The NBA is littered with scandalous acts throughout its history.
This includes two scandals involving team executives with the most recent being revealed on May 29. The Philadelphia 76ers are currently investigating a report, by The Ringer’s Ben Detrick, that president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo used five secret twitter accounts to criticize his own players, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz, as well as former Sixers’ Noel Nerlens as well Jahlil Okafor. The accounts also disclosed sensitive information and outlined team strategy.
The other scandal, first broke by Sports Illustrated, in February stating that the Dallas Mavericks had knowledge that some of their employees were allegedly sexual harassers and domestic abusers over the last 20 years. One of these accused was Terdema Ussery, the team’s former team president and CEO, who left the organization in 2015.
The rest of the article will look at the worst scandals in NBA history. Since these last two scandals are so outrageous, I will have them listed in my Top-15 scandals in the league.
Overall, the various scandals vary in degrees of seriousness. But make no mistake they are all embarrassing to league if not damaging. The scandals range from racist and homophobic comments and actions to sexual misconduct. It also includes more serious violent acts like physical assault, sexual assault and manslaughter.
15. The Gold Club
The Gold Club in Atlanta was a hot spot for athletes, celebrities and high rollers that also featured a bunch of goofy anecdotes during the ‘90s and early 2000s. Basically, several pro athletes were given sexual favors by strippers (for free) at the club — including Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, John Starks, Reggie Miller and Dennis Rodman.
During the trial of Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan on racketeering among other charges, it was revealed that dancers were given as much as $1,000 apiece for putting on x-rated sex shows and performing sexual acts for certain athletes.
This was extremely embarrassing for the NBA and its athletes, several of whom were stars. Kaplan was found guilty and sentenced to three years of prison. And The Gold Club closed down in 2007.
14. Bryan Colangelo Twitter Gate
According to The Big Lead, Colangelo has discussed with the 76ers organization that his wife Barbara Botani may be involved in the postings of the tweets. In the most recent developments, the 76ers have hired law firm of Paul/Weiss to investigate the connection between the president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and secret twitter accounts per ESPN. The organization is reportedly hoping for a conclusion as early as this week.
Although the Colangelo is back on the job (June 6), the investigation is still ongoing. But NBC Sports Dan Feldman is reporting that the Sixers don’t believe he had any knowledge of the twitter accounts.
While it may take awhile for the situation to come to a conclusion, if Colangelo had any knowledge of the accounts, whether his own or family, he should be fired. Teams and the NBA can’t have any member of member of their collective organization be doing any of this ridiculousness as it hurts the team and game overall.
13. Kermit Washington Devastating Punch
Current NBA players like to think that they are tough. They like to talk smack and push and shove but rarely do they get in an actual fight in this day and age. The reason for this is that the NBA changed their rules regarding on court fights thanks to the Kermit Washington-Rudy Tomjanovich fiasco.
It wasn’t uncommon for players during the 1970s to get into a scuffle, throw punches and even have bench emptying brawls. And that is what happened during a highly contested Dec. 9, 1977 regular season game against the Rockets and Lakers. The events started to unfold at the beginning of the second half as Houston’s Kevin Kunnert and Los Angeles’ Washington were battling for a rebound following Lakers’ guard Norm Nixon missed a shot.
Kunnert eventually came down with the board and after passing the ball out to John Lucas, he and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got tied up with one another. As a result, Washington stayed behind the action to make sure everything was kosher. After the two players disengaged, Washington grabbed Kunnert’s shorts as he was running up the floor.
Washington and Kunnert then beginning to scuffle. As the fight was began to escalate, Tomjanovich ran off the bench to play peacemaker and break up the fight. Not knowing Tomjanovich’s intention and seeing him out of the corner of his eye, Washington turned and socked the 6-8 forward in the face. The punch left Tomjanovich unconscious and in a pool of blood.
Tomjanovich ended up with a fractured face. He would miss the rest of the season. However, Tomjanovich did return the next season where he was named an all-star for a fifth and final time of his career.
In the meanwhile, Washington received a 60-day suspension, which spanned 26 games, and a $10,000 fine. The 6-8 forward did end up playing four more seasons in the NBA, even being named to the NBA all-star game for the first time in his career in 1979-80.
Washington was really lucky he wasn’t banned from the NBA as he could of did a lot more damage to Tomjanovich.
In 2017, Washington pled guilty to stealing from his charity.
12. Tim Hardaway Sr. Homophobic Rant
Hardaway made some stupid and unfortunate comments during a February 14, 2007 interview with Dan LeBatard while discussing former NBA player John Amaechi, who opened up about being homosexual.
“Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” Hardaway also said that if he found out he had one or more gay teammates, he would try to get them fired.
The five-time all-star was relieved from his Chief Basketball Operations Advisor position by the CBA’s Indiana Alley Cats as a result of his comments. The NBA also banned him from all-star activities that was being held later that same week.
There is good news as Hardaway, did publicly apology for his remarks the very next day. He is now an advocate of LGBT rights, working with The Trevor Project and The Yes Institute. Hardaway has been an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons since 2014.
11. Len Bias Death
Bias’ death brought national attention to some of the extracurricular activities of some NBA players. The No. 2 overall pick in the 1986 draft never even played a single game in the NBA, dying two days after being selected in the draft as a result of cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose.
Bias was extremely talented and an outstanding scorer, compiling 23.0 points and 7.0 caroms a game his senior year in 1985-86. He was a two-time ACC Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American in 1986.
10. Jason Kidd’s Domestic Abuse
Kidd is an NBA Legend and likely a hall of fame player. However, he has demonstrated that he may not be as great a person as he is a player.
In 2001, while with the Suns, Kidd was arrested and pled guilty to domestic abuse for assaulting his wife Joumana. The incident was enough for the Suns to trade the 10-time all-star and five-time first-team defensive selection to the Nets.
As part of his plea, Kidd was ordered to attend anger management classes for six months. Kidd completed the mandatory counseling and continued to attend on his own. He and his wife were thought to have completely reconciled.
On January 9, 2007, Kidd filed for divorce, citing “extreme cruelty” during their relationship. He contended intense jealousy, paranoia, and the threat of “false domestic abuse claims” to the police as reasons for the divorce. On February 15, 2007, Joumana Kidd filed a counterclaim for divorce, claiming that the NBA star—among countless instances of abuse — “broke her rib and damaged her hearing by smashing her head into the console of a car”.
In her counterclaim, Joumana also accused Kidd of extramarital affairs with “several different television reporters,” as well as strippers in Arizona, Sacramento, Miami, Dallas and Indiana, a Nets season ticket holder, a Nets employee, and a cheerleader in New Orleans.
In 2012, Kidd was arrested for DWI after striking a telephone pole and ended up in the woods a few blocks away from his home.
9. Gilbert Arenas Erratic Behavior
While this incident could be seen as just a stupid and dangerous illegal stunt, it also could of ended up being catastrophic. Arenas’ bizarre behavior cost him money and games as well as made the NBA look bad.
On around Dec. 10, 2009, while playing for Wizards, Arenas brought guns to the Verizon Center and stored them there. Which is against NBA rules and Washington, D.C. laws.
According to Yahoo Sports, Arenas got involved in an argument between Javaris Crittenton and JaVale McGee as Crittenton lost a $1,100 pot to the 7-footer in their game of Bourre. Crittenton apparently didn’t appreciate Arenas getting involved and allegedly threatened him with gunfire.
Days later, Arenas reportedly brought four unloaded guns into the Wizards locker room, accompanied by a note telling Crittenton to “PICK 1” to use in carrying out his threats of shooting Arenas. (Arenas later denied pulling a gun.) Crittenton reportedly chose to respond by pulling his own weapon in the locker room instead.
The NBA investigated the events. While the investigating the incident, the NBA suspended Arenas indefinitely for pretending to shoot teammates during player introductions. Eventually, the three-time all-star was suspended for the remainder of the 2009-10 campaign. He also was sentenced to four years probation as well as 30 days in a halfway house for violating gun possession laws.
Crittenton, also suspended the remainder of the season, was given a year of probation on a misdemeanor gun possession charge stemming from this incident. He never played in the NBA again. Crittenton is currently serving a 23-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter with a weapon and aggravated assault with a firearm.
8. Latrell Sprewell Choking Incident
Sprewell was a very volatile player who hasd a history of on and off-court incidents. The most severe incident occurred during a Golden State Warriors practice on December 1, 1997, where he choked head coach PJ Carlesimo.
The incident began when Carlesimo yelled at Sprewell, a four-time NBA all-star, to make crisper passes and walked toward him. Sprewell told Carlesimo that he wasn’t in the mood and to stay away. As Carlesimo approached, Sprewell threatened to kill him before dragging him to the ground by his throat. Sprewell kept his hands on Carlesimo’s throat for 10-15 seconds before the other players tore him away. He then returned to the court about 20 minutes later and punched Carlesimo, landing a glancing blow before again being dragged away.
Spree was ultimately suspended for the remainder of the season, missing a total of 68 games.
7. Jayson Williams’ Violent Behavior
Williams was an excellent rebounder and a stout defensive player throughout his nine-year career. The 1998 all-star finished with more rebounds (7.5 per game) than points (7.3) for his career.
While his most serious incident didn’t take place until after he retired, Williams’ career is littered with troubling incidents.
In his 2001 book, Loose Balls, Williams detailed nine separate anecdotes involving his tendency to play with guns, including one where football player Wayne Chrebet is nearly shot and one where the uncle of Manute Bol is threatened with an unloaded handgun
Also, in 1992, Williams was accused of breaking a beer mug over a patron’s head at a saloon in Chicago. In 1994, he was accused of firing a semiautomatic weapon into the parking lot at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. However, he was never criminally charged in either case.
Williams broke his leg on April 1, 1999, after colliding with teammate Stephon Marbury. Williams sat out the entire 1999-2000 campaign and officially retired June 28, 2000.
Less than two years after retiring, Williams accidentally shot 55-year-old limousine driver Costas “Gus” Christofi at his mansion in Alexandria Township, New Jersey. Christofi had been hired to drive Williams’ NBA Charity team from an event in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to his mansion.
Members of Williams’s NBA charity basketball team were present at the scene. The New York Post reported that Williams was playing with a shotgun while giving a tour of his home when the weapon fired, killing Christofi.
While the jury was a deadlock on the reckless manslaughter charger, he was convicted of four counts of covering up the shooting. Williams eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. Williams ultimately served 18 months of the five-years sentence plus and then served eight months of a 12-month jail term at Rikers for a DWI conviction.
6. Malice In The Palace
The worst fight in NBA history turned really ugly when a Pistons’ fan threw soda on Pacers’ Ron Artest.
On Nov. 19, 2004, the Indiana Pacers visited the Detroit Pistons in what turned out to be a typical physical matchup between the two teams during that period. Things turned bad when Artest fouled the Pistons’ Ben Wallace from behind as he was driving to the basket with 45.2 seconds remaining. Wallace took exception to the hard foul and went after Artest, shoving him in the face with both hands. Both benches emptied.
After things finally calmed down, an idiot Pistons’ fan, John Green threw a glass of diet coke on Artest as he was sitting on the scorers/media table. After getting hit, Artest went berserk and went into the stands and got into a fight with the wrong fan, Michael Ryan. Other fans and Pacer players became involved in the fracas.
In the end, five fans and five Pacers were criminally charged. Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal, David Harrison as well as Anthony Johnson were sentenced to one-year probation, community service, fine and anger management. Artest was also suspended for the remainder of the season (86 games including 13 in the postseason) while Jackson (30 games), O’Neal (15) and Johnson received multigame bans. Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Coleman and Elden Campbell were given one-game suspensions.
Four of the fans that were charged, including Ben Wallace’s brother (David), received the same sentences as the Pacers players. In the meanwhile, Green — who was charged with starting the incident — was sentenced to 30 days in jail for assault and battery on Artest. Green is also prohibited from attending any Pistons home games.
5. Tim Donaghy Betting Scandal
All professional sports are scared to death of gambling scandals, and rightly so due to the desire to keep the event legitimized.
The NBA had to deal with the exact situation when referee Tim Donaghy used his knowledge of relationships between referees, coaches, players and owners to bet on professional basketball games during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons according to FBI reports. ESPN reported that Donaghy also had ties to organized crime.
Donaghy eventually pleaded guilty to two charges, on Aug. 15, 2007, was sentenced to 15 months in jail and three years of supervised release.
During sentencing, Donaghy alleged in a statement through his lawyers that several series in the NBA Playoffs had been improperly refereed according to the NBA’s instructions. He alluded specifically to a playoff game where “personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees” because “it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series. The game mentioned was reportedly 2002’s Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the Lakers-Kings.
For all the conspiracy theorists, I believe this was an isolated incident. The last thing any pro sports league wants is for the righteousness of their sport to be questioned. Besides, referees can’t really influence a game without any notice that a “fix” is in. Yes, officials, like players, make mistakes and some seem to be at the most inopportune time but that is sports.
4. Kobe Bryant’s Sexual Assault Case
Bryant’s public image took a dramatic tumble, and rightfully so, in July 2003 when he was accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee. Bryant, one of the top-10 or 15 players all-time, is not portrayed in as good of light as NBA superstars and part of the reason is because of his involvement in this accusation. A side note, Kobe may have possessed the most talent of any of the players considered to be the greatest of all-time.
Bryant, who was in Colorado to have surgery to repair his rotator cuff, checked in The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, a hotel in Edwards, Colorado on June 30. According to court documents, on July 1, the accuser said Bryant invited her up to his room under the pretense of touring the hotel and then kissed and groped her despite her attempts to rebuff him, and eventually raped her.
Bryant admitted to an adulterous sexual encounter with his accuser but denied the assault allegation. The case was dropped after Bryant’s accuser refused to testify in the case.
Bryant did agree to settle the accuser’s civil suit out of court, which also included an apology from the 18-time all-star though not an admission of guilt.
3. Mavericks Sexual Harassment Case
What happened in Dallas is absolutely reprehensible and a huge black eye for owner Mark Cuban and the rest of the NBA. Things really need to change in the NBA and there should be huge penalties for organizations that violate women’s rights.
Not sure what the NBA can do besides to fine the organization an extraordinary amount of money and make sexual harassment classes mandatory for all employees.
2. James Dolan, Isiah Thomas And MSG Sexual Harassment Case
Thomas, in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player, was the Knicks President of Basketball Operations and coach at the time of the incident. Thomas allegedly made unwanted advances and repeatedly addressed her in vulgar tones.
The crux of the story was that Anucha Browne Sanders, who was fired in January 2006 from her position as vice president of marketing. Browne Sanders filed a $10 million lawsuit against Thomas and MSG, which her lawyers argued allowed these incidents to happen and keep happening because of a “frat-boy mentality” in its offices.
While there are questions, and the Knicks denial, about what exactly happened. The Knicks eventually agreed to settle out of court with Browne Sanders for $11.5 million.
1. Donald Sterling
The worst NBA owner award goes to Donald Sterling and he had that sewn up before his asinine comments that got him banned for life.
Sterling, a supreme white racist, bought the San Diego Clippers for $13 million in 1981. He moved the Clippers to Los Angeles three years later. But not before the NBA was thinking about terminating Sterling’s ownership in 1982 for making late payments to creditors and players. Sterling, who agreed to sell the team, was forced to hand over the operations to Alan Rothberger. But the NBA eventually backed off their demands.
In Sterling’s 33 years of owning the Clippers through 2013–14, the Clippers lost 50 or more games 22 times, 60 or more on eight occasions, and 70 games once. Sterling also had a habit of heckling his players, particularly Baron Davis, while sitting courtside.
But his biggest mistake was his racist remarks and deriding her affiliation with several prominent black people. On April 25, 2014, TMZ Sports released a recording of a conversation between Sterling and V. Stiviano his mistress. In the recording from September 2013, a man confirmed to be Sterling was irritated over a photo Stiviano had posted on Instagram, in which she posed with Basketball Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson.Sterling told Stiviano: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”, and, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want”, but “the little I ask you is… not to bring them to my games.”
As a result of the comments, the Clippers — rather than boycotting Game 4 of their opening-round series against the Warriors on April 27 — they decided to protest by wearing their shirts inside-out in order “to obscure any team logo” during their pre-game huddle.
Sterling was given a lifetime ban and fined $2.5 million by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Sterling eventually sold the team to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.