As we await the start of the NBA Finals (mercifully just one more day), the more tangential of ideas have danced like sugarplums in our heads. There’s a lot of talk going around now about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Matthew Dellavedova after some notably rugged play in the ECF. Is he a dirty player, or just an industrious Aussie? Is he even the dirtiest player in this series? It made us think of creating an easy-to-reference dirty player index to compare him to the modern-era NBA’s grimiest.

So is Dellavedova dirty or just reckless? Some athletes wear that kind of physicality with pride, like a badge of honor. Some might see the accusations as disrespectful, but what exactly makes someone a dirty player? There are levels to it. Is flopping, trash talking, grabbing jerseys on defense on the same scale as diving at the knees and ankles of your opponents? Where does gamesmanship fit in? Where does Dellavedova fit in? Let’s refer to our NBA Dirty Player Index:

Threat Level Green – The Flopper

True, flopping isn’t exactly dirty, but the intention behind it is deceitful and premeditated. Nobody likes a flopper. See: Chris Paul, James Harden, Anderson Varejao, and flopping pioneer Vlade Divac. The list is plentiful in these dark times.

Threat Level Blue – The Who Me?

Undoubtedly dirty but somewhat minor offenses: elbows, knees, shoving, hard fouls, but this guy carries on with a look of perpetual shock whenever caught. See: Dwayne Wade, Andrew Bogut, but few ever did it better than John Stockton.

Threat Level Gold – The Enforcer

Enforcers hold it down for the squad, and are usually the most physically imposing players on the roster (not always: Dwight Howard) But, they live by a code man. See: Draymond Green, Charles Oakley.

Threat Level Orange – The Habitual Line-Stepper

These guys can’t help themselves. You draw a line, they cross it. Sometimes they have a code, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re studio gangsters, sometimes they aren’t. See: Matt Barnes, Danny Ainge, Pistons-era Dennis Rodman.

Threat Level Red – The Butcher

Alright, so the Butchers can’t help themselves. They remind me of that SNL sketch about former porn actors transitioning to a day job: “I’m sorry, It’s all I know!” Except for legendary butchers like Bill Laimbeer who knew exactly what he was doing.  See: Tyler Hansborough, Scot Pollard, Dikembe Mutombo, Bill Cartwright, Bill Laimbeer.

Threat Level Midnight – The Ron-Ron

Bonus level as the man formerly known as “Ron-Ron” stands virtually alone here. The “Ron-Ron” is your wild card. Code? No code? Who knows? See: Ron Artest aka “Metta World Peace“, closest after Artest is post-Pistons Rodman, then Vernon “Mad Max” Maxwell, going only as far back as the 1990s. See also: Tyler Hansbrough.

Cover photo by David Maxwell/European Pressphoto Agency via NY Times.


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MAGGIE THACH | @magsthach

Sports. Writing. I’ve never been a natural at either, but I love them both. I’m happy to be joining these two loves at Dat Winning. I received my MFA in creative nonfiction in 2013 and I play in an over-30 women’s basketball league. We are currently 9-3.

2 Comments »

  1. I really disagree when people say John Stockton is a dirty player! John Stockton is a smart player, prob one of the smartest player who played the game. Especially for someone at his size to do what he does! I feel like you placed him on that list section because you don’t have any other players to sit next to Dywane Wade. You have to understand that he would sacrifice his body for a pick just to get his team mate open. Ofcourse players against him will say he is dirty because they are the ones who have to run into his boney elbows! You can’t put him as a dirty player but he should be on a list of hardest working players!

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    • Carey, and I know this is you, ask anyone who’s ever played against Stockton, and they’ll tell you he played dirty. Not high on the list of egregious offenses, but the little things that drive you crazy over the course of the game.

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