In any sport that requires some measure of physicality, the label “soft” is bound be be thrown around every now and then. Especially with the rise of social media and the increasing ability for athletes to engage with fans, it seems like players across various professional sports leagues are dealing with said labels.
The NBA is certainly no exception.
Former players like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Isiah Thomas have frequently commented on how much the game has changed in the modern era. The most commonly held notion is that the NBA was far more physical in the 1980s and 1990s, and that rule changes prioritizing free movement have changed the way basketball is played. Hence, a rise in “soft” players.
But who are some current and former players who have been labeled “soft”?
LeBron is one of the most physically gifted athletes of all time. At 6-foot-8 and close to 260 pounds, he has a ridiculous combination of size and athleticism that he has leveraged into becoming one of the greatest players to ever step on the hardwood. Yet, he has also fallen victim to the “soft” moniker.
The notion that James was “soft” first began when he made his infamous decision to sign with the Miami Heat and create a “Big Three” in South Beach. Well, technically it began even before that choice was made.
James faced questions after the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics. LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers won two of the first three games as James dominated, but he was uncharacteristically lackluster in the next three games as the Celtics sent the Cavs packing.
Upon moving to Miami, James was repeatedly called out for “flopping” and being more exaggerative in his nature, something that is pretty easily spotted for someone with his frame and physicality.
LeBron himself has even admitted that he felt he had to embrace the “villain” role in his first season with the Heat, and his demeanor changed noticeably as a result.
However, that label has mostly disappeared, especially after James returned to bring a title to the Cavs.
If James is not immune to being called soft, then Durant certainly isn’t exempt, either. However, Durant has been portrayed as soft for far different reasons.
There is no question that Durant is one of the most gifted basketball players ever. For a 7-footer (yes, Durant will finally be exposed for his height under the new rules) to shoot so proficiently and be able to rise up so easily against opposing defenders is a gift that few have ever possessed. Durant has also molded himself into one of the better defenders in the league when fully engaged.
However, his mentality has been questioned. The discovery of his Twitter burner accounts led to plenty of “snake” memes, and Durant’s decision to join a 73-win Golden State Warriors team – the one that had just ousted he and the Oklahoma City Thunder in an epic Western Conference Finals – in 2016 became arguably as infamous as LeBron’s decision six years earlier.
Stephen A. Smith once called him “Bosh Spice,” if that is any indication of how some fans and analysts felt about Bosh during his time with the “Big Three” Heat.
It was easy to pick on Bosh in Miami. He was the third fiddle to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and obviously his numbers saw a sharp decline from his days with the Toronto Raptors. He was also the most emotional of the three players, as evidenced by his on-camera tears following the Dallas Mavericks’ stunning triumph over the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals
However, both James and Wade have made it perfectly clear just how valuable Bosh was during that period of dominance, and that he was one of the most valuable two-way big men in the league.
Yao Ming and Vince Carter
You may be looking at the second name and thinking, “What?” Yes, Carter was one of the most ferocious dunkers in NBA history. But he and Yao were both two of the more fragile superstars in NBA history.
Both Vince and, to an even more debilitating extent, Yao proved especially susceptible to injuries throughout their career, and it seemed as though they would go down with the slightest touch. Carter also did not help his own legacy by throwing a fit to get out of Toronto.
They are two of the more recognizable stars in the modern era, but Yao Ming and Vince Carter earned the “soft” moniker.
Kwame Brown and Glen “Big Baby” Davis
These two names speak for themselves. Brown is one of the biggest busts in NBA history, and Michael Jordan once made him cry at practice.
As for “Big Baby,” Kevin Garnett once made him cry during a game! Roll the tape!