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The NBA has quickly become a love ‘em or hate ‘em league. After watching Dwight Howard somehow fall from the top of the “lovable” list down to the depths of the NBA’s most hated, we at NYFWC decided it was due to time to rank the NBA’s most lovable and hateable players. Today, we’ll begin with the good guys.
Honorable Mention- Anthony Davis: With John Calipari and his 1-and-dones finally managing to capitalize on their exorbitant talent-pool, Anthony Davis gets the love. That Unibrow went from a bit uncool to the definition of patriotic. He’s the first college player to represent our olympic team since Christian Laettner. He was the best player on a national championship team despite going 1-10 from the field in the title game. He is and will be a team player. Oh yea, and he makes huge blocks in big games.
10. Dwyane Wade: Before he lured LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the cocaine capital of the Western World, Wade was popular with just about every casual fan outside of Dallas. Back in 2009, Wade would have been a top-3 candidate for this list. Americans always love the classic underdog tale and Wade’s story ticked all the boxes. First, he led his unheralded Marquette team on a Cinderella run to the Final Four, knocking off larger schools along the way. Then, he got completely overlooked by the mainstream media for bigger names in his draft class like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. Of course, that all changed when Shaq came to Miami, and well, you know the rest. Even though “The Decision” stink rubbed off on him and he didn’t do himself any favors in the 2011 Finals (remember the whole coughing incident?), Wade’s willingness to poke fun at himself as well as serve as an ambassador for fatherhood has helped put him back in the general public’s good graces.
9. Kyrie Irving: There’s a strong chance you haven’t seen much, if any, of Kyrie Irving on a basketball court. That’s fair, he plays for Cleveland after all. But trust us when we say he not only has the talent to be the starting point guard in the next Olympics, but the personality to be one of the league’s most marketable stars, evidenced by his confident $50,000 challenge to play Kobe one-on-one. That entertaining battle never wound up happening after Irving broke his hand later that week, but it did spur our all-time one-on-one feature here at NYFWC, so we have to give Iriving at least a modicum of credit. Plus, he gets a 15% bump for at least partially filling the void LeBron left behind in Cleveland.
8. Brandon Roy: If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading Bill Simmons Book of Basketball, you’re familiar with the concept of “the secret,” among NBA players. For Simmons, Bill Walton’s career is one of the most tragic storylines in the history of the League, because Walton got “the secret,” but his body betrayed him. Few players in history would be lucky enough to share the natural skills, athleticism and understanding of the game like Walton; thus his premature decline was all the more sorrowful. Roy is our generation’s Bill Walton. If you didn’t watch the Portland-Dallas series two years ago, check out this clip of Roy leading the Blazers back from down 23 late in the 3rd quarter in game 4 of their series against the eventual-champion Mavericks. If you love the game of basketball (and you watched said clip. Seriously. Go look.), you love Brandon Roy.
7. Blake Griffin: There’s a chance that you might be surprised to see see Blake on this list given that he’s become a relatively polarizing figure of late. For as popular as his bionic calf muscles have made him, there was an expected backlash. Many “serious” basketball fans critique his postgame and awkward jump shot and use them as grounds for calling him overrated. And that’s silly. He’s a 23-year-old power forward who clearly cares about his game and plays perhaps too hard every night. Based on his work ethic alone, you can bet those weaknesses will become strengths in coming years if the past 60 years of basketball history count for anything at all. Even his harshest critics have to be overcome with teenage giddiness whenever his dunks appear on Sportscenter. Maybe his Dunk Contest performance was anticlimactic (if only he jumped over the roof of the car instead), but his Kia commercials more than make up for that.
6. Kevin Love: Any power forward who can out-muscle a sumo wrestler should be on this list. Moreover, any power forward willing to do just that for a Sports Science segment is a worthy candidate. Starring in KG’s former role as the phenomenally talented, yet unsupported, power forward toiling away in Minnesota, Love is not only the best player at his position but universally liked by casual fans and the mainstream media. Of course that has a lot to do with the fact that he has more 20-20 familiarity than an optometrist and his penchant for Instagram. Being the best white American player since Larry Legend doesn’t hurt either. You have to wonder how much of a hit his brand will take if he decides to flee Minny once his contract is up, but that’s another discussion for another day. Cue half of Minnesota hyperventilating and scrolling down to the comments section.
5. Chris Paul: Watching Paul dominate every facet of a basketball game through sheer force of personality is something to behold. Even his Napoloenic tendency to flip out whenever someone touches his head is kind of endearing.
Maybe it’s because he’s shorter than the average sportswriter, but CP3 hasn’t received anything close to LeBron James-level scrutiny, despite his noticeable lack of playoff success. Sure, when he was playing for many of those New Orleans teams, simply reaching the Playoffs was seen as a huge success, so maybe we collectively scaled back our expectations. That could soon change. Going into next season, Paul will have the strongest supporting cast of his career, one that could potentially help him at reach the Conference Finals. We’re already dreaming of seven games of Paul-Westbrook or Paul-Nash, and ideally both. Can the season start already?
4. Ricky Rubio: What, you thought Love’s point guard, the Justin Bieber of the NBA, wouldn’t make the cut? Sure, he may have only played half a season, but that’s all he needed to display some of the best passing genetics since Pete Maravich. With a flair for the spectacular not totally dissimilar to the Sacramento-era Jason Williams, Rubio is poised to be an All-Star for years to come assuming he can recover fully from that unfortunate knee injury. Gold medal count aside, it’s a shame that Rubio wasn’t able to participate in what will probably be the final fully-stacked USA-Spain showdown. Especially after telling Kobe Bryant, “You know you’re getting the silver medal,” back in January.
3. Steve Nash: As fans are generally attached to a single franchise (with the notable exception of Chuck Klosterman), we value loyalty an awful lot. Steve Nash showed himself to be loyal almost to a fault, refusing to “demand” a trade publicly during his final few years in Phoenix, even after it became brutally clear that the team was headed towards rebuilding. He plays the game with a joy one can only associate with childhood. He’s been one of the best passers each season for over a decade. AND THE HAIR? As unpalatable as his L.A. move was, you should still love this man, for he deserves it.
2. Derrick Rose: The kid stole an MVP from LeBron at 22 (in no small part due to LeBron’s Decision) while also firmly grabbing the Greatest PG Alive belt just long enough to blow out his knee. Rose’s injury could well be the most significant injury we (as an under-30 NBA fan base) have ever seen…a catastrophic knee injury to a 23-year-old reigning MVP? Even if you weren’t rooting for him before, you’ve basically got to be a heartless bastard (Heat Fan?) not to like him now.
1. Kevin Durant: We call Gordon Hayward the Babyface Killer, but let’s get real. Kevin Durant’s boyish grin is easily the most appealing face in the NBA. Even if he used it roughly 308 times in his stupidly-overplayed sprint commercial, it still doesn’t bother us. He can score at will, but he’s still a willing (if not able) distributor (even when he’s passing to guys like Russell “I’ll take any absurdly contested shot I want” Westbrook). Oh, and he LIT IT UP during the Olympics for the USA. Kevin Durant = Straight up Lovable.
By Michael Levkowitz and Thomas Johnson
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Welcome to Not Your Father’s Water Cooler!
You know those mind-numbing water cooler discussions about weather, pets and weekend activities? That soul-crushing small talk would be far less demoralizing if it included something you actually cared about.
Founded by two hoops addicts, NYFWC brings you the kind of water cooler chatter we dreamed of: a dialogue centered on hypothetical trades, basketball debates and of course, humor.
You'll also notice that from time to time we touch on other subjects. Whether it's films, music or pop culture, at NYFWC our goal is not merely to regurgitate information that is already flooding the tubes. Instead, we hope to provide thoughtful individual perspectives on the most important, interesting and entertaining topics of the day.