On July 4th, 2016, Kevin Durant became hated.
Not only did he opt to abandon a small-market franchise in a city that adored him, but he did so to join the über-talented Golden State Warriors. KD went from being widely beloved to almost universally despised, and he doesn't seem to be handling it too well. Yelling "they called me a coward!" in front of cameras while getting up extra shots after practice doesn't exactly scream "well-adjusted."
But Durant is far from the only athlete whose popularity has plummeted. Here are seven others who played long enough to experience becoming villains.
1. Tom Brady
Why Tom Brady was loved: When Brady first led the New England Patriots to victory during Super Bowl XXXVI, it was hard to find anyone who didn't like him. He was a back-up quarterback who was a sixth-round draft pick, yet he was able to lead a historically pathetic franchise to the greatest prize in football. He was a relatable dude in a backwards ball cap who achieved his childhood dream. He drank Coke and ate potato chips like your average Joe. What's not to like?
Why Tom Brady is now hated: How does that kid wind up being named the fifth most-hated player in NFL history? Well, the Patriots kept winning. They occasionally did so with the help of questionable methods, resulting in the Spygate and Deflategate controversies. Brady married a supermodel and gained a holier-than-thou air. He now wears Uggs and eats a diet that makes rabbits seem undisciplined. How has Brady handled becoming hated? Well, it hasn't seemed to bother him one bit. He just keeps winning.
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2. Alex Rodriguez
Why A-Rod Was Loved: When he burst onto the scene in mid-1990s for the Seattle Mariners, Alex Rodriguez was a dynamic player for a historically terrible franchise. Along with the always-exciting Ken Griffey, Jr., A-Rod helped turn the moribund Mariners into contenders. He could crush the ball, he could field everything and he could run like the wind. A 1997 Seattle Times article outlined how fans viewed A-Rod as a person at the time:
A strong work ethic. Humility. A sense that you never forget where you come from. Generosity. Curiosity. An appreciation for fine garments, good food and music with a mighty beat.
Why A-Rod is now hated: Humility. Can you imagine that word being associated with A-Rod in 2016? Of course not. After he left the Mariners in 2000 to sign a $252 million contract (then the biggest in league history) with the Texas Rangers, A-Rod gradually became one of the most hated people in sports. His most-hatable highlights include a photoshoot where he kissed his own reflection, asking for his own personal clubhouse attendant and almost assuredly using PEDs. A-Rod finished his career with more hits (3,115), home runs (696) and RBIs (2,086) than David Ortiz, but the fanfare regarding their respective retirements would have you believe Ortiz was a God and A-Rod was chopped liver.
3. Dwight Howard
Why Dwight Howard was loved: While he was with the Orlando Magic, Howard was truly one of the most dominant players in NBA history. "Superman" threw down thunderous jams, epically swatted opponents' shots, vacuumed up every rebound in his vicinity and did it all with a dazzling smile. The 2008 dunk contest might've been the peak of Howard's popularity:
Why Howard is now hated: Howard's evolution into one of the NBA's most-hated men was initially about what many of these transformations are about—money. He wanted out of Orlando. Howard was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, who are essentially the New York Yankees of the NBA. When he was healthy enough to get on the court in L.A., he woefully underperformed. Over the last few seasons, his lack of toughness, motivation, leadership and free-throw shooting ineptitude have come under heavy fire. He went from being one of the most dominant players in the league to one of the most underachieving, and his corny personality hasn't helped his cause. You'd be hard-pressed to find a diehard Dwight Howard fan nowadays.
4. Lance Armstrong
Why Lance Armstrong was loved: At age 25, Armstrong was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer. The cancer spread to his brain, lungs and abdomen. Doctors thought his chances of survival were slim to none. He fought like hell and eventually beat the cancer in 1997. He then went on to win seven straight Tours de France, from 1999 to 2005. Armstrong was the personification of perseverance and toughness, and he gave hope to anyone who ever faced impossible odds.
Why Lance Armstrong is now hated: It turns out he used performance-enhancing drugs to help him win all seven of those Tour de France titles. He admitted so in 2013 after spending the past decade adamantly denying the allegations. Illegal substances and procedures used by Armstrong include testosterone, cortisone, HGH, illegal blood transfusions and erythropoietin. Armstrong is now regarded by many as a cheater and a liar, and he's ruined that one part in DodgeBall forever.
5. LeBron James
Why LeBron James was loved: He was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick by his hometown NBA franchise. He immediately injected life into the team and helped them become a perennial playoff contender. Sponsorships flowed in. LeBron's incredible athleticism was must-see TV. Aside from fans of the Washington Wizards (a team LeBron eliminated from the playoffs in 2006, 2007 and 2008), LeBron was adored in Cleveland and fairly well-liked everywhere else.
Why LeBron James is now hated: The Decision. He made Cleveland fans agonize over whether he'd return, then he ripped their hearts out on national TV. His decision to create a super team in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh drew the ire of fans and players alike, and his cocky attitude at a pre-season party made things even worse. He reflected his role as the villain in a 2010 Nike commercial:
James subsequently returned to Cleveland and delivered a championship to the city, appeasing most of the fans who were ticked off when he left. But make no mistake about it, there are still legions of LeBron haters out there.
6. Johnny Manziel
Why Johnny Manziel was loved: Most of the world was introduced to Johnny Manziel when he was a redshirt freshman quarterback at Texas A&M. That season, he led the Aggies to a victory over then top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa:
Manziel accounted for 345 yards of A&M's 418 total yards of offense and vaunted himself into the Heisman race. His electric play continued throughout the season, and he went on to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel's popularity was polled at 97 percent following his redshirt freshman season.
Why Johnny Manziel is now hated: His explosive freshman season was followed by an autograph scandal, excessive partying and on-field arrogance. He declared for the 2014 NFL Draft following his redshirt freshman season. Former NFL head coach Barry Switzer summed up many people's thoughts when he said, "I think he's an arrogant little prick." Manziel soon washed out of the NFL due to a feeble work ethic and a full-blown addiction to partying. Who knows if we'll ever see him play football again.
7. Ryan Braun
Why Ryan Braun was loved: Ryan Braun's formula for becoming a fan favorite was similar to many others on this list. He came up with the Milwaukee Brewers—a franchise that hadn't sniffed success for decades—and helped turn them into real contenders. His spectacular play endeared him to fans around the league, and his friendly demeanor helped him become well-respected by his peers. He consistently finished as one of the top vote-getters in fan voting for MLB All-Star Games. Braun is also one of the few Jewish players in MLB, and he has stated he'd like to be a role model for young Jewish athletes.
Why Ryan Braun is now hated: In 2013, Braun admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. But he only did so after ferociously maintaining his innocence and impugning the integrity of the league drug collector who submitted one of his samples, which had ridiculously high testosterone levels. He vehemently denied using PEDs to everyone he came in contact with, including his close friend Aaron Rodgers. At one point, Rodgers bet a year's worth of his salary that Braun was clean. Braun was suspended for 65 games during the 2013 season, and his reputation will forever be tarnished.
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