NBA Power Rankings: The 50 Dirtiest Players in NBA History

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterDecember 1, 2010

NBA Power Rankings: The 50 Dirtiest Players in NBA History

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    8 Jun 1997:  John Stockton #12, Karl Malone #32 and Bryon Russell #3 of the Utah Jazz during the Jazz 78-73 win over the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr  /Allsport
    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    These here are the bad boys, folks. Every sport has them. These are the ones that put winning so high on their list of priorities, they disregard ethical decency to attain it.

    These are the guys that you hate when they are on a different team but absolutely adore when they are on your own. Whether it be constant elbows being thrown or simply a propensity to flop, these players work on the line separating lawful play from illegal venture.

    You will find that there are two types of dirty athletes. There are those that are acting out of frustration and those that are trying to get an edge. All the while, these guys have added a huge dose of character to our beloved game. They should be made into villains, and thanked, in that order. 

    Here are your top 50 dirtiest NBA players of all time.

50. Christian Laettner

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    It seems that the NBA's top defenders fill out this list. It is fitting. In a league that is geared towards scoring, a defender sometimes has to bend the rules to make it a level playing field. 

    But I cannot disregard Laettner's ability to hold a grudge as he did in this video. 

49. Robert Horry

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    As you can see, there is an obvious transition in the NBA. What were considered hard fouls a decade ago are now considered cheap shots. 

    Robert Horry is an older player that knows you sometimes have to deliver a message along with a foul. Is this dirty? Yes. Is it necessary? Extremely. 

48. Gary Payton

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    MIAMI - NOVEMBER 7:  Gary Payton #20 of the Miami Heat reacts to an offensive foul called against him in the first period against the Seattle SuperSonics on November 7, 2006 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami  Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
    Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    You didn't think the greatest thief in the NBA would be here? 

    Gary Payton was a member of nine All-Defensive first teams. You don't get there without cracking some eggs. Or at the very least grabbing some jerseys and arms. 

47. Vlade Divac

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    Right off the bat, I want you, the reader, to understand that I feel flopping is a dirty tactic. It is a lazy way around the rules. Sure there is contact, but selling it to make it look like there was a foul is deplorable. 

    I liked Vlade Divac when he was on my Lakers in the '90s. But the one thing I could never stand was that he was constantly on the floor. That is no way to get an advantage.

    Vlade was the best at it. 

46. Anthony Mason

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    Anthony Mason was a bit undersized to play power forward in the NBA. His brawn and physical strength made up for that fact. Mason played hard and physical.

    When he had to defend the bigger players of the league, he was known to give a little extra. Shoves in the back and tugs of the shirt were a natural occurrence of the day.

    Mason is one player that played so physically, it was hard to determine if he was dirty or just extremely active.

45. Latrell Sprewell

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    Latrell was a tough defender that would not back down from any fight. But I have to include him here for the utter lack of disrespect he showed to the his coach and this fine league, when in 1997, he choked P.J. Carlesimo.

    During a Warriors practice, Sprewell felt he was getting criticized too much. Some would call this getting coached. Either way, he choked his coach to the ground.

    No, he wasn't kicked out of the NBA. Are you crazy? He went on to make millions.

44. Jeff Ruland

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    Jeff Ruland was not supposed to be a starting center in the NBA. He was always out there trying to prove his critics wrong. This may be why he played the way he did. 

    Ruland was a tough burden for opponents to deal with down low. He liked to take chip shots and would elbow or shove defenders to get that shot going.

    He was also a beast to handle defensively. He was always a degree or two away from full-on groping. 

43. Reggie Miller

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    INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 15:  Reggie Miller #31 of the Indiana Pacers reacts to a call in Game four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2005 NBA Playoffs on May 15, 2005 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis,Indiana. Richard Hamilton of the Pistons
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Reggie Miller was an '80s-type player playing in the '90s. He would throw elbows when the refs were conveniently not looking.

    But what I recall him being the best at was creating open space to shoot the ball with his arm. What Kobe Bryant has become very adept at, Miller started.

    I would also like to mention that Cheryl's little brother could run his mouth trash-talking as well.

42. Dikembe Mutombo

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    LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Dikembe Mutombo #55 of the Houston Rockets looks on against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 30, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. The Rockets won 107-104. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Dikembe Mutombo is truly one of the nicest and most charitable players in NBA history. But when he was on the low block, players had to watch for a multitude of elbows. 

    There was many a nose that went there to die. 

41. Manu Ginobili

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 08:  Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on November 8, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Manu Ginobili plays to the beat of his own drum. On defense, he is a complete handful. He has hands everywhere. He reaches and prods, and at some point, the viewer has to ask, wasn't there a foul there?


    But Manu Ginobili really shines in the art of flopping. He is the new dominant flopper. Don't go near him or he will crumble under your presence. 

40. John Starks

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    John Starks comes from the old school of basketball. His heyday was a time when a player could play hard-nosed defense; today he would be labeled as dirty. 

    He would bump and shove with the best of them. By the end of the game he had worn out his opponent. That is what an NBA star should do.

    Today, he would lead the league in fouls and fines. 

39. Kurt Rambis

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    Kurt Rambis was very good at doing the little things. He would scramble for loose balls. He would put back a missed shot.

    But he was also a great defender. He did an excellent job at getting under the skin of the opposition. 

    He did so well at it, Kevin McHale almost killed him one time. 

38. Rick Mahorn

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    Do you see what you could get away with back then? 

    Mahorn was physical on the court. He was the baddest of the Pistons "Bad Boys" in 1989. He would do anything to create contact down low. It was the only way he could compensate for his horrible jumping ability.

    I guess if you can't beat them, shove them.  

37. Zaza Pachulia

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    ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 12:  Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Atlanta Hawks fouls Deron Williams #8 of the Utah Jazz at Philips Arena on November 12, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In a recent poll by Sports Illustrated, Zaza Pachulia was listed as the sixth-dirtiest player in the NBA currently. 

    Pachulia has absolutely no qualms about fouling and fouling hard. He will wrap you up, give you a nice shoulder to the back, basically anything short of boxing. 

36. Clyde Lovellette

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    In his book, The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and the Golden Age of Basketball, John Taylor recounts the extreme measures Clyde Lovellette would go to in order to take down Wilt Chamberlain. 

    He is even said to have given Wilt a forearm to the jaw while the two were running down the floor. It was truly a different era.

35. Dave Cowens

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    Dave Cowens was an all-out menace on the court. On offense and defense, he only had one speed. He gave it all he had and that entered into some very physical play. There is no way around getting into altercations when you are hand-checking at the speed he played at. 

    The easiest way to think of it: Sasha Vujacic with talent. 

34. Isiah Thomas

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    One thing you have to remember about the point guards of the '80s and '90s is that they were smaller and more active. They have to drive to the hoop and mix it up with much bigger men. 

    "Zeke" only measured 6' tall. It was only natural for him to get into the paint and take advantage of the refs not looking. If there was an errant elbow or even a trip while he was guarding you, well, so be it.

    The era was the NBA equivalent to the Wild West. They got away with a lot. 

33. Kendrick Perkins

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15:  Kendrick Perkins #43 of the Boston Celtics looks on while taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Six of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 15, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Perkins is already strong and malicious down low. He is bound to create unwarranted contact.

    But what makes him a dirty star is his ability to get away with the illegal pick. 

32. Andres Nocioni

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    PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 27: Andres Nocioni #5 of the Philadelphia 76ers in action during the game against the Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center on October 27, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    Andres Nocioni is tough, gritty and athletic if he plays for your team. For the rest of us fans, he is dirty.

    He is really the last bastion of the NBA enforcer. If you wrong one of his teammates, you can be sure that Nocioni will be fouling you hard later in the game. 

31. Anderson Varejao

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    CLEVELAND - MAY 01:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics tries to get a shot off between Mo Williams #2 and Anderson Varejao #17 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Are
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Anderson Varejao may look like a taller Justin Guarini from American Idol fame, but he is much more sinister than that. 

    Anderson Varejao is the worst kind of dirty player. He will swing those lanky arms and then act as if he was framed for the whole thing. It is that kind of karma that killed the Cavaliers. 

30. Sasha Vujacic

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    Sasha Vujacic is a loose cannon. Anytime he is in the game, it is as if Phil Jackson shot him up with PCP and let him loose. 

    He is the NBA's best at riling the opponent with tough defense. Sometimes it isn't even tough defense, it's just some annoying dude waving his arms in your face. 

29. Raja Bell

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    A dirty player will always remember. Sick of the stinging elbows from Kobe Bryant, Raja Bell went out to settle the score. He forgot to defend and was out for blood.

    Bell was thrown from the game that day. Twenty years earlier, McHale was allowed to play while doing essentially the same thing. 

28. Paul Pierce

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    When you play Boston, tuck your shirt in. Paul Pierce is renowned to tug at the shirt strings of players. I have seen this go unchecked a bunch.

    It seems officials have the inability to see someone's shirt get ripped from their body. 

27. Matt Barnes

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    The now-Lakers forward once took great pride in taking down the purple-and-gold a rung. Besides his fight with Rafer Alston, I submit that Matt Barnes has had his fair share of cheap shots.

    Here is one against Ronny Turiaf who, at the time, was helpless in the air. 

26. Bill Cartwright

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    When you go head-to-head with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley a few times a year, you are bound to pick up a few things. 

    In order to hold his own in the rough-and-tumble East, Cartwright had to get downright mean. Fierce was the only way to play back then. Cartwright was the fierce competitor the Bulls needed to counter the Knicks and Heat of the '90s. 

    You can see him go medieval on Isiah Thomas at about the 2:20 mark in the video. 

25. Shaquille O'Neal

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    I hate to do this to the big fella, but Shaq is dirty. I cut him slack because he has been murdered down low his whole career with only half of the infractions being called.

    But O'Neal is famous for his elbows and arms he uses to clear out defenders. For a while, it was not getting called because it looked like defenders were flopping.

    But Shaq is really too big to put you to the ground with an errant elbow. 

24. DeShawn Stevenson

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    DeShawn Stevenson's best attribute in the NBA is his defense. Therefore, you guessed it, he has been labeled as dirty by players and fans alike. 

    How dare a journeyman guard the likes of LeBron James, a man he once called overrated. The above clip illustrates the feud admirably. 

23. Maurice Lucas

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    Maurice Lucas was an "enforcer" when the NBA had such things. He would be the fall guy to jump on the grenade when a fight or foul was needed. 

    In Game 2 of the 1977 Finals, he punched Darryl Dawkins in the back of the head so Dawkins would fight him instead of the more valuable Bob Gross. 

22. Vernon Maxwell

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    Mad Max was one hell of a three-point shooter. Only Reggie Miller could best him on a consistent basis. But he did have a mean streak, as you can see at around the 3:00 mark on the video. His volatile personality would lead to trouble on and off the court. 

    In 1995, he was suspended for punching a fan in the stands. If you needed an example or anything. 

21. Xavier McDaniel

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    X-man had a famous fight with Charles Oakley that actualy went into the stands. But he was renowned to be mean to just about anybody. 

    Xavier McDaniel relayed his evil incarnation to the Seattle Times in 2007:

    "Off the court I'm nice, but a different animal starts to come out of me when I step on the court. I remembered one time Dennis Rodman punched me upside the head and then he punched my [groin]. I already told the ref and they didn't do anything, so I whopped his butt. They wouldn't let me out of the locker room after the game because I was going to get him."

20. Danny Ainge

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    You would think Danny Ainge would be more comfortable behind the three-point line than mixed up in various tussles. But his trash-talking and hard way of playing led to many encounters. 

    In 1983, he fought with Tree Rollins and called him a sissy. A decade later he was trying to pick a fight with the greatest ever.

    In the '94 playoffs, he fired a ball at the face of Houston Rockets player Mario Elie. 

19. Kobe Bryant

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    LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 21:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers laughs as he looks on from the bench against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on November 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant should serve to accentuate the argument I have been making. Most players that are dirty are looking for an edge. It is a constant search that is ubiquitous through all sports. Bryant is extremely knowledgeable about that game and has studied what you can and can't get away with. 

    It just so happens that pushing off and elbowing opponents does not get readily called. Therefore, you have Bryant doing it on a nightly basis. 

18. Charles Oakley

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    Charles Oakley lived for good, old-fashioned hatred between opponents. He liked to get in your face or tie you up until you're sufficiently mad. If that meant talking trash like he did in this video, he would do it.  

    In 2000, he punched Clippers guard Jeff McInnis in the face before the game even started. Then in 2002, he shoved and hit Shaquille O'Neal with foul after foul until a wrestling match broke out. 

17. Mark Jackson

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    Mark Jackson was a guard in the NBA from 1987 to 2003. That is the span of time where a point guard in the league did not only have to be quick and accurate, they also needed to be tough. 

    Being the smallest guy on the court, you had to establish yourself as a hard-nosed NBA player that would not back down from a challenge. Jackson would do his fair share of holding and hitting. But it was a necessary evil in those days. 

16. Rasheed Wallace

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    Even if Rasheed Wallace was pulling out of a bank with stolen money in his hands, he would look confused as to why you stopped him. The man was notorious for hacking at hands and arms and then looking like he did nothing wrong. 

    The new rule about whining after the fact was made for Rasheed Wallace; it is a shame he left before it could be put to use on him. 

    Wallace was the king of technical fouls. If you could be considered dirty in the way you treat the official, well, he would be the poster boy. 

15. Charles Barkley

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    Barkley never backed down from a fight. If you pushed, he would push back. But many times, he would be the villain to start the whole thing. 

    I always remember the USA vs. Angola game from the 1992 Olympics. The image of Barkley elbowing an Angolan player can be found at the 3:20 mark. If you rubbed him the wrong way, you knew it.

14. Brendan Haywood

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    Brendan Haywood is a big man that is not afraid to use his body to foul. He is one of the well known hard foulers in the league.

    More than that, he is not afraid to run from a fight. Haywood lives for the type of scuffle that broke out in the preseason. 

13. Chris Paul

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    Chris Paul is not afraid of a little dirty work. He is very adept at setting an illegal pick or giving a forearm when no one is looking. He may even punch a man in the groin, like he did while playing at Wake Forest. 

    Chris Paul punched North Carolina State's Julius Hodge. He has gone onto an illustrious career filled with incidents of less-than-ethical practices. 

12. Ron Artest

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    Let's see...

    The man was the catalyst for the greatest brawl in the history of the NBA. He has fought teammates, opponents and fans. But has seemingly turned a new leaf in his career. 

    But his dubious past is not all behind him. He does manage to get in his fair share of hand checking and reaching in infractions that go uncalled. I have no idea what the NBA officials even get paid to do. 

11. Brad Miller

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    Brad Miller's favorite weapon of choice is his forearm. He hit Shaq with it once, which resulted in a fight. He also did it years later to Trevor Ariza. When the man is too lazy to defend, he will resort to violence. 

    As you can see in the video, sometimes players grow very tired of it. 

10. Kevin Garnett

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    I am going to miss crazy Kevin Garnett running up and down the court when he is gone. He takes every little nuance of the game seriously. He invokes little rivalries on the court to pump himself up. 

    He is known to take this to the next level many times. A quick look down low when he is on defense will find Garnett throwing elbows or getting away with some other brand of illegality.

    He is the king of chippy behavior and has made the game better because of it. 

9. Kenyon Martin

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    Kenyon Martin is exactly the guy that will shove you just to get a better position. When he was outplayed by Dirk Nowitzki in the 2009 playoffs, he resorted to street ball. 

    Nowitzki was swift enough to get around Martin, so the slower player decided he would just throw Dirk to the ground. Granted, we have all wanted to do the same thing. That still does not make it right. 

8. Kermit Washington

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    The satirical video posted shows the actual footage of Kermit Washington hitting the Houston Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich. 

    The hit broke Tomjanovich's face, leaving him a bloody mess on the court. He was never the same player after the Kermit Washington hit. 

7. Kevin McHale

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    This is what is meant by a hard foul. How many times during a game are modern players just sitting there watching a layup sink through the hoop over them. 

    As you can hear in this video, the announcers at the time were saying this was just part of the game. McHale received a foul for his actions. Today, he would have been thrown from the series. 

6. Karl Malone

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    Karl Malone was part of quite the dirty duo up there in Utah. While Stockton is the more renowned dirty player, Malone delivered his fair share of elbows to the face or chest. 

    You can plainly see he is doing more than merely clearing the boards here. 

5. Reggie Evans

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    Reggie Evans grabbed Chris Kaman's junk. He will never live that fact down. You never, ever grab another man's junk.

    If you are hanging on a precipice and that is the only thing that would help you, you fall. It's the polite thing to do. 

4. John Stockton

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    26 Nov 2001:  John Stockton #12  of the Utah Jazz looks to move the ball as he is guarded by Stephon Marbury #3 of the Phoenix Suns during the game at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Suns defeated the Jazz 111-104. NOTE TO USER: User express
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    John Stockton is one of the dirtiest of the dirty. I have to put him here because he simply went years without anyone noticing. He would set awfully illegal picks. Then while the opponent was on the ground in pain, he was free to dish the ball or shoot. 

    It was always a treat to watch Stockton without the ball. I would see him run around and drop elbows and shoves on players that weren't even guarding him.

    By the end of the game, I wa hoarse from yelling at the amount of things he was able to get away with. 

3. Bruce Bowen

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    Bruce Bowen was the best defender of his time. He could stop anyone from scoring at will. The Spurs had a valued asset in Bowen and the rest of the league cried foul. 

    Bowen's lock-down defense bordered on mugging. He would get physical to be sure, but it was a fine line that only Spurs fans felt was legal. 

2. Dennis Rodman

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    Dennis Rodman was the perfect villain for the NBA. He was loud and boisterous. He never swayed from controversy and always spoke his mind. 

    A graduate of the Bill Laimbeer school of hard knocks, Rodman left the Bad Boy Pistons and took his act to many cities. He was an enforcer and agitator for the Bulls and Lakers. He would get under your skin and smile when he knew he had you. 

1. Bill Laimbeer

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    Bill Laimbeer was the Bad Boy to end all Bad Boys. He was an enforcer that could also score on you. Laimbeer was out for blood anytime he was on the court. 

    He seemed to fight anyone that was willing at the time, Bird, Barkley, etc. You name them, he fought them. He was such a fighter that Nintendo released a game entitled Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball.