10 Scandals the NBA wants you to forget

Kobe Bryant, Wife Appear At News Conference
Kobe Bryant, Wife Appear At News Conference in 2003
Alex Aroko

Scandals tarnish images and ruin legacies. Professional athletes are easily forgotten for mistakes they made that caught the public eye. They may have been committed or allegedly committed by individuals, but the fact that the NBA employs them, it brings some negativity to the league.

While the league tries to maintain a glamorous image, there are unforgettable events that happened in the past that would make anyone’s face cringe with displeasure and or disbelief. While some were handled according to the law, some were made to disappear and to never be talked about.

This is a list of cringe-worthy scandals that the NBA wishes we’d forget.

#10 Len Bias' death

Len Bias (Image courtesy:
Len Bias (Image courtesy:

Len Bias was described as a generational, once-in-a-lifetime talent. It’s so sad we’ll never know how his professional career would pan out.

After showing much promise in his college basketball career, Len would turn pro and be selected as the 2nd pick in the 1986 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. This was anticipated as the move that would help them transition into the post-Larry Bird era.

48 hours later, the 22-year-old was pronounced dead from cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose.The NBA instituted a drug awareness program for young players because of his death.

#9 Derrick Rose rape scandal

Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose

Early in October last year, the NBA blew up on the news that Derrick Rose will find himself in another court case, facing a $21.5 million lawsuit filed by an anonymous ex-lover who claims Rose and his two friends gang-raped her in 2013.

A federal jury cleared Rose and his two friends of rape in a civil trial that put the legal definition of “consent” under scrutiny. His accuser was depicted as a sexually adventurous gold-digger, despite her tearful testimony that she had been drugged and raped. She had sought $21.5m in damages.

Derrick Rose had just been traded to the New York Knicks and the case delayed his debut with his new team. Adidas somewhat surprisingly brushed this off as completely non-credible (compare to their stand on Kobe’s story).

#8 Malice in the palace


There is no worse sportsmanship moment than when an entire arena turns into a colosseum full of gladiators. What started as a “normal” hard foul on Ben Wallace from Ron Artest ended up in one of the worst fights the history of the NBA.

The fans did not approve, and the actions of one fan who repeatedly threw plastic cups at Ron Artest really irritated him, that he went up the stands to attack him. What followed was a complete meltdown of security that resulted in an all-out brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

It was surreal to see professionals exchanging blows with fans amid jeers and flying objects intended to harm. The impact of this mishap is not only confined to the NBA alone, other sports, concerts, and expos took a lot of cues from the crackdown the NBA did on security.

#7 2006 NBA Finals

Dallas Mavericks 2006
Dallas Mavericks 2006

In the best of seven contest, the Dallas Mavericks were up 2-0 against the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals and were crushing the Heat in Game 3 before the tables were turned by the referees.

Tom Donaghy, the disgraced controversial referee revealed after serving his sentence. He was found guilty of match-fixing.

As per Donaghy:

"I think basically Dallas basically got screwed out of a championship in that situation because the NBA started to manipulate the series to make sure it was extended, and Dallas could never recover from it…Let’s not forget at that time, Ed Rush was the supervisor of officials. And he hated Mark Cuban’s guts. He absolutely hated Mark Cuban.”

That’s a tough pill to swallow, don’t you think?

#6 Gilbert Arena brings guns to the locker room

Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas

As a member of the Washington Wizards, Gilbert Arenas pulled out four guns on his teammate Javaris Crittenton and asked him to choose one. Crittenton had allegedly threatened to shoot him after losing a card game to JaVale McGee and claiming a misdeal.

The NBA caught wind of this situation and Arenas was suspended for most of the 2009–10 season because of handgun violations, and for subsequent actions that appeared to make light of this episode.

That marked the beginning of his downfall from stardom. The Wizards’ statement didn’t disclose how club officials discovered that Arenas was storing weapons on the job. Private ownership of firearms was illegal in Washington back then.

#5 Kermit Washington almost kills Rudy Tomjonovich (1977)


Rudy Tomjanovich will always be remembered for his “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion” quote. He led the Houston Rockets to back to back championships in 1994 and 1995.

During his playing years, he was the victim of a life-threatening assault from Kermit Washington. While fighting had always been considered part of basketball, an inevitable outcome of a physical sport, what happened to Tomjanovich would redefine his career.

In 1977, a fight broke out during a game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. As Rudy was rushing to separate those involved, Kermit Washington turned on instinct and threw a punch that would be described as “the greatest punch in the history of mankind,” that connected with Tomjanovich’s head.

#4 Michael Jordan’s gambling problems

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan

As great as Michael Jordan was, his weakness was his gambling addiction. Reports started coming out about Jordan’s gambling issues and the media was pressuring the NBA to investigate it.

The NBA never acted, and it ended up being a PR stunt. Michael Jordan was the most popular athlete in the world and the NBA was peaking in terms of coverage around the world and how popular it was becoming.

Investigating its biggest star and possibly suspending him would have destroyed the perfect image of Jordan and the NBA.

Conspiracy theorists argue that David Stern sat down with Jordan and told him to take time off while the stories die down so sort of an unofficial suspension which leads to Jordan’s first retirement.

#3 Kobe Bryant alleged rape case

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant
Kobe and Vanessa Bryant

When Kobe Bryant began his career, he was a rising star and he had a great respect for the game and its history. He was widely regarded among best players in the league.

Disaster struck in 2003. Kobe got accused and arrested for his rape/sex scandal in Eagle, Colorado shortly after knee surgery. The case was eventually dismissed after the accuser refused to testify.

The humbling accusation, however, changed people’s perception of him as a person. He was even dropped by Adidas (I bet they regretted this). Now, in retirement, haters still call him a rapist and do everything to tarnish his greatness.

#2 Tim Donaghy Gambling Scandal

Tim Donaghy
Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy is a former professional basketball referee who worked in the league from 1994 to 2007. His tenure was deemed controversial when he took his gambling too far and was forced to resign pending FBI investigation.

He gambled on and attempted to fix NBA games that he bet on, while he was employed by the league as a referee. Donaghy also claimed that there was an institutional fixing of games by the NBA - specifically the infamous 2002 finals series between the Kings and the Lakers. This was among the worst officiated game in history and Kings’ fans will always cry foul.

As per the former commissioner David Stern:

"the Donaghy matter is an isolated case... it's the most serious situation and worst situation that I have ever experienced".

Donaghy pleaded guilty on August 15, 2007, to two felony charges of conspiracy. This must be the worst position to be a sports fan.

#1 Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling
Donald Sterling

As the Los Angeles Clippers were enjoying their face off against the Golden State Warriors in the 2014 Playoffs, their plainly racist owner had other plans behind the scenes.

He was recorded by his mistress (V. Stiviano)-of African American and Mexican descent, making racist comments about black people. Stiviano had posted a photo of herself with Magic Johnson on Instagram. The photo irritated him, and he had the following out of his chest:

“-- It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to? --You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games. -- I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people. -- ...Don't put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games.”

The Clippers were only ready for the playoffs, clearly not for both. They took care of the short-handed Warriors in the first round. He had caused a National outcry. Players in the NBA united against Sterling’s comments by wearing their jerseys inside out, forcing the NBA’s hand in the matter.

He was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million and was forced to sell the team for $2 billion to Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Edited by Yash Matange
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