The NBA employs hundreds of players and coaches each season and the league certainly had its fair share of unique characters over the years.
While fans mostly tune in on the intense basketball action, others are enamored by the larger than life personas of some of the NBA’s biggest names.
Some enter the NBA with already outlandish and over-the-type personalities, while others showed their true colors over time. Then there are the enigmas, who eventually mellowed down as the years progressed.
Here are five of the most shocking personality changes in NBA history.
“The Worm” may just be the most eccentric player to ever step foot in the NBA. Rodman entered the league as a skinny, small-town kid from Texas in the 1986 draft. He carried himself with an unassuming demeanor in his early days, and simply wanted to fit in with the rest of the Detroit Pistons.
His former teammates described him as a quiet kid who didn’t really like to put attention on himself. That all changed once Rodman left Motown and joined the San Antonio Spurs in 1993. The real Dennis came out, as Rodman stopped caring what other people thought of him and embraced his true self.
From the bold hair colors to the countless tattoos, Rodman didn’t mind being labeled as the NBA’s true bad boy.
In “The Last Dance” documentary, the Hall of Famer revealed that he didn’t carry a menacing reputation in high school and college, and only had it once he was drafted by Detroit. Rodman has long been retired from the game, but his influence and legacy will surely be around for a long time.
There was a point in time when KD was the NBA’s media darling and was being packaged as a true role model.
The once soft-spoken, young star possessed the talent to be one of the game’s all-time greats, complemented by a seemingly church-choir boy image that the league so desperately wanted to push.
Durant viscously fired back at his critics and began having a testy relationship with the media. He bid goodbye to his clean-cut, boy next door image, revealing his impressive collection of tattoos from his chest to his legs.
Then, there was that whole “burner account” fiasco, which further tainted his reputation around the league. Durant has since embraced being an antagonist and continues to engage in often petty Twitter wars online.
Metta World Peace (Ron Artest)
The name Ron Artest will forever be synonymous with the infamous “Malice in the Palace”, which is one of the saddest moments in NBA history.
The gritty swingman built a reputation as one of the NBA’s most fearsome defenders in his prime, capped off by winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2004 with the Indiana Pacers. However, Artest has also been known to be one of the league’s most uncontrollable hotheads who figured in numerous physical altercations throughout his career.
Following his record-breaking suspension in 2004, Artest tried to turn a new leaf and tone down his abrasive ways. He showed tremendous growth upon signing with the Lakers in 2009. He completely bought into the team’s system and mended fences with former heated adversary Kobe Bryant.
Artest even took his newfound zen state to the extremes, changing his legal name to Metta World Peace before the 2011-12 season. Sure, MWP still had his fair share of squabbles during that time (that elbow to James Harden’s head comes to mind). But no doubt he certainly mellowed down and acquired some veteran wisdom in his latter years in the league.
Cuban is the only non-player on this list, but he also deserves some credit for also toning down his ways compared to his early years when he first bought the Dallas Mavericks. The controversial billionaire brought unparalleled enthusiasm and fevered passion never before seen among professional sports owners.
However, his in-your-face approach got him in hot waters numerous times, clashing with opposing players and fans, coaches, officials, and even the NBA’s top brass itself. Cuban has paid so many hefty fines that no other team owner will likely incur ever.
Now on his 20th year as the Mavs boss, Cuban has certainly mellowed down and has even become a voice of reason throughout these hard times. The 61-year-old businessman and investor have been lauded for his straightforward approach to the pandemic and his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Sure, Cuban still complains about league rules and shares controversial comments on Twitter all the time, but you don’t see him entering the court and losing his marbles anymore.
To be fair, the reigning NBA Finals MVP still likes to keep things private and rarely opens up to the press. The Klaw has always been the type to let his game do the talking, and he’s still the same guy to this day.
However, it’s become perfectly clear that there’s definitely more to Leonard than what he lets on.
Fans first saw a glimpse of Leonard in 2011, when he entered the league as a silent type who minded his own business and just played ball. Following the Spurs’ whole team culture, Leonard was deemed as low maintenance as it gets and didn’t seem to mind playing in a small market.
San Antonio’s poor handling of Leonard’s injury in 2017 revealed that the 6-foot-7 forward was indeed more complicated than initially perceived.
Other than revealing that he’s a “fun guy”, Kawhi still doesn’t really talk that much. However, his camp has reportedly made several outlandish demands to teams — particularly during the 2019 free agency period. Leonard even unapologetically embraced the idea of load management throughout the season, despite taking flak from pundits.
Some reports have indicated that Leonard’s Uncle Dennis was the puppet master behind his supposed personality change, but it’s still considered hearsay until proven otherwise.