The NBA is one of the world's most popular sporting leagues and a major part of global sports culture. Simultaneously, the association has seen its share of controversy, including sexual assaults, brawls, and overt racism.

While these controversies determined the end of multiple careers, they often inspired much-needed public debate on social issues. 

Let’s take a look at the top 10 biggest NBA scandals of all time.

Tim Hardaway Sr. Homophobic Outburst (Feb. 14, 2007)

Tim Hardaway melted down in a 2007 interview with Dan LeBatard while discussing former NBA player John Amaechi, who opened up about being gay. 

"Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known," Hardaway stated. "I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States." 

The NBA ultimately banned Hardaway from an All-Star Weekend held later that week and other events. Shortly after, he publicly apologized and began work with The Trevor Project as an LGBT advocate.

Dallas Mavericks Sexual Harassment Case (Sept. 20, 2018)

In 2018, an independent investigation found a long history of sexual harassment among Dallas Mavericks team employees. 

Over 200 current and former employees were accused of widespread incidents of discrimination and harassment against women.

Team owner Mark Cuban was accused of not taking action regarding the claims but was never found liable in court. In any event, Cuban donated over $10 million to women's advocacy groups following the scandal. 

Jayson Williams' Violent Gunplay (Feb. 14, 2002)

A few years after retiring, NBA all-star Jayson Williams fatally shot Costas "Gus" Christofi, a 55-year-old limousine driver, by accident at his mansion in New Jersey. 

Christofi had driven Williams' NBA charity team from an event in Pennsylvania before coming inside the home for a tour.

After a deadlocked jury, Williams was eventually convicted of aggravated assault and four counts of covering up the shooting. He served 18 months of the five-year sentence.

Kermit Washington Punches Rudy Tomjanovich (Dec. 9, 1977)

Before he was a Hall of Fame coach, Rudy Tomjanovich was an all-star power forward with the Houston Rockets. 

While trying to break up a fight, Rudy T. was the victim of a life-threatening punch to the head from Lakers forward Kermit Washington.

The force shattered Tomjanovich's face and inflicted head and spinal injuries that ended his season after just 23 games.

John Feinstein wrote about the event and its aftermath in his book, "The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever."

Latrell Sprewell Chokes Coach PJ Carlesimo (Dec. 1, 1997)

Latrell Sprewell was always a hot-tempered player, but this rage erupted most notably during a Golden State practice in 1997.

After being yelled at by coach PJ Carlesimo, Sprewell took him to the ground by his throat and threatened to kill him. 

Later in that same practice, he punched Carlesimo. Spree was suspended for the rest of the season, missing the final 68 games.

The Overdose Death of Len Bias (June 19, 1986)

Len Bias, a first-team All-American for the University of Maryland, was selected by the Boston Celtics with the number 2 pick in the 1986 NBA draft. 

Two days later, Bias died of a cardiac arrhythmia induced when he snorted cocaine with a group of friends at a celebration in his dormitory.  

Bias' death brought the issue of drugs, particularly within the Black community, into the national spotlight. It prompted widespread debate and legislation, including passing the "Len Bias Law."

Kobe Bryant Sexual Assault Case (June 30, 2003)

In 2003, the late Lakers icon was accused of rape by a 19-year-old woman employed at The Lodge and Spa Cordillera hotel in Edwards, Colorado. The woman alleged Bryant assaulted her after inviting her to his room on the pretense of a hotel tour. 

The case dominated national news for months, inspiring heated debate around issues of sexual assault and the privileges afforded to male athletes. 

After reaching an out-of-court settlement with Bryant, the woman eventually dropped the charges, and the Lakers star issued a formal apology.  

The Lifetime Ban of Clippers Owner Donald Sterling (April 24, 2014)

After a recording surfaced of Donald Sterling spouting a slew of racist ideas and remarks to his mistress, the newly appointed NBA commissioner Adam Silver took swift and decisive action. The league banned Sterling for life.

It was a move that gained a swell of positive response, particularly among the association's majority-Black players.

The Malice at the Palace (Nov. 19, 2004)

The worst fight in the history of the NBA began as a bench-clearing brawl and spread into the crowd after a fan threw a soda at Pacers player Ron Artest. 

Consequently, five Pacers players and five Pistons fans were criminally charged, and the NBA began to restrict the amount of alcohol sold at games. 

The Tim Donaghy Betting Scandal (July 9, 2007)

NBA referee Tim Donaghy broke the sacred gambling oath in 2007 when he was caught betting on and influencing the outcome of certain NBA games he officiated. 

While using an NBA handicapper is perfectly legal, selling fixed matches comes with repercussions.

During subsequent court proceedings, Donaghy alleged the NBA also deliberately officiated playoff games incorrectly to extend specific series. This is an allegation the NBA denies to this day.


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