11 of the Most Disrespected Players in NBA History
The word "disrespect" is defined in the dictionary as lack of respect; discourtesy; rudeness. On the block it is used to dismiss someone as irrelevant. "Underrated" is defined as to rate or evaluate too low; underestimate. Simply, someone is rated lower than they should be, but are rated nonetheless.
The difference between disrespect and underrated may appear negligible, but it's profound. To diss someone is to completely devalue their talents as if they were not even remotely as good as they appear to be. Conversely, to be underrated implies you are valued in some capacity and just not fully appreciated.
Throughout the history of sports there have always been a collection of players that the ticket-buying public refuses to believe is just “that good," hence they disrespect their abilities. Therefore they make up reasons to say the player underachieved or disrespect said player’s accomplishments by completely ignoring their contributions.
For example, some would say Scottie Pippen is underrated. His talent was respected from coast to coast, however his true value to the Bulls’ success is debatable. While contrarily, Moses Malone has been disrespected mightily throughout time. His contributions are rarely discussed if mentioned at all. Few know he gave Kareem fits or that he was a three-time MVP.
Another example of the difference between underrated and disrespected would be Emmitt Smith and Terrell Davis. Smith is underrated by many who feel his numbers are not indicative of how good he actually was, while TD is completely thought of as a system running back and nothing more. One is rated as a top running back while the other is not even mentioned.
So this is a list comprised of champions who have been disrespected throughout time. They have been tarred and feathered for a litany of reasons ranging from location to pigmentation. The participants on this list should be heralded for their on-court accomplishments and saluted for their contributions to the game we love.
11) Clyde Drexler: 1983-1998
“Yeah he was that tall point guard who played for the Portland Trail Blazers, right.”—Hayden O., 16 years old
Clyde Drexler played his entire NBA career in anonymity, only to be ignored in a few All-Star Game appearances. This is a bit extreme, but the Blazer legend was a forgotten man outside of the Portland community. He played in the Northwest, far from the basketball meccas of Harlem or Venice Beach.
The Houston product entered the 1983 draft in hopes of being drafted by his home team the Houston Rockets, who owned the first and third picks in that draft. The Rockets were the first to disrespect the guard by selecting Rodney McCray out of the University of Louisville. McCray averaged 11.2 points in his senior year, which was his highest output in four years at Louisville and was not the college player Drexler was. Glide averaged 11.9 points per and 10.5 rebounds a night in just his freshman year. By his junior year he was at 15.9 points a night.
The Louisville swingman would have a productive NBA career as one of the league’s better defenders, but would never be the player Drexler was. Drexler, instead of going third to the Rockets, lasted all the way to No. 14 where the Blazers would eventually select him. Glide would be the best player on a championship-caliber Blazer team but would struggle to garner the national respect he deserved.
This was never more evident than in 1992 when the NBA created “The Dream Team." This was a collection of the 11 best basketball players in the world; one spot was left open for a college player. Drexler was not thought of as one of the 11 best players in the league and was not selected for the team, although Chris Mullin was.
Drexler and with the rest of the NBA players were given a season-long tryout and the best player of the 1991-92 season would be awarded the final spot. It was basically the equivalent of playing for the last pick at the park. If you win you are in and if you lose, oh well. Drexler did win the spot on the team but what his peers thought of him was now evident.
Clarence Gaines Jr., who worked and scouted for the Chicago Bulls, recalled a conversation, between Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen where Pippen said “If Clyde Drexler had Tex Winter as a coach, he could be on the level of Michael Jordan. Bottom line, Clyde was not a fundamentally sound player.”
Drexler played in 10 All-Star Games in his 15-year career and was nicknamed “the Glide” because apparently everybody has to have a nickname. In actuality it came from the effortless way he did things on the court. Glide’s Trail Blazers were the epitome of “always a bridesmaid never a bride." The Drexler-led group played in two NBA Finals, losing both. The losses were at the hands of Michael Jordan and the also-often-forgotten Isiah Thomas.
After several years in Portland the guard would eventually request a trade to a contender and the Trail Blazers obliged. They sent the guard to the team he hoped would have drafted back in 1983, the Houston Rockets. It was there Glide would finally win his first and only championship in the 1994-95 season.
In total Glide would play in three NBA Finals and five Western Conference finals. The player who was ignored by 13 teams in the 1983 draft and who lacked fundamentals would wind up being the leading scorer and rebounder in that 1983 draft. He also would be its only member selected to the Hall of Fame.
10) David Robinson: 1989-2003
“He (meaning Hakeem Olajuwon) was the best player on the floor and they were the better team in that series.”—Avery Johnson discussing the Spurs losing to the Houston Rockets
David Robinson’s first championship is widely viewed as having an asterisk by it, because it was obtained during the lockout-shortened season. Avery Johnson was the starting point guard on the Spurs' first championship team and would later write a book titled Aspire Higher: Winning On and Off the Court with Determination and Discipline where he would discuss his time with the Spurs.
In that book, Johnson talks about the 1994 season when the Spurs had the best record in the NBA at 62-20 but lost in the Western Conference finals to the eventual champion Houston Rockets. Johnson says this about losing to the Rockets:
We reached the Western Conference Finals but lost to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets, who went on to win the title. Quite frankly, he was the best player on the floor and they were the better team in that series.”
Johnson also talks about Robinson being the team leader, but not being able to get the notorious pain in the ass Dennis Rodman to be part of the team.
What makes these quotes so telling is David Robinson was the league MVP in 1994. That award is given to the best player in the league each year; now granted it is a regular-season award but how could you say another player was better than your leader? A leader who led your team to 62 wins, which was 15 more than the team that beat you in the playoffs?
If one doubts the severity of these comments, take a moment and think about how you would feel if your wife or girlfriend told the world that your main nemesis was better than you.
This unfortunately sums up Robinson’s career; he played in a small market and received even smaller respect. He was one of the game’s greatest centers but his name is rarely mentioned when people talk about the late '80s and early '90s players.
If you asked a casual fan who scored the second-most points in a regular-season game few would know it was David Robinson. His 71 points against the Los Angeles Clippers was a then-NBA record. He ranks fourth in league history in blocks per game, which is well ahead of noted defensive stalwarts Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, but no mention of him when discussing the top centers in the last 25 years.
It is difficult for a giant to go unnoticed, however Robinson was able to accomplish this fairly easily in his career. Ultimately, the Admiral’s feats are remembered by few and forgotten by many.
9) Bob McAdoo: 1973-1986
“I have no idea. When you asked I was going wait like five minutes and then change the subject.”—Bernard Thomas, 33
A tale of two seasons would best describe McAdoo’s career. Few players can boast a professional resume that includes averaging double figures in points for 14 years, an MVP trophy and two championship rings. McAdoo played for seven NBA franchises and was a major contributor to them all. He averaged fewer than 20 minutes a game only twice in his 14-year playing career.
The 6’9" forward was a rare combination of size and handles. McAdoo was able to put the ball on the floor as well as pull up which made him difficult to guard. He led the league in scoring three straight years from 1973-1976 and averaged 32 points and 14 rebounds in that three-year span.
His first eight years in the league, McAdoo was a force and he would transform into a role player in the second half of his career. This transformation would enable the forward to win two NBA titles. This transformation may also be the driving force behind why McAdoo is a forgotten soldier.
McAdoo was easily one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players but for some reason was left off the Top 50 list. This was not the first time Bob’s credentials had been ignored. When McAdoo arrived in Los Angeles he was a proven commodity who had to suppress his ego in order to be a part of a championship team. His disrespect was daily and sometimes hourly.
McAdoo was a former MVP who was just 30 years old and still in his prime. However, daily he watched Kurt Rambis take minutes he had earned over the years. Rambis was a grit player but he was not better than McAdoo.
That is how McAdoo ended his career—as a role player, cheering for teammates that he used to crush. He spent the second half of his career as being a part of something rather than the reason for it.
8) Walt Frazier: 1968-1980
“In 1972-73, Reed returned and a veteran Knick squad gutted its way to its second NBA Championship. They outlasted Boston in a classic Eastern Final series and then beat the Lakers in the Finals, becoming the first team in NBA history to defeat two 60-win teams en route to a title.”—The Knickerbockers Story
This is how the New York Knicks website describes the 1972-73 championship season. This champion season saw Willis Reed play 69 games and average 11 points and eight rebounds. Reed was the heart of that team but the best player was Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
Clyde played in 78 games and led the team in scoring with 21 a night and in assists with five a night. Clyde also averaged seven boards a game which was just one shy of what Reed did nightly. Yet, still very little love for Clyde. This would be a staple for the defensive juggernaut that was Frazier.
Most basketball experts are well aware of Clyde’s exploits, but it is the casual fan that is not as knowledgeable. The casual fan who is well aware of the famous 1970 Game 7 Marv Albert call about the big question but few know that it was Frazier who secured the win for the Knicks. In doing so, he brought Madison Square Garden its first-ever championship banner.
Clyde’s line in that pivotal game with an injured Reed and the championship in the balance: 36 points, 19 assists and seven rebounds—but those numbers are rarely mentioned. Instead we hear about if Reed would play, which is the problem. Frazier was arguably the best player on the most popular team in America, but remains an afterthought when discussing the Knicks for modern-day fans.
He played on the ultimate team and his individual talent is forgotten for it. Today it seems more people know him for his play-by-play duties with Mike Breen than for his one-on-one abilities. The Knicks won two championships in three years because Clyde was special, but the world tends to forget the guard.
Frazier was overshadowed by the proverbial big man on campus in Reed. Frazier was gargantuan in the most significant of moments in the most significant basketball city in the world and this should have catapulted him to iconic status. Instead, he is thought of as a good player who dresses loudly and has a way with words.
7) Dwyane Wade: 2004-Now
“Dwayne Wade is THE most overrated player in the NBA.”—Tyler33 blog
We have all forgotten at some point just how nice No. 3 is. Dwyane Wade’s greatness has become expected and under-appreciated outside of the Dade County area. How else can one explain the lack of respect for the man who led the Miami Heat to the '05-06 NBA title? Every fan has their list of top players and depending on the fan’s proximity it varies, however who has the No. 1 spot should never alternate.
There may be certain facets of the game that top players are better at, but few if any have the complete package of Wade. Yet, few NBA sites have him rated as the best. There are some sites that fail to have Wade in the top five and others that have him outside of the top three.
It can be a cold world sometimes for the former NBA Finals MVP. If you are building an NBA franchise and you could have your pick of any player in the league, who would you select first? Now most of you will not hesitate, but for the ones who do, this selection is for you. Of the top players in the league, none possess the skill set of this monster.
Wade is younger than the Bean, stronger than Paul, tougher than James, more skilled than Howard, more clutch than Anthony and a better defender than Durant. Are you still not entertained?
He is now in his prime and armed with a tremendous team, which was not the case when he led a group of has-beens to the 2006 NBA crown. With this group Flash should close the door on any notion that he is not “ruler of all that he surveys."
Hopefully the league can get Daniel Gilbert and crew to stop acting like a group of scorned school girls and allow us to proceed in watching Wade distance himself from the pack.
6) Kobe Bryant: 1996-Now
“Instead, they lump Bryant in with other players who have not sniffed the type of success he has.”—Kwame Fisher-Jones written here
No other champion has been so frequently compared to losers. No other champion has endured the incongruous mixture of ambiguous and blatant disrespect.
If you were to Google Kobe Bryant, a plethora of names would appear and only one of those names holds an NBA title. There lies the disrespect. Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady were both called better than Bryant.
To quote Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out there?” How can a champion be compared to a chump. Now yes, chump is a bit extreme, but truth is these cats have no business being mentioned in the same breath as Bryant. So extreme is what’s needed to emphasize just how much of a travesty these comparisons have been.
Imagine Magic Johnson being compared to players who have never played in a conference championship yet alone an NBA Finals game. Imagine Kareem being compared to Jack Sikma or Kevin Love. It would be blasphemy, yet it has been done to Bryant. Time and time again.
ESPN ranked the top players in the NBA and had six players better than Bryant. Four of those six have never played at the level Bryant has. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant are better than Kobe Bryant right now. In a word, NAH and in a phrase, “I’m good." For years people outside of Los Angeles and even some in LA have despised the Laker guard as if he owes them money. Their disrespect is personal and is understandable given the emotional charge sports can bring.
It is the media whose lack of respect over the years has been maddening. HoopsVibe did an article where they quote noted writers saying McGrady is in the same class. We need not travel down that road, rather let us fast-forward to the present.
Now it is LeBron James’ turn to disrespect the throne. The self-proclaimed king is being placed among true NBA royalty and has yet to rock the king’s garb.
The block can give you a name and ESPN can give anyone acclaim, but achievement and allure are earned. Kobe Bryant has earned his share time and time and time again.
5) Isiah Thomas: 1981-1994
“He is exiled. And for the exiled, what is lost—and what is still hoped for—bears down with brute force on the present no matter how idyllic it seems.”—Bill Reiter for FoxSports.com
You are damn right Isiah Thomas has been exiled, black-balled, mistreated and most of all disrespected. Thomas played in—check that, dominated—what is widely considered the golden age of basketball: the 1980s. Yet, there is no mention of him among the all-time greats.
Thomas’ disrespect has been well documented, from his Dream Team omission to Hoops Doctors ranking him eighth on the list of the NBA’s all-time guards. Zeke was a fearless competitor who treated his opponent like an enemy that was trying to infiltrate his kingdom. He pulled no punches and never hesitated to cross that imaginary line in pursuit of a victory. His vicious fear-no-man style of play won him two championships but lost him the respect of his peers.
While many champions have enjoyed an almost euphoric glory, Thomas has been banished to purgatory as if he is the foil to a perfect NBA. The Lakers, Bulls, Rockets, Celtics and Pistons are the only teams that have won back-to-back titles. Thomas bears the scars of those battles that would have crumbled the weak, but he stood strong in victory.
Yet, for some reason he is vilified for those improbable victories. His 25 points in a single quarter of the 1988 NBA Finals, on a severely sprained ankle, was legendary. His 16 points in 94 seconds in Game 5 against the Knicks was amazing, and his 12 All-Star Game appearances are confirmation he was one of the best.
The world only knows the bumbling general manager of the New York Knicks or his tragic time spent as the Knicks head coach. If the younger generation only knew, or were showed, the fiery Ares who was despised by the very giants that he slayed night in and night out.
4) Dennis Johnson: 1977-1990
“They were like Supermen, and their teammates knew they had to grab on to that cape or be left behind. We didn’t have that.”—Lenny Wilkens, from Unguarded: My Forty Years Surviving the NBA, on why the Sonics did not repeat as NBA champions
In 1979, the then-Seattle SuperSonics won their first and only NBA title. They were led by a third-year guard named Dennis Johnson. Johnson would take home the Finals MVP award for his accomplishments.
Johnson was known as a defensive player throughout his career and made nine straight All-Defensive first teams. The expertise he established on the defensive side of the floor did not translate to him being thought of as a great basketball player, which drove Johnson crazy.
You would have to search long and hard to see Wilkens use the phrase “great basketball player” when describing Dennis. In fairness Wilkens says Johnson deserved the MVP award and had a great, great NBA Finals.
Later in the book the coach talks about how great players impose their will on other teams and how the Sonics did not have that. DJ was never tried with the same level of respect as his adversaries. He was thought of as a one-trick pony and was never thought of when pundits discussed the cream of the crop.
He was eventually traded to the Phoenix Suns over a contract dispute with Seattle management. Once he was traded, Paul Silas and head coach Lenny Wilkens called DJ a cancer. The accusation was fitting since any thought of Seattle being a championship team died when Johnson left and the franchise was never revitalized.
In Phoenix, DJ tried to establish himself as a great multifaceted player but failed and was shipped to Boston. There he became a true champion and flourished under K.C. Jones and Red Auerbach. The Philadelphia 76ers had beaten the Boston Celtics in the 1982 Eastern Conference finals, which later became the "Beat LA" game. The Celtics were victimized by Andrew “the Boston Strangler” Toney in ’82 and Sidney Moncrief in ’83 which implored Red Auerbach to make a change.
A big strong defensive guard was now imperative if the Celtics wanted to continue their stronghold on the Eastern Conference and since those types of players do not grow on trees, Auerbach had to put his hustler’s hat on once again. In the summer of ’83 Auerbach fired head coach Bill Fitch and traded for Dennis Johnson.
Johnson was a man’s man by all who was misunderstood by the docile and appreciated by the volatile. Paul Silas called him a cancer and Larry Bird called him the best. He just fit in Boston and oddly enough, the Southern California native helped Beantown beat LA in his first year with the C's.
Dennis Johnson was nominated to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, three years after his death in 2007. Dennis’ late nomination was indicative of his career. They never really miss you until you're dead or you’re gone.
3) Julius Erving: 1971-1987
“It wasn't long before even his magnificent Afro was trimmed down to something more conservative and, dare we say, commercial.”—Phil Taylor
The Doctor was one of the founding fathers of Flight School and is treated as an afterthought when discussing it. Most of today’s youth have no idea about the Doctor and his forays to the hoop. Even fewer know about what he accomplished in the ABA, which is why he is on this list.
You will hear some of basketball's purest place Dr. J in the conversation as one of the top small forwards in the game during the '80s, but he was the top small forward during the '70s period. “Doc” was the ABA and at one point he and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were basketball.
A wonderful article, written by my esteemed colleague Greg Haefner on this very site, proclaims Rick Barry the best small forward over Erving in the '70s and many other rankings have him as a top forward in the '80s if he is on the list at all. In Haefner’s piece he does place Doc on the '80s team but his ABA accomplishments far outweigh his NBA accolades.
Doc arrived in the ABA in 1971-72 season and quickly changed the game. Doc flew while other players merely jumped. His first year in professional basketball he averaged 27.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game; he was just 21 years old and was the best player in a man’s league.
Erving played in the ABA for five seasons and won the ABA MVP in three of those years. To put his dominance in perspective, from 1971 to 1981 Julius Erving won four MVP trophies, three were consecutive. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan can make that claim of four or more MVP trophies.
The ABA had well-documented financial problems and Erving’s team, the Virginia Squires, were no different. He was sold to the New York Nets in 1973 by the Squires and led the Nets to an ABA title in his first season with the club. More importantly, he gave them the necessary credibility to play in the NBA, credibility they would work tirelessly on destroying but that is a story for another day. The Nets sold their soul to get into the NBA and it took years before they were ever relevant again.
In the '70s Doc made a name for himself, but the '80s was where he created his legacy. Everyone has heard the legendary Lakers announcer Chick Hearn's “rock the baby to sleep" call, what makes that dunk so astounding is Dr. J was 32 at that time. If he was bad then we should have seen him when he had a real afro.
When the ABA folded or merged and Dr. J was sold to the Philadelphia 76ers, he left behind stories and achievements that today seem to be so easily forgotten—such achievements as averaging 33 points and 20 rebounds in his first-ever trip to the playoffs or “the dunk” in the 1972 ABA-NBA All-Star Game. The 20 boards a night at 6’6" is amazing.
He is the reason we have a Slam Dunk Contest, which is still the most popular contest in all of sports. The ABA premiered the Slam Dunk Contest in 1976 and the first-ever winner was Dr. J. It was there Dr. J cleared the air that Jordan flew through towards immorality.
The Doctor has the rings in three professional titles, he has the battles in four trips to the NBA Finals and now it is time he gets the respect. Former Sixers general manager Pat Williams referred to Erving as “revolutionary” in an ESPN article and we all benefited from the revolution being televised.
2) Shaquille O’Neal: 1992-2011
“If he has Kobe's focus or MJ's heart and will and had dedicated as much energy to his game, FT's and defense as he does to taking shots at people he would have left Duncan, Hakeem and MAYBE Kareem in his wake as the MDE Center……… YOu tell me if Hakeem/Duncan has Eddie Jones, van Exel, Horry etc. that they would of been swept by Utah?”—Killakobe81
This sentiment is shared by most when you conjure up the name Shaquille O’Neal. There is this belief that he should have won nine championships and somehow resolved the Biggie and Tupac murders. Being that Shaq failed at accomplishing these things, he is lazy, an underachiever, the "Big Disappointment" and a waste of talent.
Never mind he played in six NBA Finals, winning four of them; he is big so that is to be expected. Forget the fact that he has three NBA Finals MVP trophies, which is tied for second all-time, because players do that every day. It is so irrelevant that he is one of only 11 players in NBA history to win both a Finals MVP and Rookie of the Year award. He is so fat that he is only third in NBA history in playoff games played and Shaq is so lazy that he is only fourth in NBA history in minutes played.
Does it sound kind of ridiculous when you read it to yourself? Shaq was a lot of things in his NBA career and "disrespected" leads the pack. Numbers aside, he is the greatest combination of skill and strength the NBA has ever known—yes, better than Wilt.
To say Shaq underachieved is the equivalent of saying a Ferrari is not fast enough, Halle Berry is not tall enough, John Elway lost too many Super Bowls, Jordan took some years off or Serena Williams has broad shoulders. Yes all of those things could be argued, but they do not outweigh just how magnificent the accomplishment or person is.
Shaq was a giant who achieved what few have, however history once again proves no one roots for the giant.
1) Larry Bird: 1980-1992
“After Morrison purposefully banked in a shot from an impossible angle to beat Oklahoma State in December, an NBA scout sitting next to me turned and proclaimed, 'Larry Bird.'”—Jesse Hardman,
There is no more disrespected player in NBA history than Larry Bird. The comparisons to other players are so out of pocket that a baby-powder smack should be enforced whenever Bird is compared to a Caucasian player, or any other player.
Paul Pierce is no Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki is no Larry Bird—King Kong ain't got nothing on Larry Bird. Bird did not just beat teams—he beat legends. Larry Legend won three straight MVP trophies, but that was not the most impressive feat. Who he beat out is what will make your jaw drop: Jordan, Thomas, Magic, Akeem, Kareem, Moses and the Doctor are some of the names that should ring out to you.
Bird was a savage competitor who some hated because he was that good and others despised because he was that successful. He fought—he clawed, basically—and he did everything except stomp on Eddie Murphy’s couch to win. Bird was a yeoman whose work ethic was legendary. His three-hour pregame workout was abnormal at the time but has now become the norm.
To compare such a legend to today’s players in itself is a travesty. However, to whom he is compared is just a painful reminder that the past is so easily forgotten. It appears that any unathletic player with a jump shot is the next LB, and help us all if he is Caucasian.
Bird was a brash SOB whose trash-talking was infamous, but his play is what made him famous. Bird played in four consecutive NBA Finals, five in total, and eight Eastern Conference finals in his 13-year NBA career. He averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the playoffs for his career, as a small forward.
He was the quintessential clutch player. The bigger the game the better he played. In the 1981 NBA Finals he averaged 15 boards a game and out-rebounded his starting center and power forward for the entire postseason.
Bird made the All-NBA Defensive second team three times. He is the best small forward to ever play the game and should never ever, ever, ever be compared to anyone. He was the greatest small forward during the greatest era of basketball.