Ranking the Top 10 Biggest NBA Scandals of All Time

The NBA has seen some massive scandals over the years that left fans in sheer disbelief. These scandals have ruined the reputation of many talented athletes, forever tarnishing their careers in some cases.

While some incidents were handled in court, others vanished into the abyss of forgetfulness. They serve as a constant reminder that beneath the alluring image the league tries to portray, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Here is a list of the top 10 NBA scandals that shocked the league and its fans around the world.

#10. Len Bias’ Cocaine Overdose

Len Bias was a promising scorer from Mayland who was, even compared to the likes of Michael Jordan during his collegiate career. Bias was one of the few NBA athletes who not only lost their careers to substance abuse, but also his life.

Len Bias
via AP

Tragically, despite being selected second in the 1986 NBA draft by the Celtics, he never played a game because he passed away from a cocaine overdose on June 19, 1986.

Hours after celebrating his draft selection, Bias attended a party where he ingested a fatal amount of cocaine, leading to cardiac arrhythmia. He was just 22 years old at the time.

Bias’s demise led to heightened awareness of the dangers associated with substance abuse, prompting the league to implement stricter anti-drug policies.

#9. Tim Hardaway Sr. Homophobic comments

During a February 14, 2007, interview with Dan Le Batard, former NBA player Tim Hardaway made deeply offensive and regrettable comments regarding homosexuality.

He stated, “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 even went as far as expressing his intention to undermine the careers of any gay teammates he might have had. Hardaway was immediately disciplined for his comments.

The CBA’s Indiana Alley Cats fired him from his position as Chief Basketball Operations Advisor. The NBA also barred him from taking part in the next all-star events that week. The next day, Hardaway officially apologized for his inflammatory comments.

The change in Hardaway since then is astonishing. He now works with groups like The Trevor Project and The Yes Institute to promote LGBT equality.

#8. Jason Kidd’s Domestic Abuse

Jason Kidd’s behavior has thrown shadows on his reputation despite his legendary standing in the NBA and possible admission into the Hall of Fame. Kidd was traded from the Suns to the Nets in 2001 after he was arrested and pleaded guilty to domestic abuse against his wife, Joumana.

After completing their required anger management classes, the couple seemed to have made amends. However, in 2007, they both filed for divorce, with Joumana alleging serious assault that resulted in a broken rib and hearing loss.

Jason Kidd
via Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

Moreover, allegations of extramarital encounters surfaced. After a vehicle accident marred his reputation in 2011, Kidd’s 2012 DWI conviction didn’t help matters much. Nevertheless, Kidd remains one of the legendary NBA figures of his time.

#7. Gilbert Arenas brings guns to the locker room

Gilbert Arenas’ irresponsible actions with firearms in the locker room affected him both financially and on the court. Arenas broke NBA regulations, as well as D.C. law in December 2009 when he brought guns into the Washington Wizards’ locker room.

In the premise of the incident, Javaris Crittenton and JaVale McGee had originally gotten into a fight because of a gaming debt that they owed each other. Arenas allegedly brought four unloaded handguns with a threatening message into the locker area after Crittenton threatened him with shooting.

This became one of the most shocking NBA scandals of all-time as Arenas earned a season-long suspension from the NBA for his inappropriate actions. Crittenton was also suspended for legal reasons and was found guilty of other crimes later, eventually being sentenced to a lengthy jail term.

#6. Malice At The Palace

The Malice at the Palace remains one of the most infamous moments in NBA history. The notorious incident occurred on November 19, 2004, during a game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The game grew increasingly heated which eventually resulted in a foul on the Pacers’ Ron Artest.

As Artest lay on the scorer’s table, a fan threw a cup of beer at him. This triggered a massive brawl. Artest charged into the stands, starting violent altercations between players and fans.

As a consequence, five fans and five Pacers players faced criminal charges. Players such as Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal, David Harrison, and Anthony Johnson were all subject to sanctions like probation, community service, fines, and anger management classes. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season.

Elden Campbell, Derrick Coleman, Reggie Miller, and Chauncey Billups all received bans as well. John Green, the initiator, was found guilty of assault and battery on Artest and received a 30-day prison term and a lifetime ban from attending Pistons home games.

 #5. Kermit Washington Punches Rudy Tomjanovich

In 1977, an infamous incident occurred in the NBA when Kermit Washington punched Rudy Tomjanovich during a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets.

The incident happened when a scuffle erupted on the court, drawing players from both teams into the fray. Amid the chaos, Ray Tomjanovich, attempting to play peacemaker, ran towards the skirmish, only to be met with a devastating punch from Washington.

Later on, it was revealed that he suffered a broken nose, broken jaw, fractured skull, spinal fluid leakage, and other facial injuries. Washington faced severe consequences, receiving a 60-day suspension and a $10,000 fine – the largest at that time.

Tomjanovich’s injuries required extensive medical treatment, and the incident had a lasting impact on his career. Luckily, he survived and went on to play three more seasons before his retirement.

#4. Kobe Bryant’s alleged rape case

Kobe Bryant has been one the most recognized basketball players in recent times. However, in 2003, disaster struck when he was accused of sexual assault by a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado.

Per the plaintiff, Kobe had allegedly assaulted her in the hotel room which the NBA great insisted was consensual. Bryant admitted to having a sexual encounter with the accuser but maintained it was consensual.

Kobe Byant with his wife
via Getty

The case garnered intense media scrutiny, tarnishing Bryant’s public image and putting his career in jeopardy. The charges were eventually dropped when the accuser decided not to testify, leading to a civil settlement between Bryant and the woman.

The incident had a negative impact on Kobe Bryant’s personal life and marriage, though his wife stood by him during the legal proceedings. Bryant publicly apologized to the accuser, acknowledging that she did not view the encounter the same way he did.

Nevertheless, the accusation had a profound impact on public perception altering the way some viewed him as a person. Even today, detractors persist in labeling him as a rapist, attempting to tarnish his undeniable greatness.

#3. Michael Jordan’s gambling problems

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Michael Jordan faced a scandal surrounding his gambling habits, raising questions about the NBA superstar’s conduct. Reports suggested that Jordan engaged in high-stakes gambling, including wagers on golf courses and in casinos.

Some believe, though never officially confirmed, that then-NBA Commissioner David Stern arranged an unofficial ban for Jordan, encouraging him to take time off from the game while the issue died down, which led to Jordan’s original retirement.

Michael Jordan
via Sports Gambling Podcast

The NBA conducted an investigation into Jordan’s gambling, concluding that there was no evidence to support the rumors of a suspension, perhaps to preserve the league’s reputation and Jordan’s standing as the world’s most popular athlete.

While the controversy never fully subsided, Jordan’s return to the NBA in 1995 and subsequent successes with the Chicago Bulls shifted the focus back to his basketball achievements.

#2. The Sterling Affairs

During the 2014 NBA Playoffs, one of the darkest scandals in league history unfolded when disturbingly racist remarks made by Donald Sterling, then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, surfaced in a leaked audio recording.

Sterling, recorded by his then-mistress V. Stiviano, made abhorrent comments about black people, expressing his displeasure over Stiviano’s association with them. Labeled ‘The Sterling Affairs’, the fiasco was one of the darkest scandals in NBA history.

The revelations of this NBA scandal sparked a national outcry, and NBA players showed solidarity by wearing their jerseys inside out, pressuring the league to take action.

The league took decisive action, banning Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers or the NBA and imposing a $2.5 million fine. Donald Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers came to an end when his wife, Shelly Sterling, facilitated the sale of the team to Steve Ballmer for a record-breaking $2 billion. The original terms of the settlement between Sterling and the league remains undisclosed till date.

#1. Jayson Williams’ manslaughter case

Jayson Williams had an excellent nine-year career, highlighted by his outstanding rebounding and defensive abilities. However, in 2002, he faced a manslaughter scandal following the accidental shooting death of limousine driver Costas Christofi at Williams’ New Jersey estate.

Williams and friends were reportedly handling firearms when a shotgun discharged, fatally striking Christofi.

The incident led to immediate legal repercussions for Williams, including charges of reckless manslaughter. During the trial, evidence suggested attempts to cover up the true nature of the shooting.

Later in 2010, Williams accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for dropping the more severe charges. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, with eligibility for parole after 18 months. The manslaughter scandal remains a dark chapter in Jayson Williams’ life, and the history of NBA as a whole.

Despite the league’s wide acclaim, such NBA fiascos have tarnished the reputation of the league and are considered dark phases in the history of the sport. What are your thoughts on the worst NBA scandals over the years? Share with us below.

Sami Haider

482 articles

Sami Haider is an NBA writer at SportsKnot. His foray into basketball scriptwriting started in 2020, when he was enthralled by the Los Angeles Lakers' NBA championship victory. His previous experience was limited to dribbling and dunking as a neighborhood kid. His insightful writings show how much he loves the sport. His writing goes beyond numbers and scores, giving readers a unique viewpoint on the players, teams, and events that define the basketball scene. Whether you're a die-hard fan or a casual observer, Sami's work is essential for anybody trying to expand their knowledge and love of the NBA.


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