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Wednesday, November 6, 2002
Updated: November 12, 6:55 PM ET
NBA's corrosive cancers

From the Page 2 mailbag

Earlier this week, Page 2 listed its choices for the 10 worst cancers ever to infect the NBA. We knew our readers would be able to come up with other delinquent germs, so we opened it up for discussion in this week's List.

We received more than 1,500 letters on the topic, and here's how our readers ranked the top 10 biggest menaces in professional hoops history. Be sure to vote in the poll at right to crown the most offensive firebrand ever to plague the NBA.

1. Derrick Coleman (167 letters)
Two words that should be spelled out in Twinkies -- Derrick Coleman. As a huge Syracuse fan, I was ultra-excited to see how promising his career began ... and that was about as good as it got.

Derrick Coleman
D.C. put on a few pounds but lost a lot of lustre.
Since his rookie year, D.C.'s teams have always performed better with him on the bench. The longer he plays, the more he weighs ... No one has done less with more than big ole' D.C.
Mike Pacchione
Wyndmoor, Pa

His nickname should stand for "Disruptive Crybaby." Everywhere he has gone has gotten worse with him in the lineup. When the Nets chose him as the No. 1 pick, everyone thought he would be the next great power forward and make New Jersey a playoff contender. All he did was give them extended summer vacations and more time on the golf course.

Then he was traded to the Sixers for fellow first round bust Shawn Bradley. All he did there was bicker with players and coaches alike ... and I recall the time that he was missing for two days. The only good thing he did for the Sixers was to put them in the lottery so they could take Jerry Stackhouse and Iverson.

His ensuing stint with the Hornets was misleading. They had a winning record and made the playoffs but most of those wins came without Coleman in the lineup. They had a sub-.500 record with him in the lineup.

Then for some unknown reason the Sixers reacquired him. Big surprise. They went from a team that made the NBA finals the year before to a team that barely made the playoffs.

I don't think it's a coincidence ...
Steve Gaydon
Coal Township, Pa.

There has been no bigger cancer on an NBA roster than Derrick Coleman both in physical size and impact. He came into the league as arguably the most talented collegian in the 1990 draft. He also brought the most problems. Chuck Daly was the only coach who could kind-of-sort-of keep him contained. Otherwise, he was doing his part to undermine every franchise he's been a part of.

There are too many D.C. incidents to list, so I'll stick to some of the highlights. In Philly, he injured his ankle and proceeded to balloon up to 340 pounds. In Charlotte, he was so disruptive to team chemistry that the Hornets had a better record without than they did with him. There were two DUI arrests, and a public urination restaurant incident. Maybe the worst thing D.C. did, though, was the car accident and how he handled it, he was driving a car that nearly killed teammate passenger Eldridge Recasner. Afterward, Coleman tried to laugh off the incident while Recasner was still in the hospital. There is no bigger NBA cancer than D.C., what a horrible waste of so much talent.
Brian Halma
Takoma Park, Md.

2. Dennis Rodman (155 letters)
A true chump, consumed by his own dedicated cause of self-destruction ... the malaise he brings to all he comes in contact with. Unusually athletically talented, he was just good enough to seduce true believers in the sport of basketball, and the uniqueness of life. Unfortunately his unwillingness to succeed at anything other than failure makes him the worse cancer to ever afflict the NBA.
J.R. Rogers
Kona, Hawaii

Dennis Rodman
Rodman wormed his way through the NBA like an infectious virus.
To be sure, Dennis Rodman was no choirboy, and it's hard to defend his actions such as kicking that photographer. but, I'm sorry, a team cancer doesn't have five NBA championships under his belt, and yes, Dennis played an integral role on all of them. He was part of the core group of Pistons that had such a great run, and was the perfect compliment to Michael Jordan during the Bulls' second run. His style of play, the flopping and irritating and such, may have been unconventional, but it certainly was effective. He had the Sonics' center tied up in knots during their championship series with the Bulls.

Oh, and of course he won the rebounding title ... seven years in a row. He's the best rebounder in NBA history and had as much hustle on the court as anyone. Rodman's always gotten a bad rap in the sports world due to his punk appearance and allusions to homosexuality -- neither of which are very popular in the jock dominated sports world. He was great player and a true individual, give him that much at least. I'd rather have Rodman on my team than many of the new breed of selfish, money and stat hoarding players you see today.
Matt Arnold
Durham, N.C.

Dennis Rodman is that most American of curiosities, someone who is famous for being famous. You said he was a distraction even though he was so "great." The guy was never even good. He may very well be the most overrated professional athlete of all time. He was fortunate enough to win two NBA championships on a rugby team disguised as the Pistons.

Why did Rodman lead the league in rebounds? Because no one covered him! If you know a guy absolutely will not get the ball on offense, you use his man to double-team M.J. or The Admiral. Rodman always had a free lane to the basket. He was not the best rebounder of all time -- a statement which surely has Wilt spinning in his grave and Bill Russell scratching his head -- was never even, at any time, the best rebounder on his team.

Don't believe me? Let's say Phil Jackson lost his mind and decided to have Jordan take Rodman's place. He tells Mike, "Don't get involved in the offense at all. All I want you to do is grab rebounds." ... You get my point.

So why was Rodman such a phenomenon? Well, ESPN, that's your fault. These days, sports reporting has been reduced to sticking a microphone in the face of an athlete and letting them talk until they say something stupid.

Rodman was a walking headline -- make that, punch line. The savvy self-marketer that he is, he realized that the more outrageous his behavior, the more media coverage he'd get. No one knew who he was when he was a "defensive stopper" with the Pistons. Paint your hair green and walk around in a wedding dress and suddenly you're a household name. You can't buy that kind of publicity. And these days, you don't have to.

Rodman's career was nothing but a promotional juggernaut which happened to take place on a basketball court. And the media bought it hook, line and sinker. Personally, I'd rather hear more stories about guys like Warrick Dunn, who builds homes for single mothers than listen to Warren Sapp babble for 10 minutes.

Rasheed Wallace is just plain insane. Sprewell's a thug. Roy Tarpley was an addict. Isaiah Rider is lazy. What makes Rodman the No. 1 cancer is that his distractions weren't due to character or personality flaws. He purposely manipulated the media and his teammates for the sole purpose of putting himself in the spotlight for his own personal gain.
Jeffrey Staggs
Baltimore

3. Allen Iverson (132 letters)
The guy can barely spell "team" let alone function within one. On the court, he'll blow past a couple defenders ... and then four wide-open teammates only to take an off-balance shot from behind the basket. Off the court, he manages to find trouble with frequency. And practice?! "We're talkin' 'bout practice?!" A couple of the guys made your list for being late to practice. At least they went.
Nick McCann
Philadelphia

Allen Iverson
Iverson was a popular answer on this week's List.
Alan Iverson. Iverson may be "The Answer" but, unfortunately, the question is, "Who is the most gifted player ever to destroy a basketball team?"
Wayne Young
Lexington, Ky.

Forget Rodman. What suburban teenager hasn't experimented with questionable hair color and trashy women? That's kid stuff. Even though I'm a Philadelphia native, and of course a die hard A.I. fan, I concede -- Allen's not exactly a team player.

His talent is unparalleled yet he is unable to lead towards success -- let alone show up to practice, unless it's the Allen Iverson Show. What a crime. Speaking of ... Have you forgotten his collegiate chair smashing incident that landed him in jail?

His August gun waving display is more substantial proof that Allen has forgotten to outgrow his Georgetown thug years ... But, the charges were dropped ... and he continues to make Philly an enormous amount of money.

Go further into Iverson, check out his album "Jewlz" complete with violent and bigoted lyrics. C'mon, do we really need another sports figure taking part in public gay bashing. Allen Iverson is the ultimate NBA bad boy, he's earned his spot on this list.
Melissa
Los Angeles

He seems to have a lot of nicknames, perhaps "Peter Pan" is most appropriate -- Iverson just won't grow up.
David Hinks
Baltimore

4. Latrell Sprewell (104 letters)
He's still around causing problems and providing distractions for his team. He should have been out of the NBA a long time ago. Teams set themselves up for trouble when they put up with crap just because a player is extremely talented. Three major infractions and you should be gone (and that is being overly generous.) If they had everyday jobs, they wouldn't be allowed that many screw-ups before they found themselves at the unemployment office. Give a guy a reasonable chance to get his act together and if he doesn't -- send him packing. And other teams shouldn't pick him up. It's like inviting someone with the flu to spend the night at your house, in your bed ... and, oh here, use my toothbrush, too. Problem players moving from team to team to team just spreads the disease to more people and increases the recovery time. To all pro athletes ... Grow up or go home!
C. Henderson
Princeton, W.V.

Latrell Sprewell
We thought Spree was all grown up when he came to the Knicks, but he soon proved us wrong.
Rodman contributed substantially to championships ... Sprewell hasn't and won't. His selfishness contaminates every team he plays for and every game he plays in. Gifted and uncoachable. Sprewell's the worst ever. Washburn didn't play enough to be considered, but he would have stolen this award.
Dave Featherstone
Roswell, N.M.

No other player can claim to have completely destroyed two different teams. Golden State had an incredible nucleus of players that they traded away because nobody got along with Latrell. Latrell responded a club willing to build a team around him by choking the coach and being run out of town leaving the team with nothing. He then went to New York where he has managed to turn contender into the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
Scott
Albany, N.Y.

5. Donald Sterling (77 letters)
Dennis Rodman may be crazy, but he won championships. Isaiah Rider may be a spoiled brat, but he never stays with a team long enough to hurt them. And Jason Williams may be the NBA's John Rocker, but like Rocker, he's falling into oblivion.

It must be Donald Sterling, who has been the plague of the Clippers since back when they were still in San Diego. The Clippers have only made the playoffs three times while he's in charge (all first round losses) and most times have been utter disgraces. His bad decisions are legendary, from choosing Bo Kimble in 1990 (lasted two years) to killing a deal to trade Danny Manning for Glen Rice because he thought Danny would stay, then trading him for the aging Dominique Wilkins, who left at the end of the year.

He also is the ultimate cheapskate owner (even worse than Carl "Smithers, Release the Hounds!" Pohlad). Who can forget him his first year as owner asking his coach if he'd tape his player's ankles himself so he wouldn't have to have a trainer? Now he has a good young team that is the envy of the league and he won't pay to keep them. Hey, Don, you've got two studs in Odom and Brand-don't let them get away.

He's the ultimate cancer, because he's crippled a team for decades. Somebody buy the Clippers already and save them from this evil man.
Geoff Fyfe
Appleton, Wis.

Donald Sterling
Donald Sterling scored Elton Brand and gave Clips' fans a glimmer of hope.
Sterling without a doubt. I grew up in L.A., but hated all the local teams. So the Clips were a great antithesis to the Lakers for a seventh grader in 1984. Sterling is a joke. He has blown every opportunity to make the Clips a legit franchise. I still hold hope, maybe he'll finally do something with this year's bunch, but it's only wishful thinking.

I have had dreams that Stern would force Sterling out for the love and riches of a young zillionaire with nothing else to do but dump money into the team.

What about adding Elgin Baylor to your list? He has done great things, but does he have no self respect? How can he continue to work for Sterling after all these years? If he is as great as everyone says, I think he should have convinced Sterling to pony up or quit in protest by now.
M. Geisel
Ann Arbor

It has to be Mr. Sterling of Clipperland. I moved to Los Angeles two years ago and followed the Clippers for the only reason that they weren't the Lakers. It also helped that I could get good seats at Staples for only ten bucks. Something happened as I followed them though, they actually began to play well. You could see the young players maturing and letting their talent grow. After a season that left me happy about the future of the Clippers they went into the offseason and got Elton Brand.

I had heard about how bad Sterling was in the past but I was convinced that with getting Brand, Sterling now wanted to win and would do anything to do it. I wasn't the only one to think so. I could no longer get tickets for any Clipper games as fans packed the Staples Center every night. It helped my thought that Sterling would change again last off season as the Clippers then went out and got Andre Miller but alas, things returned to normal. Sterling offered nothing to Michael Olowkandi, Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, or Quentin Richardson and has left the team chaotic this year with no real shot at making the playoffs even with their incredible talent.

Sterling has crushed the hearts of all Clippers fans again this year but we will be coming back for more again and again. Why? Because at least we aren't following the Lakers.
Joe Turk
Las Vegas

6. Rasheed Wallace (69 letters)
The Blazers squad of the last four years has been an All-Star team in itself, with such talents as Scottie Pippen, Damon Stoudamire, Steve Smith and Arvidas Sabonis. But the problem is that they all buy into Wallace's poor attitude and none of them have the guts to stand up to him and lay the law down. Wallace is very popular off court with his teammates and because of this friendship, his teammates let him rage on and on. The NBA wonders why their ratings low and attendance is down and to find the problem, all Stern needs to do is look at Rasheed Wallace. Fans of the NBA are fed up with seeing multimillionaire players throw temper tantrums and behave like juveniles. There is no excuse for Wallace's poor behavior and he truly is a cancer to the NBA.
Carlos Segura
Albuquerque, N.M.

You see a guy like Dennis Rodman in the papers and just shake your head, baffled. But the bottom line is count the rings, this guy helped take talented teams all the way.

Rasheed Wallace
Rasheed Wallace's contract can't run out soon enough for Blazers management.
Now if you want real malignancy, look at the Blazers, starring our favorite Mad Clown Ringleader Rasheed Wallace. An undeniable talent, he seems to prefer the taste of his Nike in his mouth to the taste of victory. You would think he would be tired of his own act by now.

Just like with Dennis, look at the roster, then check for rings. I'm mentally flailing for something witty to say here, but this team is just too much for words.
T.J.M.
Chicago

He practices with the team and goes through all the motions which gives the impression that he's onboard. In big games he produces miraculous shots to keep the game close, which builds everyone's hopes -- then he bursts the bubble of every Blazers fan by arguing with refs till they T him up. This breaks the flow of the team's offense and breaks the hearts of his teammates who have worked their butts off only to see points being given away foolishly.

Rasheed Wallace doesn't have a problem off the court like most players (up until recently), his problem is actually on the court in the act of playing the game. He manages to frustrate everyone except the opponents at key moments when the excitement and expectations are at a climax, that's when he stabs his teammates,coaches and fans in the heart with another technical.

He's a cancer that's difficult to treat because he looks like a Blazer player, he's part of the team huddles, he plays on the same side ... but he continues to drain it of energy and infect it until there's nothing left.
Steve Reid
Brooklyn, N.Y.

7. Jason Williams (50 letters)
Jason Williams
White Chocolate is bad for your team's health.
His attitude on and off the court make him a must for this list. He has talent, but was quick to soak up the hype surrounding his rookie year and he never paid his dues. "He sucks" but continues blames others. Actually stated that he didn't think John Stockton was a good point guard.
Kitty Walker
Murfreesboro, Tenn.

With roughly the same talent then, as is in Sacramento now, it was only an average team, least of all the prohibitive favorite to win a championship. At least now Jason's with the Grizzlies, where he can only damage young talent, and not a veteran's one time shot at a title.
Andy Klamm
Chapel Hill, N.C.

8. Rod Strickland (39 letters)
What the heck are you guys doing putting together a list of NBA cancers without Rod Strickland. To wit: Fistfight with teammate in the locker room over the attentions of a local stripper. Barfing on the bench after scarfing a bunch of hot dogs just before game time. Arrested after being accused of hitting some TGIFriday's bartender (woman). On the same subject, arrest on domestic violence charges (accused of hitting women is a theme here). Multiple DUI arrests just to set a good example. Personal strike (claimed hamstring hurt) when things got tough for him in D.C.

Strick is a cancer and a serial loser. I will accept the excuse that you were temporarily blinded by Rodman's multiple nose rings and accidentally forgot Strick. But, damn guys, you need to correct the record. Strickland = cancer. No two ways about it.
Stan Washington

First, he was on a Wizards, a club declared by His Airness, himself, to be the next great team. Strickland gets a big contract, then starts missing practices and doing other things to hurt the team. When he was traded three years later to the Blazers, everyone in the Washington area was relieved to see him. What happened to the Blazers? They were in first place in the West without him, after he showed up, they fell to seventh and were swept out of the playoffs. Strickland is then shipped to Miami ... it got ugly.
John Riston
Columbia, Md.

9. Isaiah Rider (33 letters)
Isaiah Rider
Rider once gave coach Phil Jackson a note from a hotel manager, saying it was their fault Isaiah was late to practice.
Rodman, Sprewell and Rasheed cancer? Are you crazy? All-stars can be a distraction, but those players performances waaaaay outweigh their costs! I bet there's 50 guys in the league right now with a worse attitude, but because they aren't stars they aren't discussed. Somehow judgmental sportswriters with absolutely no athletic abilities enjoy chastising athletes for "wasting their potential" instead of chastising 12th-man non contributors with attitude/laziness/drug problems.

Sure these players might have been better with a different attitude, but most of them with the exception of Rodman act out when the team loses. This indicates that they care, which is more than most NBA players these days.

When picking a cancer you better pick someone who gives the team nothing that it can't get elsewhere. Rider fits the bill and that's why he'll probably never play NBA ball again.
Will Stone
Topeka, Kan.

He was a tremendous athlete in college, but how much trouble did he get into that we didn't hear about. UNLV is not Vandy or Tulane. Everywhere he has gone, he's caused problems. He's an outsider, not a team guy. The Lakers found that out ... even the Zen Master couldn't change his attitude. Nothing can cure the symptoms he brings to town.
Roger Etherington
New Orleans

10. Shawn Kemp (30 letters)
I'm a big Cleveland Cavaliers fan (it's getting harder and harder nowadays). The late 1980s-early '90s teams of Daugherty-Price-Nance-Williams-Ehlo and others was a fun team to watch. Injuries and retirements saw that team fall apart without a title.

The team built a new downtown arena in the mid-'90s, now it needed a superstar. Shawn Kemp was the big free agent, and he got a seven year, $110 million contract. I was pretty excited, he seemed like an exciting player with the Sonics.

Shawn Kemp brought the Cavs down. His contract, his laziness, his disrespect for fans, his off-the-court liaisons, all fueled the pathetic franchise that is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Andy Drake
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Kemp became the unfortunate byproduct of the NBA's infatuation with high-flying highlight shows of the early '90s. If dunking had style points, the Sonics would've won multiple championships. Unfortunately, they don't Shawn ... and your NBA career parallels that of a flashy Cedric Ceballos.
John Dooley
Carbondale, Ill.

People like Rodman, Sprewell and Wallace are all good picks, but I think Shawn Kemp is a step above the rest. At least all of these other guys stay in shape. Whenever I see Kemp he's struggling to jog down the court. I mean, aren't these guys paid millions of dollars to stay in excellent game condition? The fact coaches and front office folks put up with Kemp is beyond me.
Brad
Greensboro, N.C.

Dishonorable Mention
  • Charles Barkley
  • Christian Laettner
  • Rick Fox
  • Bill Laimbeer
  • Vernon Maxwell
  • Benoit Benjamin
  • Olden Polynice