10 Biggest NBA PR Blunders of the Past Decade

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2011

10 Biggest NBA PR Blunders of the Past Decade

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    The NBA is a hotbed for talent, but it is also latent with more than its fair share of controversy.

    Most recently, Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis is facing a lawsuit for alleged sexual assault of a former team employee. The team has denied the plaintiff's allegations, but the outcome of this conflict will not matter, as enough damage as already been done.

    Even if Ellis is cleared of all charges, he will never be looked at the same way again. He could go on to have the most illustrious of careers, yet it would be tainted with the red ink that will be this lawsuit.

    As disappointing as it may be, the reality is that Ellis' situation is not even the worst type of publicity the league as ever seen. There has been no shortage of lawsuits, convictions, controversial dealings and ethical ineptitude over the years, as the league struggles harder to procure a positive image with each passing public relations pitfall.

    Ellis is not the first athlete to initiate a widespread public relations nightmare for the NBA, and as uncomfortable as such a notion may be, he certainly won't be the last.

Malice at the Palace

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    In November of 2004, madness ensued at The Palace of Auburn Hills with less than a minute left in a contest between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons.

    Both players and fans were involved in the brawl, and both punches and liquids were used as forms of defense. The aftermath of it all was absolutely horrendous for the NBA.

    Professional athletes, who are idolized by millions of impressionable young minds, went into the stands and engaged in acts of violence against their spectators. This would not go away overnight.

    Such a line should have never been crossed, regardless of how immature the acts of both parties were. Consequently, the vicious assault has been embedded in the minds of basketball fans, and will never be forgotten.

    Metta World Peace can change his name as many times as he pleases, but he will always be the volatile Ron Artest in the eyes of the basketball world. 

    This was more than a public relations blunder; it was a downright travesty.

Isiah Thomas Allegations

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    Long before Monta Ellis, there was Isiah Thomas.

    In 2007, Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by a former New York Knicks executive. After a three-week-long trial, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her $11.6 million.

    The trial only worsened the reputation of the Knicks organization, which had become the laughingstock of the NBA at the hands of Thomas. He inexplicably marred not only his legacy, but that of the entire league's by engaging in such horrendous acts.

    He is now often associated with this lawsuit, as well as the concept of mismanagement, before his on-the-court accolades. The players still boast an immense sense of respect for the Hall of Famer, but his image changed forever, as did the league's, after the trial.

    To call this mess a blunder is an understatement.

NBA Vetoes Chris Paul to Los Angeles Lakers

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    As acting owner of the New Orleans Hornets, the NBA had every right to seek out the best possible trade for Chris Paul, but the manner in which they did it was a logistical nightmare.

    A deal had been agreed upon that would have sent the disgruntled All-Star point guard to the Los Angeles Lakers, when David Stern stepped in and killed it. Paul was then sent instead to the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Few will argue that the Lakers' offer was better than the Clippers', and there is even a case to be made that Stern did exactly what the Denver Nuggets did in their attempt to trade Carmelo Anthony last season.

    The latter is true to a certain extent, but Denver never put a stop to an agreed-upon deal; Masai Ujiri never screamed "Psych!" after agreeing to send Anthony to the New York Knicks.

    Stern did, and his legacy, as well of that of the NBA's, has been tainted as a result.

Firearms Drawn in Washington Wizards Locker Room

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    On Christmas Eve of 2010, as members of the Washington Wizards, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton drew pistols on each other in the team's locker room in response to a dispute over a gambling debt.

    Such an event created an unwanted precedent, and essentially ruined the careers of both players. Arenas was consequently sentenced to 30 days in a halfway house, and never returned to his previous form, while Crittenton has since left the NBA and been charged with murder.

    The NBA has never quite rebounded from the conflict, which shed the league's athletes in one of the most negative lights we have ever seen.

    This is supposed to be the place where amazing happens, not the place where lives are ruined or put in jeopardy.

NBA Salary Cannot Feed Latrell Sprewell's Family

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    Latrell Sprewell once turned down a three-year, $21 million contract extension, stating that he had a "family to feed," furthering the stereotype of professional athletes being too greedy.

    The former NBA star has since fallen on tough times, as his house entered foreclosure and he was forced to auction off his yacht. It's hard to take pity on a guy who turned down the opportunity to make that kind of money though.

    Perhaps Sprewell could have avoided all that has come to pass by accepting the meager contract that was being offered to him. Somehow though, the issue at hand became the obnoxious size of player contracts instead of the pauper-like wages NBA teams were offering its players. 

    On a side note, had he choked P.J. Carlesimo five years north of 1997, Sprewell would have made an appearance twice.

Stephon Marbury's Escapade with an MSG Intern

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    In 2005, one Madison Square Garden intern went above and beyond her job description, embarking on a scandalous tryst with then-Knicks guard Stephon Marbury.

    The meaningless act became incredibly meaningful as a result of one of our previously mentioned perpetrators: Isiah Thomas. His sexual harassment trial forced the intern in question, Kathleen Decker, to take the stand and recount the events of that night.

    Had it not been for Thomas, Marbury's intern escapade may never have been brought to light, but make no mistake this was a public relations blunder in itself.

    What did this event in particular say about potential employment for an NBA team or its willingness to protect the questionable acts of its players?

    The league may as well have forced each organization to print a "Beware: Employees Run the Risk of Being Propositioned by Team's Players" warning on each application.

DeShawn Stevenson Admits to Statutory Rape

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    DeShawn Stevenson's statutory rape debacle barely makes the cut here, not for lack of horribleness, but because it happened in 2001 and we are on the brink of 2012.

    In June of 2001, Stevenson surrendered to police after admitting to a woman that he had consenting sexual relations with her 14-year-old daughter, after providing her with alcohol. 

    Stevenson was 19 and a rookie in the league at the time, but that doesn't excuse his actions. He was sentenced to court-mandated community service as a punishment. His sentencing wasn't viewed as all that harsh, and prompted the usual "athletes receive preferable treatment" arguments to ensue.

    The volatile shooting guard has never quite avoided the reach of the judicial system, and was even arrested for public intoxication earlier this year. 

    Stevenson's actions in 2001 were despicable, but if we have learned anything over his career, it's that he is a public relations blunder in himself. 

Executives Drunk Dial Too

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    Former CEO of the Orlando Magic Bob Vander Weide resigned from his post after calling up Dwight Howard at 1 a.m. to let him know how much the team wanted him to stay. Oh, and he did so after having a few glasses of wine.

    If we are to believe Vander Weide's sentiments, then we are accepting that he was not intoxicated at the time of the phone call. So, I guess we should just chock up the late-night dial as pure stupidity then?

    As a league executive, Vander Weide should have known better than to phone his superstar so late, let alone after having a few glasses of wine. There's also the fact that desperation is an unattractive quality that most people try to steer clear of, and after this latest twist, Orlando reeks of just desperation.

    And that is a blunder in itself.

Kobe Bryant's Infidelities

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    Kobe Bryant is amidst a brutal divorce process, and this isn't the first time his supposed infidelities have made headlines.

    In 2003, Bryant was charged with the rape of a 19-year-old Colorado hotel employee, sending the basketball world into a frenzy. He had always been the pillar for responsibility; it was refreshing to see a superstar keep himself out of trouble. Such impressions of him have since vanished.

    While the case against the shooting guard was eventually dismissed, the damage to his image, and the league's, has been done. The NBA attempts to pride itself on athletes that don't run rampant or go gallivanting in their free time. Bryant's transgressions did not help the league's case.

    It may be comforting to know that Bryant never raped anybody, but adultery isn't exactly an admired attribute amongst public circles.

    For the duration of this debacle, and for quite some time after, Bryant turned the NBA into the place where first impressions meant nothing. 

The Decision

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    In July of 2010, LeBron James embarked on one of the worst decisions in the history of the NBA.

    No, this is not in reference to his team of choice, but to the manner in which he announced said organization. On a nationally televised special, James told the basketball world that he was taking his talents to South Beach.

    What was wrong with this? Was it because it was a blatant act of narcissism? Was it perhaps the fact that he neglected to phone the Cleveland Cavaliers before hand? Was it the obnoxious number of Vitamin Waters strategically set behind.

    Actually, the latter was an ingenious touch from a marketing standpoint, but the overall premise of "The Decision" was horrific. No matter how much money James' decision raised for charity, the nature of the program caused nothing but headaches for the NBA as an entity.

    Aren't players criticized for their egos enough already? Was a self-absorbed display of this magnitude really necessary?

    It's great the the self-proclaimed King has realized the error of his ways, but unfortunately for both him and the league as a whole, "The Decision" is one that cannot be reversed.


    You can follow Dan Favale on Twitter @Dan_Favale.