Kobe Bryant and the 10 Most Polarizing Players in NBA History

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 4, 2012

Kobe Bryant and the 10 Most Polarizing Players in NBA History

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    The NBA lends itself perfectly to passionate debates, and Kobe Bryant is at the forefront of the players in league history who are generally among the most discussed. 

    These 10 players inspire plenty of arguments, simply because of their polarizing nature. No two people ever hold the exact same opinion about one of these guys, but usually fall on one of the two ends of the spectrum. 

    Most players fall into the gray area of basketball discussions, but these 10 inspire those arguing to think in black-and-white terms. 

    Some of you love them. Some of you hate them. All of you have opinions about the 10 most polarizing players in NBA history. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's polarizing nature goes beyond his petty demands for a statue commemorating his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. There's more to it than his name change from Lew Alcindor and subsequent demand to move away from the Milwaukee Bucks to fulfill his cultural needs. 

    As great as he was, Abdul-Jabbar rubbed some people the wrong way because of his statuesque elegance (pun intended) on the basketball court. He made the game look easy, even though hitting sky-hooks was anything but. 

    Even though Kareem produced on the court, he was still crucified for his perceived lack of effort. It wasn't enough that he made All-Defensive teams. Kareem was still attacked by his detractors every time he stopped to catch his breath.

    His status as a polarizing player can be summed up best by this clip, starring a certain co-pilot named Roger Murdock. 

Carmelo Anthony

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    Carmelo Anthony is one of the best offensive players in the NBA right now, but it's not enough. No matter how hard New York Knicks fans may try to defend him, Melo simply isn't a well-rounded basketball player who can affect the outcome of a game in a variety of ways. 

    He's still an elite player, but that status is derived almost solely from his ability to put the ball in the basket. 

    Until he defends opponents with the same vigor that his fans use to defend him, Melo won't be able to become the MVP candidate that so many basketball viewers expect him to be. 

    In the era of black and white sports fandom, this means that he's tremendously overrated in some people's minds. 

Kobe Bryant

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    There's a reason that Kobe Bryant is featured in the title of this article: He's the most polarizing player of all time. 

    As justification, I'm going to point you towards the comment section of any article that discusses Kobe for a significant amount of time. Inevitably, you'll find two different types of responses from readers. 

    One group will say that the author is disrespectful towards the greatness of The Black Mamba. If there was praise, it wasn't enough. If criticism was the name of the game, it was unmerited. 

    The second group will take the opposite view and accuse the author of being a Kobe homer. In this situation, the praise is undeserved, and the criticism isn't strong enough. 

    It doesn't matter what the topic is. The former group isn't content if Kobe is called a top-five player in NBA history because he's really in the top two. The latter group won't rest until Kobe's clutchness is called into question and he's called a volume scorer. 

    If you're looking for the prototype of a polarizing NBA figure, look no further. 

Wilt Chamberlain

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    I simply can't imagine what the modern-day media would have done with Wilt Chamberlain. How crazy would the stories about his off-court...adventures...have gotten? What about his play on the court? 

    Wilt was polarizing enough when he was still playing, but he finds himself on this list because he still remains at the forefront of the debate concerning basketball greatness.

    As long as we discuss legacies in the NBA, we'll be forced to deal with the difficult issue of how much individual stats and team accomplishments matter. 

    This big man was all about the former, even though he won a few championships during the later stages of his NBA career. If he wanted to lead the league in assists, just to prove he could, then he was going to go out of his way to do so, even if that meant passing up the occasional open shot. 

    The Chairman of the Boards put up some ridiculous numbers during his illustrious basketball career, but he was often unable to get past Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. 

    You'll find a group of people who think Wilt is the greatest player ever. You'll also find individuals who don't believe he's one of the top-five players in basketball history. 

    Wilt is universally regarded as a great statistical player, but his status as a winner is always questioned. 

Allen Iverson

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    Allen Iverson did things in the manner that he thought was best. If the general public wasn't going to agree with his methods, he couldn't care less. 

    Did he have to go to practice? I'd tell you, but you already know The Answer. 

    Everything about this scoring guard was controversial. From his press-conference attire to his play on the hardwood, Iverson drummed up attention and debate. 

    Even though he was one of the most effective scorers of all time and could single-handedly carry his Philadelphia 76ers to victory on any given night with his scoring prowess, Iverson was still viewed as selfish. He didn't involve his teammates enough, and he was too quick to rely on his own shot-creating abilities. 

    When the dreaded "ball hog" term starts getting thrown around, that's when the true polarization is occurring. 

LeBron James

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    It's rare—and in this case convenient—that you can point to one specific moment in an athlete's career as the tipping point in the journey from popular to polarizing. 

    For LeBron James, that moment is clearly "The Decision," the infamous press conference during the summer of 2010 when he decided to "take his talents" from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat. The floodgates opened and the NBA world was quickly overtaken by the masses who had nothing but nasty things to say about LeBron. 

    He was viewed as giving up. Joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was the easy route to a title, after all. 

    Each and every time he passed up a game-winning shot or clanked one off the iron he was viewed as a failure and a great basketball player who shied away from big moments.

    The crunch-time failures started to trump moments like the "48 Special" against the Detroit Pistons, when LeBron took over down the stretch in the playoffs. 

    All of his quotes were analyzed. Everything was taken out of context.

    To a certain extent, plenty of NBA fans still can't look past that free-agency decision and continue to treat LeBron with nothing but vitriol. 

    Kobe may be the most polarizing NBA player of all time, but LeBron currently holds the crown and will continue to do so from this point forward. 

Bill Laimbeer

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    If you lived in Detroit during Bill Laimbeer's reign of terror with the Detroit Pistons, you probably loved him for the passion that he brought to the court. 

    However, you most likely despised the jump-shooting big man if you resided anywhere outside of the Motor City. 

    The 6'11" center may not have been the most talented player on the Pistons during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but he was the one that fully embodied the "Bad Boys" moniker. Laimbeer was not only physical, but also downright dirty when he felt that it was necessary. 

    He was an effective defender because of his ability to stop opponents and get under their skin. Whether it took flopping, subtle fouling, hard fouling or trash talk, Laimbeer was going to accomplish his goal by any means necessary. 

Dennis Rodman

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    Take everything that I just said about Bill Laimbeer and apply it to Dennis Rodman, because he filled the same role for the Detroit Pistons and then the Chicago Bulls. 

    That said, he became a truly polarizing figure during his time playing alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as he won championship after championship. 

    Chicago loved Rodman as much as Detroit loved Laimbeer, if not even more. 

    His flamboyant hairstyles, outspoken personality, "don't give a you-know-what" attitude and bad-boy reputation did nothing to win over fans outside of the Windy City, but it absolutely endeared him to the ones in it. 

Rajon Rondo

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    It's hard to find much middle ground with Rajon Rondo, as NBA fans typically fall into one of two camps.

    They either think that the Boston Celtics point guard is an MVP candidate, distributing the ball and playing defense well enough to carry the C's, or they believe that Rondo is incredibly overrated because of his scoring shortcomings. 

    If you don't believe that Rondo is polarizing, just look at the uproar created by every one of his triple-doubles. The media is sent into a frenzy whenever the floor general posts at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, hailing him as the greatest thing since sliced bread. 

    At the same time, the detractors might point out that he shot inefficiently and turned the ball over, claiming that triple-doubles are an over-glamorized stat that shows uniqueness rather than greatness. 

    Most rational basketball fans can recognize that Rondo is a truly special basketball player. Where he falls on the spectrum of specialness is still very much up for debate. 

Russell Westbrook

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    As B/R's own Rob Mahoney recently pointed out, Russell Westbrook draws more unnecessary criticism than any other player in the league right now. 

    People tend to fall into the trap of functional fixedness when thinking about Westbrook. Just because he's called a point guard doesn't mean that he must play like a traditional point guard. 

    Because he's a dynamic scorer who often looks for his own shot before noticing open teammates, Westbrook attracts a lot of negative attention. At the same time, his ability to jump start the Oklahoma City Thunder's offense is often overlooked. 

    Westbrook requires the average viewer to think outside the box and accept that traditional positional roles aren't always in the best interest of a team. Some people won't accept that which makes Westbrook a convenient punching bag. 

    When you have some fans lauding him as an MVP candidate and others calling him the most overrated player in the NBA, you know he's polarizing. 

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