It's one of the oldest player descriptions in the book: "You love him if he's on your team but hate him if he plays for the other guys." If you hear that about athletes, that means they are a classic pest. Many are average players who excel at getting under their opponents' skin, but some are stars who also happen to be infuriating. They talk trash, create confrontations and ultimately make sports more fun and interesting, particularly when getting their comeuppance. Let's take a look at the biggest pests in sports history.
If you root for any college basketball team other than Duke, chances are you loathe Grayson Allen. Heck, even if you do root for Duke, you might find yourself looking down at the floor and scratching your ear awkwardly when Allen’s name comes up. Whether it was Allen’s multiple tripping incidents, his whiny, insufferable facial expressions or the unfortunate fact that he was quite good, he was despised by thousands, if not millions, of college basketball fans. Playing for Duke didn’t help either.
Sean Avery delivered, and took, countless cheap shots during his days on the ice. He was an agitator and a pest, and though he fought with some regularity, it was probably never enough for his detractors. His entire career of tactical annoyance built up to one shining (dimming?) moment during Game 3 of the Rangers’ 2008 playoff series against the Devils. While on the power play, Avery faced away from his teammates, waved his stick in front of Martin Brodeur and generally infuriated the venerable goalie. To make matters worse for Devils fans, Avery scored a tie-breaking goal less than a minute after his antics.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Or in this case, 85 to 100. Barnaby was one of the NHL’s premier pests, racking up 2,562 penalty minutes in a 14-year career. He was a good but not great fighter, but mostly he excelled at getting under opponents’ skin with — to be generous — borderline plays. He led the league in penalty minutes in two separate seasons but was a valuable role player on more skilled teams. And again, just look at that picture. Everything about it screams “pest.”
Full disclosure: Matt Barnes annoyed the hell out of me as a fan, provided he was playing for a team I disliked. That was the truest measure of his greatness as a pest. If he was on a likable team and was using his energy to harass opposing stars, there was something endearing about how annoying he was. If he was going after your favorite players, he was a nightmare. If Barnes had a superpower, it was making even the most stoic stars absolutely hate his guts. Hats off to one of the NBA’s most infuriating talents.
Bauer is the most online pest of this generation. He is on Twitter constantly, punches down at trolls on that platform, complains all the time, believes in wild conspiracy theories, yet he occasionally makes good points, particularly about his chosen sport. His takedown of the Houston Astros was righteous, but there is little doubt that whenever baseball comes back, he’ll likely revert into a heel. The fact that he can be a downright dominant pitcher when he’s on his game merely adds to his pest quotient.
Patrick Beverley is far from the most talented player in the NBA. The fact that he had to toil in basketball’s hinterlands is proof of that. When he finally made it to the NBA, he quickly carved out a niche as a tenacious, pesky, borderline psychotic defender and one of the most purely annoying players in the league. He is so good at tweaking his opponents that he even managed to get under LeBron James’ skin. That’s the mark of an elite pest.
Bowen was one of the league’s best on-ball defenders during his playing career, but he was also one of the dirtiest. His signature move involved standing in the landing zone of players who had just risen for a jump shot. It was a dirty, dangerous play, but Bowen was rarely called for it. He enraged some of the league’s best pure scorers, partly because he locked them down, and what made it so much worse was the fact that he cut a mild-mannered profile on the court.
It’s hard to call a guy with 1,200 career points and 608 career goals a pest, but Ciccarelli was the rare case of an extremely talented player who also happened to be a towering jerk. How big of a jerk, you ask? Try this on for size: Ciccarelli attacked Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Richardson with his stick in a 1988 game in Toronto and was convicted of assault, fined $1,000 and sentenced to a day in jail. Taking the pest role all the way to the judicial system? That’s commitment to the craft.
Domi could fight, as seen in this picture, and was a feared tough guy. That said, he also qualifies as a pest because everything else about him fit the bill. He was undersized and tenacious, and he specialized in the kind of vaguely dirty play and hard-to-see cheap shots that drove his opponents crazy. Even Domi’s appearance gave him away. He sported a devilish grin and sort of called to mind a grown-up Dennis the Menace, minus the blond hair.
Usually pests are smaller guys, but Reggie Evans is not a small man. The rugged big man was a rebounding machine and defensive specialist in his 13-year NBA career. He was also elite in one other area: hitting opposing players in their nether regions. By the latter stages of his career, Evans was well-known for his low blows and all around dirty play, and despite being one of the more physically imposing players in the league, he was more feared for his pest-like qualities than anything.
Cortland Finnegan is pictured here at the zenith of his pest career, doing what a pest does best — getting pummeled by a bigger, better player simply because they got under that player’s skin. Andre Johnson was known as one of the most mild-mannered stars in the NFL, but Finnegan’s chirping and roughhouse tactics caused Johnson to snap on him in a 2010 AFC South clash. Helmets came off, punches were thrown, mostly by Johnson, and both players were ejected. Something tells me Finnegan wasn’t mad about being on the receiving end of the punishment.
Green was the inspiration for recalling some of the best pests in sports history. The beauty of Green is that he’s a good basketball player and an important member of some championship teams, but at his core, he was a role player: a jack of all trades, master of none, and the kind of talent that can only be appreciated in the presence of true superstars. That’s what made his verbal assault on Charles Barkley so funny. Green’s suggestion that Barkley’s lack of championships means he’s unqualified to talk about Green or the Warriors is laughable. Barkley was a much greater player than Green could ever hope to be. Still, in true pest fashion, it’s safe to assume Green actually believes the nonsense he was spewing.
Harrison was one of the dirtiest cheap-shot artists to ever sully an NFL field. He was also one of the better safeties of his era, but it is almost impossible to talk about his actual football skills because the majority of his career was spent spearing piles after the whistle, delivering borderline hits and acting incredulous whenever opponents objected to his tactics. Want to bet he’s lining up a kill shot on that Chargers player in the picture? I sure do. That would be vintage Harrison.
Kyrgios is hyper-talented, and if he ever focused those abilities to be the best tennis player he could be, he might take the sport by storm. Alas, he prefers to pout, whine, talk trash, throw temper tantrums and generally make a mockery of the sport. He also tends to win more often than not, anyway. See the face he’s making right there? That’s the quintessential Kyrgios expression. He’s talking trash in the middle of a match. His fellow pros, you’d imagine, probably respect his talent and despise his attitude in equal measure. Does that make him a pest? You bet it does!
Bill Laimbeer was a good NBA player on championship Pistons teams, and just looking at him makes me want to punch him, even though he is a large human being. In his prime, the big man was a double-double machine for the Pistons, averaging one for six straight seasons. He was also infuriating in a pure, unadulterated way that few can match. The only thing worse than going up against a good opponent is going up against a good opponent who also creates in you the urge to try and take his head off. Laimbeer did that.
Brad Marchand is a good hockey player and one of the better goal-scorers in the NHL today, and yet he is most known for licking opponents, talking unfathomable amounts of trash, playing dirty and generally making opposing fans pine for his dismemberment on a nightly basis. He’s one of the best players in the league and might well be the most infuriating. Marchand is without question another rare example of a great player who is also a world-class pest.
You CANNOT be serious! Yes, John, yes we can. Tennis’ original bad boy was temperamental, talented and magnetic in equal measure. He is one of the greatest players in history, but his racket slamming, abuse of chair umpires and ferocious rivalry with multiple contemporaries puts him squarely in the pest category.
Paul is an outstanding point guard, one of the best in recent NBA history, and a maestro when it comes to dictating game pace and flow. He has a fairly wholesome image away from basketball and is a reliable pitchman for State Farm. He also happens to be one of the biggest trash talkers and cheap-shot artists in the league, habits that go back to his college days at Wake Forest. Like Reggie Evans, Paul is also infamous for his low blows. One other attribute he shares with many historically great pests is his facial expressions, which run the gamut from “who, me?” to pained anguish and shock. Essentially Paul is the choir boy who is actually bad and gets away with most of his shenanigans.
“The Glove” was one of the NBA’s premier point guards for the majority of his career, as well as one of the best defensive players the league has ever seen. Payton was more than solid offensively, but defense was his calling card, as was trash talking. There are plenty of highlights available that show Payton barking at opposing ball-handlers as they made their way up the court, and it is only because he had the misfortune of playing in the same era as Michael Jordan that he didn’t end up with at least one NBA title.
It’s hard to be a pest in an individual sport — at least you’d think so — but Reed manages to pull it off. How? He has a reputation for cheating, dating back to his collegiate playing days at Georgia, where he only lasted a year before being dismissed from the team and has had rules incidents as a pro. Reed doesn’t seem well-liked on tour, and he doesn’t seem to care about that either. He’s one of the most talented golfers on the planet and the closest thing the sport has to a pariah.
Behold, one of the greatest sports images of all time. Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone, midway through their stumbling, bumbling trip up court in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Rodman was one of the best defensive big men in league history, is pound-for-pound the greatest rebounder in league history and was also a perpetual thorn in any opponent’s side. He was unpredictable, occasionally detrimental to his own teams, and a unique character the likes of which will never be seen again. And he was definitely a pest.
Know this: Charlie Hustle was a derisive nickname. Rose was the ultimate try-hard, something never more in evidence than when he barreled over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game. Despite being baseball’s all-time hit king, he rubbed plenty of his contemporaries the wrong way with his style and then committed the ultimate sin by gambling on baseball. Incredibly, Rose’s exile from the sport has caused him to become even more annoying, as he’s generally willing to do anything to stay in the limelight. A pest, through and through.
One of the NBA’s all-time pure point guards and greatest players was also one of its absolute dirtiest. Stockton was a tenacious defender and made flawless pick-and-roll plays with Karl Malone his bread and butter, but he routinely garnered plenty of votes in the “dirtiest player” category whenever his fellow players were polled. Stockton was a throwback in every sense, and while he wasn’t the biggest or the fastest, he more than made up for it by being, well, a pest.
Ward is pictured doing his favorite thing: smiling. He smiled after catching passes, he smiled after taking hits, he smiled after blocking on running plays, and he smiled after cracking back and blind-siding linebackers whenever possible, like he did to Cincinnati’s Keith Rivers, breaking Rivers’ jaw in 2008. Ward rarely took huge hits in retaliation for his ferocious blocks, but when he did, defenders all over the league celebrated. To Steelers fans, he is a franchise legend. To the rest of the NFL, he was good — and a major pest.
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