15 Pathetic NBA Fails That No One Will Ever Forget

The good, the bad, and the horribly cringe-worthy

2001: Kobe Bryant #8 and Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during an NBA game circa 2001. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2001 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)


The history of the National Basketball Association is one of long-short success stories, heartwarming surprises, and risky moves that have paid off. But on the other side of the coin, there have been numerous cases where a move didn’t work out right. To put it bluntly, sometimes things can go horribly wrong. Does Malace at the Palace ring a bell? How about Nick Anderson’s four attempts at a free throw?

Here’s a list of horribly embarassing and pathetic moments for the NBA to help jog your memory.

  1. When When Ron Artest, Pistons started a brawl with fans before the end of a game

Leading up to a game in 2004, the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers already had some bad blood brewing from the previous season. Something had to give, and it was Pacers’ forward Ron Artest (now known as Metta World Peace) who sparked the biggest and most infamous brawl in NBA history.

There was a scuffle under the basket, and play stopped. The scuffle continued over to the benches, and next thing you knew, Artest had jumped into the stands and begun beating a fan that had thrown a full water cup at him. Joined by teammate Steven Jackson, the two Pacers players went on a haymaker spree. The incident is known today as the Malace at the Palace. Artest, along with four other players, were charged with assault and battery (the only incident in NBA history in which an NBA player was charged with a crime from an on-court incident.

  1. When Steve Nash got body-checked, teammates defended him, and the Suns lose the playoff series

The 2007 NBA playoffs were marred by an incident late in a semifinals game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were leading in Game 4, led by Steve Nash, when Spurs’ forward Robert Horry knocked Nash into the scorer’s table.

The Suns would go on to win the game, but at the expense of crucial players on their team. Stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw both came off the bench to defend Nash, which ultimately got them suspended for Game 5. The spurs went on to win that game, and complete the series win in Game 6.

  1. When Reggie Miller scored 8 points in 9 seconds at MSG

Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals looked like it was over, with the New York Knicks boasting a 105-99 lead over the Indiana Pacers with 18.7 seconds left.  But the Pacers’ guard Reggie Miller had other plans.

Most Knicks fans had probably already turned the game off. But those poor souls who left their televisions on had to witness one of the most unforgettable meltdowns ever to happen on the hardwood court. In the blink of an eye, Miller had single-handedly brought his team a lead they would not relinquish, with the clock winding down favoring the Pacers 107-105. The knicks choked like no team has ever chocked before.

  1. When LeBron droped a dud in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals

Many people forget it, but long ago before LeBron James had amassed any NBA Championships, he was known primarily as a choke artist late in games and in the playoffs. Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals is a prime example of this LeBron.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were favored at home going into the game against the Boston Celtics. But those pregame numbers quickly went down the drain, when the Celtics clearly came to play and the Cavaliers never left the locker room after the first half. The Celtics won 120-88, LeBron made only three shots from the field, and it was the worst home loss for the Cavaliers in team history. It was the last game LeBron would play at home in a Cavaliers jersey until his return from Miami a few years later.

  1. When the referees rigged the 2002 Lakers-Kings series, cost the Kings an NBA Championship appearance

At the turn of the 21st century, one of the hottest and most heavily contested rivalries in the NBA was the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. In 2002, the Kings were looking to avenge their defeats at the hands of the Lakers in back-to-back playoff campaigns. The series began in favor of the Kings and they eventually wound up with a 3-2 lead going in to Game 6.

The Kings controlled the majority of Game 6. They had outplayed the Lakers for three consecutive quarters and looked to be on their way to their first NBA Finals in franchise history. Then, the referees stepped in and took matters into their own hands. It seemed as if every call went against them, and the free thrown statistics spoke for themselves; the Lakers attempted 18 more free throws than the Kings in the 4th quarter alone. After the series had ended (with the Lakers winning Game 7 and advancing to the NBA finals), disgraced referee Tim Donaghy would attest in court that the officials had been told to throw the game so that the series would go to a Game 7 and be more profitable for the league.

  1. When Kermit Washington almost killed Rudy Tomjanovich with one punch

Most people reading this right now were not alive to have watched the 1977 infamous game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets. In the 1970’s, the NBA was regarded as a league run by punishing, enforcing big men who would foul you hard for trying to take a shot in the paint.

In this fateful game, all of the over-aggressiveness came to bite the league. Rockets’ forward Rudy Tomjanovich sprinted onto the court in an attempt to stop an ensuing fight. But as he ran forward, Lakers’ Kermit Washington turned around and put Tomjanovich on his back with one punch. While the knockout blow may have excited many people, it actually ended up almost costing Tomjanovich his life. It eventually cost him his career, and the NBA put a stop to on-court violence from that moment onwards.


  1. When the Pistons made the inbounds pass to Larry Bird

Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals is a game that lives in Detroit Pistons’ infamy. It was their game to lose. With less than 10 seconds remaining on the game clock, up one point over the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics, and the ball in their possession for an inbounds play, a successful pass would have solidified the victory.

But Bird made sure that did not happen. Legendary Pistons’ guard Isaiah Thomas tried to sneak a quick pass and catch the Celtics off guard, but Bird stepped in front of the pass and intercepted the pass. He immediately fired it to Dennis Johnson under the basket for the game-winning layup. That play alone swung the momentum of the series toward Boston, who wound up winning in seven games.


  1. When the Lakers lost the 2003 Finals because Shaq and Kobe could not put their differences aside

Heading into the 2004 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers were heavily favored to whip through the Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons. The Lakers were three-time defending champions, sported four future Hall of Famers on their roster, and were unquestionably the best team in the NBA.

But their ultimate doom was owed to their two star players, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, simply not getting along. The All-NBA forward and All-NBA big man utterly hated playing with each other; each wanted to be “the man.” As a result, the entire team chemistry was off, and the Pistons took full advantage. Detroit wound up winning the series 4-1 and spoiling what would have been Los Angeles; fourth consecutive NBA finals championship.

  1. When the Lakers chocked away the biggest lead in NBA Finals history

The Los Angeles Lakers seemed to make a habit of being the victims of demoralizing NBA Finals collapses in the mid 2000’s. In 2008, the Lakers faced off against the Boston Celtics in a throwback-style matchup reminiscent of the 1980’s. The series went to six games, but Game 4 was when the Lakers saw their hopes of winning it all get flushed down the tube.

It was known as the biggest collapse in a NBA Finals game in the history of the sport. The Lakers led by as many as 24 points in the third quarter. It would have taken a miracle for the Celtics to come back from that scenario, but the miracle happened. The Celtics jumped out to a 21-3 run to end the quarter, and the lead did not last long into the fourth quarter. From there, the series was all but history.

  1. When the Mavericks fell at the hands of Dwayne Wade

In 2006, the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat both made their first NBA Finals appearances. They would later face off again in 2011 (in which the Mavericks were victorious), but this series belonged to the triumphant Heat. Dirk Nowitzki would have to wait; this was the Dwayne Wade show.

From the onset, though, it did not look that way. Dallas began the series up 2-0 and had a nice lead in Game 3. Their first championship looked all too close, but the Heat fought back to win that game and the following three games to take home the hardware. Many basketball fans point to questionable officiating in Game 3 and from then on out, but only the Mavericks are truly to blame for their Finals debacle.

  1. When the 2007 Mavericks were made to look silly against the Golden State Warriors

Following their crushing 2006 NBA Finals defeat, the Dallas Mavericks were supposed to walk through the playoffs in 2007 with ease en route to their second consecutive Finals appearance. They finished the regular season with the best record in the league and were set up to host the eighth seeded Golden State Warriors, who were making their first playoffs appearance since 1994.

But perhaps the Mavericks were already thinking about the Western Conference Finals, because the Warriors came to play and they subsequently shocked the world. The feisty Warriors took Game 1 in Dallas, and then rode their rambunctious crowd to victories in Games 3, 4, and 6. It was only the second time in the history of the sport that the top seed was upended by the lowest seed in the first round. 

  1. When the Sonics became the first #1 seed to ever lose in the opening round

Speaking of top seeds embarrassingly losing in the first round, enter the Seattle Supersonics. In 1994, Seattle was largely considered the best team in the NBA, due mostly to Michael Jordan being on a hiatus from the league as he pursued a career in baseball. Seattle jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the lowly Denver Nuggets in the best-of-five series.

But Denver came storming back, snuck three straight games (the final two in overtime), and were crowned victorious in the largest upset in NBA playoffs history. Many viewers still remember the Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo after Game 5, laying on the court, displaying the ball over his head and belting out, “I love this game!”

  1. When Nick Anderson bricked four straight free throws in the 1995 Finals

The Orlando Magic were arguably at their franchise best in the 1995 season. They made it all the way to the NBA Finals to square off with the Houston Rockets. It was a battle of the bigs: Hakeem Olajuwon versus Shaquille O’Neal. But it was a separate player for the Magic that would steal the spotlight, and not in a positive way.

Late in Game 1, the Magic were leading by three points, and guard Nick Anderson was tasked with shooting four fould shots after being fouled twice in a row. Anderson was a career 66% free throw shooter, so it was stands to reason that he was the man to foul on the Magic. Long story short, Anderson missed all four free throws, and the Rockets stole the game in ovetime. From there, the Rockets went on to sweep the Magic, all thanks to Anderson’s all-time blunder. Now you know why your coach always gets on you to  make your free throws, kids.

  1. When the 2000 Blazers suffered the biggest collapse in playoff (and their franchise) history

In a nutshell, the 2000 Portland Trail Blazers ended their season in such a harsh way, it set their franchise back for almost 15 years. There have been many NBA playoffs collapses, but none like what Portland was able to accomplish in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Boasting a 15-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the final quarter, the Trail Blazers let the Lakers complete a 15-0 run. In the end, the Lakers won the game by five points, and the Trail Blazers never won another postseason series until 2014. It was a choke performance of the ages.

  1. When the Warriors Blew a 3-1 Lead in the NBA Finals

Do we really need to tell you how this one went down? On the biggest stage with the biggest lead and all of the momentum, the 72-win Golden State Warriors were the most dominant team of the 21st century (and possibly ever) and had just coasted to a 3-1 NBA Finals lead over the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers team. There was only one problem: Warriors’ big man and emotional anchor of the team, Draymond Green, was suspended for Game 5 after a kicking incident.

Momentum went to the wayside for the Warriors, the Cavaliers scooped it up, and ran with it for three consecutive victories. The marquee moment came when the final buzzer went off in Game 7, with the Cavaliers maintaining the lead in Golden State, and LeBron James yelling out, “Cleveland! This is for you!” Ever since then, fans at all sorts of sporting events and entertainment venues have been spotted holding signs that read “ The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead.”












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