rebound shy of his first career triple-double. What did he do? Young Ricky went to his own basket, threw the ball off the rim and grabbed the offensive rebound, triple-double well in hand.

    Blatche did something similar in a game about a year ago, doing everything but throw the ball off his own rim for a trip-dub, even yelling at his teammates.

10. Jerry Krause

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    Going into the 1998-99 season, Jerry Krause was adamant about not re-signing Phil Jackson.

    In the process, he made the comment that it's the front offices that win championships, basically saying that he was responsible for the Bulls' success.

    Krause then traded away Scottie Pippen, basically forced Michael Jordan into retirement and ended the Bulls' chances (which were very good at the time) of winning a fourth straight title.

9. Isiah Thomas

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    Isiah Thomas did a decent job with the Toronto Raptors, then he bought the CBA, which promptly went bankrupt as Thomas decided coaching the Pacers was more important than keeping an eye on his newly acquired league.

    He then went on to the New York Knicks, where he killed their salary cap, gave Jerome James and Eddy Curry buckets of money, got sued for sexual harassment, and made everyone in New York hate him.

8. Blazers Drafting Big Men

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    The Portland Trail Blazers have drafted two of the biggest busts in the history of the NBA, and surprise, they are both centers.

    Back in 1984, a spot ahead of Michael Jordan, they took Sam Bowie, and in 2007, a spot ahead of Kevin Durant, they took Greg Oden.

    Just picking differently on one of those picks could have totally changed the history of their team.

7. 2004 Men's Olympic Basketball Team

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    Basketball is supposed to be America's sport.

    Baseball has been around long enough for other countries to catch up, and we don't offer football as an Olympic event, so basketball should be ours.

    The USA lost their opening game to Puerto Rico, who were led by NBA legend Carlos Arroyo, and later Lithuania, with their wins coming over Greece, Australia and Angola in the qualifying round.

    In the quarterfinals, they beat Spain but then lost to Argentina in the semis, sending them to the Bronze Medal Game, which they won against Lithuania.

    Good job boys, way to show Lithuania who's boss...the second time around.

6. Gold Club Scandal

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    The Gold Club scandal included an enormous amount of hilarity but was a huge scandal for the NBA.

    The Gold Club of Atlanta was under investigation since 1999 and was finally brought to trial back in 2006, with many an NBA player forced to take the stand.

    With dancers at the club allegedly giving away free sex to some NBA stars, the club began to grow exponentially as a hangout for NBA players when they came to Atlanta.

    The details of the trial are way too long for me to get into here, but if you want the whole thing, check out this magnificent wrap-up by Bill Simmons.

    One of the players to testify was Patrick Ewing, who dropped probably the greatest quote in the history of NBA-related trials, saying, "The girls danced, started fondling me, I got aroused, they performed oral sex. I hung around a little bit and talked to them, then I left."  

5. 2 Lockouts in 13 Years

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    Unless something crazy happens between now and the NBA draft, we are looking at a lockout starting this offseason in the NBA.

    They could take the same road as the NFL and decertify the players union so they can sue the owners into letting them back in, but that doesn't stop the labor problems.

    This will be the second lockout in 13 years, the last one coming in the first half of the 1998-99 season. What a shame.

4. NBA Pre-Shot Clock Era

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    Some things seem so simple after their creation that anything beforehand looks idiotic.

    In the early 1950s, the NBA was a physical, low-scoring game with no shot clock, so when the fourth quarter rolled around, whoever was up would just hold the ball as long as possible, absolutely grinding the game to a halt.

    It got so bad, that in November of 1950, the Minneapolis Lakers were defeated by the Fort Wayne Pistons in a 19-18 barnburner where the teams scored a combined four points in the fourth quarter.

    Needless to say, this game was not fan-friendly.

    So, in 1954 the NBA implemented the 24-second shot clock, proposed by Danny Biasone, and the league was saved.

3. Michael Jordan on the Wizards

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    I remember it like it was just yesterday.

    In 2001, Michael Jordan was to come back to basketball. It was going to be awesome. It was going to be historic. It was going to be...for the Wizards?

    Ok, that's still cool, MJ is back baby!

    In fact, Michael still had it in some sense. He was bordering on 40 and still averaging 20 points a game.

    However, it was just a bit shameful to see him in that blue jersey, and it all seemed so unnatural.

    In the end, the only good to ever come out of Jordan's return (besides him donating his salary to the 9/11 victims fund) was the farewell tour that he took in 2003, when the United Center gave him what seemed like an hour-long ovation.

2. The Malice in the Palace

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    This is another incident that I can still recall bit by bit.

    Ben Wallace connects with the best full-face shove in the history of the NBA, Ron Artest backs off and lays on the scorer's table as Stephen Jackson is in full-on crazy man mode, trying to fight every Piston.

    Then, like it appeared out of nowhere, comes a splash. The beer nails Artest in the face, and he bolts into the stands, swinging at whoever wants to stay in his way.

    Jackson comes in after him, trying to out-crazy Captain Crazy himself.

    They are both eventually dragged back onto the court, where Artest nails two Pistons fans who are talking trash.

    Jermaine O'Neal then comes sliding in from out of nowhere to add his two cents.

    Larry Brown gets on the microphone to tell everyone to stop chucking beers at the court and the whole time I sat with my jaw on the ground.

    Somehow, it seems even more insane now. Go ahead, re-watch it—it just seems so impossibly surreal.

1. Tim Donaghy

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    Tim Donaghy affected so much in the past decade that it would take a whole slideshow just dedicated to him to get it all out there.

    The most noticeable thing that he was involved with was the 2002 Lakers-Kings series, with Game 6 being at the heart of the allegations made toward Donaghy.

    The disgraced ex-referee is the worst thing to ever happen to the NBA, as it has given the league a black eye that it cannot seem to get to fade, and it seems like it's going to be sticking around for a while.

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