Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time

Kenneth Mwenda
updated at April 24, 2024 at 9:26 AM

The dirtiest NBA players are also among the best defenders. Surprisingly, their sullied reputation does not affect the effectiveness of their defence. However, their actions on the court can sometimes detract from the game and jeopardize their team's success. It is the toughness of many of these players that have helped them earn spots on some of the NBA's best teams.

Dirtiest NBA players of all time
Photo: (modified by author)
Source: UGC

The list of the dirtiest NBA players in 2022 was compiled using credible statistics obtained from various publications. Many have committed some of the game's most heinous crimes throughout history. They would go to any length to win a basketball game, even if it means jeopardizing their opponent's health.

Dirtiest basketball players of all time

Dirty NBA players come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some players would take offence if they were called dirty. Some people would be proud to wear the label. So, who is the dirtiest NBA player? This list is more about who is good at being dirty than about the most infamous fouls or violent incidents in NBA history.

20. Paul Pierce

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Paul Pierce cheers before the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament National Championship. Photo: Jamie Schwaberow
Source: Getty Images

He had a talent for drama. Pierce was moved off the court after feigning injury and wheeled to the locker room in what is the single most monumental flop in the history of the game. He was on the court two minutes later, knocking down threes. This exemplifies Pierce's dirty play. He was the master of embellishing contact.

19. John Stockton

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
John Stockton reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on February 20, 2022. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu
Source: Getty Images

John Stockton is regarded as one of the best point guards of all time. He wanted to be known as one of the best playmakers and as a headhunter and a booty shorts wearer. John Stockton spent his entire 19-year NBA career with the Utah Jazz, making the playoffs for 19 consecutive seasons.

18. Dwight Howard

dirtiest NBA players 2022
Dwight Howard looks on prior to the game between Bored Ape FC and the Knights of Degan during Fan Controlled Football Season v2.0 - Week Five on May 14, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Kevin C. Cox
Source: Getty Images

A side of him is seen as a nice guy, playing and joking. On the other hand, he pushes a lot, and with the body of a seven-foot Michelangelo statue, that is a big man shoving you around. Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he's a great defensive player, but much of that is due to the way he establishes position, often through illegal contact.

17. Dennis Rodman

Who is the dirtiest NBA player?
Dennis Rodman reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on February 20, 2022. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu
Source: Getty Images

Dennis Rodman, also known as the "worm," Is well-known for his exceptional defensive and rebounding abilities. Dennis Rodman played for the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs during his NBA career.

16. Karl Malone

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Former NBA player Karl Malone speaks onstage during the 30th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner at The Waldorf Astoria on October 6, 2015. Photo: Craig Barritt
Source: Getty Images

Karl Malone, also known as the "Mailman," is unquestionably one of the greatest NBA players of all time. Karl Malone spent his entire 18-year NBA career with the Utah Jazz, from his rookie year to the end of his career. Malone exemplifies that the sum of small cheap shots far outweighs the big cheap shot. He never delivered the Kevin McHale clothesline, but he was a much dirtier player.

15. Steven Adams

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Steven Adams #4 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks to pass the ball against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena on April 7, 2022 in Denver, Colorado.Photo: Ethan Mito
Source: Getty Images

Six stars were ejected for hitting him during the 2013-14 season alone. Is it due to his bone-crushing screens? Is that a New Zealand accent? What about his inability to shave?

He's been hit in the groin twice by Draymond Green and once by Joe Ingles, and he's been involved in a number of fights, most recently with Khris Middleton.

A coach in the Western Conference once told the Los Angeles Times that "His actions are not acceptable. He throws elbows at extra hitting dudes, hitting them with the chicken wing [elbow] and attempting to get a rise out of them." That could be why he's gotten so many ejections.

14. Mark Jackson

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Head coach Mark Jackson of the Golden State Warriors shouts instructions in the game in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Photo: Stephen Dunn
Source: Getty Images

He mastered the physical point guard in a small man's body. He weighed 180 pounds but played like he weighed 240. He had to "prove" that he was as tough as anyone else on the court, so he played borderline mean, minus the borderline. He was the NBA version of Tommy DeVito.

13. Chris Paul

Dirtiest basketball players of all time
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball during the Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on May 15, 2022. Photo: Christian Petersen
Source: Getty Images

He is the king of groin shots and one of the dirtiest NBA players now. It all started at Wake Forest when Paul blatantly threw a haymaker right into former NC State star Julius Hodge's private spot.

Paul would be suspended for one game for his antics, but that hasn't stopped him from carrying on at the next level. He can use his small stature as an excuse once, but grabbing or targeting another man's crotch on a regular basis is a problem.

CP3's nutcrackers have claimed the lives of Chris Kaman, Kevin Durant, and Rudy Gobert. When Paul comes to town, it's probably a good idea to wear a cup.

12. Kobe Bryant

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers chews on his jersey in Game Six of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics on June 17, 2008. Photo: Jim Rogash
Source: Getty Images

He has softened a little in his old age, but that didn't mean the things he did in his youth never happened, or that he wasn't still a little dirty.

Bryant was a prototypical "sneaky-dirty" player. His foul rate doesn't reflect how dirty he was because he got away with most of what he did. His dedication both on and off the field will never be forgotten. Let him rest in peace.

11. Rasheed Wallace

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Rasheed Wallace of the New York Knicks celebrates against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo: Jim McIsaac
Source: Getty Images

Rasheed Wallace, best known for coining the phrase "Ball Don't Lie," was unquestionably one of the NBA's biggest names during his playing days. Rasheed Wallace's intensity and love for the game, like that of most of the players on this list, frequently got him in trouble with officials and opposing teams.

While some of these incidents were amusing, others resulted in ejections and, in some cases, suspensions. Rasheed Wallace also has the record for the most career ejections, receiving 29 during his illustrious NBA career.

10. Kelly Olynyk

the current dirtiest nba players
Kelly Olynyk of the Detroit Pistons handles the ball against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second quarter at Little Caesars Arena on April 08, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Nic Antaya
Source: Getty Images

In the 2015 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, he ripped Kevin Love's shoulder out of its socket, effectively ending the Cavaliers' chances of winning an NBA championship. If you thought Olynyk's play was a fluke, think again. He did it again against the Bulls.

Then there was the postseason when Olynyk caught Kelly Oubre's hit stick after his bush-league screen. When Draymond Green has the audacity to call you dirty, you're most likely not innocent. Kelly is one of the NBA's dirtiest players right now.

9. Kevin Garnett

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Kevin Garnett reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA 75 anniversary team during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on February 20, 2022. Photo: Jason Miller
Source: Getty Images

The former Defensive Player of the Year knew how to intimidate his opponents and get in their faces. He accomplished this not only by playing straight-up defence but also by sneaking in an elbow or two to soften up the opposition.

During his prime, Garnett was a notorious trash talker who made his opponents feel the difficulty of playing against him by setting screens that caused many players to curl up and fall down in pain. The Big Ticket, like Draymond Green, was known to target opposing players' balls.

8. Bill Laimbeer

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Bill Laimbeer #40 of the Detroit Pistons works for position on Tony Campbell #19 of the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA basketball game circa 1989. Photo: Focus on Sport
Source: Getty Images

He was the worst of the Bad Boys, and he was unapologetic about it. He stated that he did what was necessary to win and the results were unarguable. He possesses two rings. Laimbeer was more than willing to throw an elbow if one was available. He wasn't just a dirty player; he was proud of it. He was the most physical star in basketball during its most physical era.

7. Serge Ibaka

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Serge Ibaka #25 of the Milwaukee Bucks looks to pass during the second half of the game against the Washington Wizards at Fiserv Forum on March 24, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo: John Fisher
Source: Getty Images

Serge Ibaka could afford no mistakes when he first began dating Keri Hilson in 2012, but that has not been the case. He's as filthy as it gets, and, like Chris Paul, he appears to have no boundaries. You can make an excuse for punching a player in the sack once, but doing it twice in a year to the same star is ridiculous. Just ask Blake Griffin.

Not to mention, Ibaka is a fantastic instigator, starting fights on the court with nearly everyone in the league. Unfortunately for Ibaka, his most recent fight with James Johnson did not go well. Ibaka messed with one of the few NBA stars you shouldn't mess with, and he got a two-piece from the black belt as a result.

6. Matthew Dellavedova

The dirtiest NBA players of all time
Matthew Dellavedova of United shoots during game three of the NBL Semi Final series between Melbourne United and Tasmania Jackjumpers on May 02, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Kelly Defina
Source: Getty Images

Consider that the Australian native was voted the dirtiest player in the NBA by players and coaches in a Los Angeles Times poll in 2015. Dellavedova's dirty tactics were most visible in the 2015 NBA Finals, where he enraged NBA MVP, Stephen Curry. Delly's tough brand of defence, which included physicality beyond normal means, infuriated Curry, who is usually calm and collected.

5. Bruce Bowen

dirtiest nba player defensive
Bruce Bowen #12 of the San Antonio Spurs grabs a rebound against the Washington Wizards on November 15, 2003 at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. Photo: G Fiume
Source: Getty Images

Bruce Bowen is regarded as one of the best lockdown perimeter defenders of all time, thanks to his ability to read plays and his hard-nosed playing style. Bruce Bowen was named to the all-NBA defensive team eight times during his illustrious NBA career.

Bowen was one of the dirtiest NBA players defensively, slipping his foot under opponents' feet when they went up for a jump shot. The players' ankles and knees would be ruined when they came down.

4. Draymond Green

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives past Maxi Kleber #42 of the Dallas Mavericks during the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals on May 24, 2022. Photo: Tom Pennington
Source: Getty Images

Draymond Green is not far behind Chris Paul as the king of groin shots. The man got away with nailing Steven Adams in the nuts twice in the same series, and after all the backlash, he followed it up by swinging at LeBron's nuts, which likely cost the Warriors the championship. Green is a fantastic all-around player and pest, but he can be too much at times.

3. Patrick Beverley

The dirtiest NBA players of the twenty-first century
Patrick Beverley #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves drives to the basket while Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies defends during the Western Conference game on April 23, 2022. Photo: David Berding
Source: Getty Images

Patrick Beverley is easily counted among the dirtiest NBA players of the twenty-first century, from physicality and downright dirty plays to trash-talking. Beverley, who stands 6' 1", knows how to get a player to focus on him rather than the game. His superior defence makes it difficult for referees to catch all of his dirty little tricks. But every now and then, he does something so obvious that it's impossible to deny how dirty the play was.

2. Zaza Pachulia

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Detroit Pistons poses for a portrait during Media Day at Little Caesars Arena on September 24, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Gregory Shamus
Source: Getty Images

When he played dirty, he aimed at the star player and would show no remorse. He attempted to injure Kawhi Leonard twice, once as a member of the Dallas Mavericks and once as a Warrior. He's also made some dirty plays on Russell Westbrook.

Is there anyone who isn't a Warriors fan who liked Pachulia? He may be the least talented player on a team that included JaVale McGee, and he appeared to be only on the court to cause havoc with his cheap shots and illegal screens.

1. Metta Sandiford-Artest

Get to know the top 20 dirtiest NBA players of all time
Metta World Peace looks on during the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Denver Nuggets at Golden 1 Center on February 24, 2022 in Sacramento, California. Photo: Lachlan Cunningham
Source: Getty Images

During the summer of 2001, the man formerly known as Ron Artest broke his Airness' ribs while playing against Michael Jordan, who was attempting to recondition his body in order to unretire and play for the Washington Wizards. Jordan's conditioning was set back by a few weeks as a result of the injury, which caused quite a stir in the NBA.

The list of the dirtiest NBA players resembles the list of the league's best defensive players. This is due to the fact that great defence is known to get somehow dirty. However, some players have a reputation for being "dirty" because of a single hard foul or cheap shot, despite the fact that they were not necessarily dirty players.

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Kenneth Mwenda
Kenneth Mwenda is a business and sports writer with over five years of experience. At Sportsbrief, he contributes to writing biographies and listicles.