Go To:
  • ALT+A Toggle Accessibility Menu
  • ALT+H Home
  • ALT+1 Navigation
  • ALT+2 Main Content
  • ALT+3 Footer

Dirty players a thing of the past in the NBA

So who are the dirty players in the NBA? Sam Smith explores the topic after Dwyane Wade's field goal attempt into Ramon Sessions’ groin led to a one game suspension.
"[In] just about any discussion of the dirtiest players ever, the No. 1 would be Bill Laimbeer," writes Sam Smith of the former Pistons Bad Boy.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

So who are the dirty players in the NBA? That was a question that came up last week with the one game suspension for Dwyane Wade with his field goal attempt into Ramon Sessions’ groin. It clearly was a flagrant act everywhere, it seems, but in South Florida. That’s OK. You’ve got to back your guys. It was like when Dennis Rodman headbutted referee Ted Bernhardt in 1996. Rodman was suspended for six games and the Bulls were furious about the severity of the penalty. I thought the NBA should have given him at least 20 games as if done outside the arena he’d be making license plates in the penitentiary.

Anyway, there really aren’t any truly dirty players anymore because the game doesn’t allow it. That pretty much changed after the NBA realized its promotion of the Detroit Bad Boys in the late 1980’s was going to get someone killed. That was a dirty team, and the story of their walkoff against the Bulls in the 1991 conference finals was less bad sportsmanship for losing than Michael Jordan the day before telling reporters the Pistons didn’t deserve their championships because they were such a dirty team unworthy of the NBA. But in just about any discussion of the dirtiest players ever, the No. 1 would be Bill Laimbeer.

Isiah Thomas had that nice smile, but among his tricks was stepping on your foot as you moved to get a pass. Though in that era John Stockton was known to the players as a dirtier player the way he delivered illegal picks in the Jazz’ cutting offense. Karl Malone backed that up as dirtiest 1a and once delivered Thomas 40 stitches in the head after Thomas took out Stockton. Yes, those were the days.

Back in the early years in the league fighting was considerably more common. Willis Reed once fought the entire Lakers’ lineup on the floor. Clyde Lovelette was known to attack Wilt Chamberlain, maybe the strongest man ever to play in the NBA. Teams screamed about the tactics of the Bulls’ Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier. The precision Knicks of that era always complained after games against the Bulls.

There was later Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn, known as McFilthy and McNasty, though I always forgot which was which. Charles Barkley would deliver cheap shots with the best of them. Likewise Charles Oakley, who even went after Michael Jordan one time when Pat Riley said Oakley was afraid of him. Bill Cartwright delivered some of the toughest elbows that staff members kept count of opponents he’d taken out. And to show the world Barkley took out some Angolan in the first Dream Team game in 1992. Though the league was beginning to crack down in the 1990’s, there still were egregious acts from Dennis Rodman, Xavier McDaniel, John Starks and Anthony Mason. Danny Ainge was a sneak like Stockton who infuriated opposing players. The Celtics, Lakers and Pistons of the 1980’s pushed the limit with a famous clothesline tackle by Kevin McHale of Kurt Rambis and Robert Parish punching Bill Laimbeer on behalf of every right thinking American.

These days they’re not quite as serious with officials having to measure the severity of blows and calling flagrant fouls even when they are not sure so then they can review them in replay. So we’ll call this era’s most notorious guys the all-inappropriate team.

Center: Dwight Howard. Though neither of his fouls a few years back on Derrick Rose were severely challenged both were on the edge of intent to injure, like one earlier this season on Kenneth Faried. Howard has a pet move of going straight up and then moving his body into yours to take you out of the air, which is the most dangerous play in the game. Andrew Bynum would give Howard a run, but he’s injured too much and it doesn’t appear self inflicted, though.

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett. Reggie Evans usually gets mentioned in the polls as the dirty player. But he’s more just the blue collar type grinder. Garnett’s sneaky, taking shots when officials are looking away and usually going after the smallest guys.

Small Forward: Ron Artest. Metta World Peace? C’mon. The only player in NBA history to beat up a fan who hadn’t done anything, for one thing. His elbow against James Harden last season could have killed him and he just about knocked out Richard Hamilton with one in 1994. He shouldn’t be allowed to play in the league.

Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade: Wade has become notorious for frustration shots like the one recently against Sessions. Last season he threw Hamilton into the stands. Wade is one of the worst in the league complaining after every non call and when he doesn’t get one he often takes it out on an opponent. He had a streak a few years back of almost breaking Rajon Rondo’s elbow and raking the face of Kobe Bryant. I had watched Wade in that sequence at the All-Star game as Kobe had just made a move to make Wade look bad. And Kobe might qualify as a backup. Though he’s not as blatantly flagrant as Wade, Kobe is known to deliver some tough stuff if you try to put a pick on him.

Point Guard: Rajon Rondo: The names of a lot of stars come up, and it’s why they aren’t quite listed as dirty players. But part of getting there at times is exerting your will. Chris Paul is a bit more sneaky in what he does whereas Rondo is bolder like when he clotheslined Wade earlier this season. The clothesline is Rondo’s method of attack like he got Brad Miller in the playoffs a few years ago.

Some of the others who could work their way up if they try a bit harder or get more playing time are Tyler Hansbrough, Zaza Pachilia, Matt Barnes, Rasheed Wallace, Carmelo Anthony and Kendrick Perkins.

NBA news and notes

-- The 76ers are pushing Jrue Holiday for All-Star, though his chances diminish as the team continues to slide below .500, now on the outside of the playoffs at 14-17. Holiday is averaging 18.6, six full points above his career average. Though the 76ers position is the greater intrigue. Though the Pistons have come on a bit of late, it seems likely the teams 10th through 15 in the East — Orlando, Toronto, Detroit, Charlotte, Cleveland and Washington — are longshots to make the playoffs. That likely makes it the way the teams are playing a six-team musical chairs for the last five spots among the Bulls, Pacers, Celtics, Bucks, Nets and 76ers, now separated by three and a half games. ... One of the reasons the Nets and even Avery Johnson said he was fired was because of the lack of respect from the organization by allowing Johnson to become a lame duck without an extension. But that didn’t deter Scott Brooks in taking the Thunder to the Finals last season and Rick Carlisle coming off a title season. Both got nice extensions after their contracts expired. ... How about Deron Williams taking the game off with a “sore wrist” which turned out to be Avery Johnson’s final game as coach and then coming back and playing one of his more lively games after Johnson was replaced. Too bad the NBA apparently isn’t going to award the Weasel of the Year award, which Williams could retire. ... Credit Johnson for not lowering himself to the level of players like Williams in coming to his own firing press conference and thanking the Nets for the opportunity. It’s likely why a role player like Johnson helped win a championship and why you probably can’t win with players like Williams. ... The magic isn’t working so well for Keith Bogans. The Nets are now 3-4 when he scores at least six points.

-- The Raptors are now 7-2 since Andre Bargnani went out injured. Look for the Raptors to try to move him once he recovers. Other players you are starting to hear more about in trade talk, though the asking prices are very high, are Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Rudy Gay of the Grizzlies, though I don’t get that last one. Still, you hear it. Same with DeMarcus Cousins, whose value now is much too low for his to be traded after another suspension. Another reason the Kings are not giving up on Cousins is a triple double with assists he got in Sunday’s win over Boston. You don’t find big men like that very often. ... Though you don’t hear talk about it, you wonder with Boston stuck around .500 would they try to trade Rajon Rondo for Russell Westbrook? I doubt the Thunder would break up their high scoring pair, but would they have to listen for a true point guard and improved defender? ... Despite what many fans seem to think, you don’t have to trade a player if he’s sad. Antawn Jamison is sad having lost his regular playing time and knowing Mike D’Antoni prefers short rotations and is not much for bench play. Jamison has apologized for speaking out, but he’s a guy making a minimum you’d love to get. I’d certainly be putting in a bid for him. ... Nice to see Shaun Livingston get picked up by the Cavs. His injury in 2004 was one of the worst ever in basketball and would have been career ending for most. But he fought back without the great athleticism he had as an Illinois Mr. Basketball. It would have been amazing to see him healthy as a 6-7 point guard. ... It’s quite the bench mob in Detroit with their second unit outscoring the opposition 282-218 the last five games, winning four of five and mostly finishing games. The new Bulls reserve group isn’t quite as good as last season’s version without Omer Asik. But these second units have been making a difference. The high flying Clippers are an example. Against Atlanta, the Pistons reserves scored 85 bench points and outscored Miami’s 64-20 off the bench in a win over the Heat. Last season’s Bulls reserve group with the size of Asik was a major reason why the players believed they’d beat Miami. ... The Indianapolis Star computed that the Pacers paid Roy Hibbert $153,581 for his one rebound in a scoreless loss to the Hawks Saturday. The Pacers are 3-11 against teams with winning records. ... Pretty amusing to see the Heat release a statement about Dwyane Wade’s suspension for kicking Ramon Sessions that Heat players are treated unfairly by officials. And LeBron James went six games without a foul being called on him. No word whether the Heat is issuing a statement about James being called for a foul in that seventh game.

-- I’ll admit I thought the Heat’s signing of Rashard Lewis was good one. But in the last dozen games, Lewis hasn’t played in nine and more than seven minutes once. LeBron James is having another brilliant season and should be the league MVP. But he seems to be taking on so much responsibility for teammates apparently not taking the season as seriously as he does that in averaging 40 minutes the last few weeks he admitted asking out in a loss against Milwaukee from fatigue. ... There’s all kinds of goofy statistics these days, but here’s the one the Hawks are using to note Josh Smith’s continued exclusion from All-Star teams. There are 23 players in NBA history to have at least 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocks and only one never made an All Star-team, Mychal Thompson. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he is the only player in league history with career averages of more than 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals. No breakdown of those players’ shot selection. ... The amazing Spurs keep rolling along at 24-8 with Sunday’s win over Dallas as Tim Duncan has scored at least 30 points in two of the team’s last six games and is fifth in the league in blocks in just 30 minutes per game. ... Though it doesn’t look good for the Mavericks working on a 12-year streak of playoff appearances. The Mavs are 12th in the West at 12-19 and it’s hard to see who among the top eight they could pass with the Lakers 10th. Nine of the 15 Mavs on the roster are free agents, which makes it difficult to create teamwork. ... Don’t sleep on Anthony Davis for rookie of the year. Most of the attention has justifiably gone to Portland’s Damian Lillard with Davis out with an ankle injury. But in his last eight games, Davis is averaging 14.9 points and 9.5 rebounds and with the impressive return of Eric Gordon with 24 points Saturday the Hornets could pull themselves out of the West cellar. The third guy in that race is likely the Timberwolves Alexey Shved from Russia, a tough point guard that gives the Timberwolves a rich position once Ricky Rubio is fully back. Someone’s going to want Luke Ridnour. ... While heading in that direction is the team Gordon said he wanted to go to, the Suns at 11-20 and coach Alvin Gentry probably next on job watch. The Suns have trailed in double digits in 23 of their 30 games. ... It’s difficult to figure the situation with the Rockets’ Royce White, but he refused assignment to the D-League and criticized team officials and the NBA for not appreciating his situation regarding mental health issues. I don’t know what they are, though this can’t be a good start to your NBA career.

-- You have to wonder what Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin is thinking as he continues to often sit his young players and play veterans though Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Jamaal Tinsley, DeMarre Carroll and Earl Watson all are free agents. With Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks they appear to have a promising young core. At 11th in the league at 15-17 does Corbin think he’s playing for a title? ... The Clippers won their 16th straight in December Sunday over the Jazz. Only three teams, the Lakers in 1971 and the Spurs in 1995 also have won 16 straight in a month. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, a candidate for coach of the year, was on that Spurs team. The Clippers now play 16 of their next 23 on the road ... Kobe Bryant jokingly said now he can play five or six more seasons with Steve Nash taking care of ballhandling. But the way Bryant keeps himself in amazing shape, plays through injuries and is a student of the game I fully expect him to stay around long enough to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points in NBA history. Bryant is about 8,000 points behind, which would likely mean four to five more seasons. At 34, Bryant has time to go. And you know if he cannot get that sixth title, which remains uncertain given the Lakers issues now, he’ll certainly want to pass No. 3 Michael Jordan, whom Bryant should pass next season.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: