Who would have thought that a seemingly innocuous tweet about Pascal Siakam would start a revolution? Since Twitter User @tmn_04_ threw the idea of “ethical basketball” into the void, it’s been a shorthand on NBA Twitter to differentiate the players who get free-range, no rip-through, scoring through contact buckets, in stark difference to factory-farmed foul machines (Here’s looking at you, Jo). Hell, it’s even been used by some of the bigger voices in the NBA media ecosystem. It seems that, even if just for a terminally online audience, the concept of ethical ball has wormed its way into some heads and will likely never leave.

So why not expand the concept? Create a yearly ranking of team ethicality based not just on the factors of its stars, but their aggregate ethics across the court, the fandom, and the front office?

I present to you, Abdul Malik’s Ethicality Matrix. It assigns a—subjective, remember, Abdul’s in the title—score to the reputation, actions, and history of a team’s fans, players, coaches, and management in three distinct categories, averages them out, and spits out a number, rounded to two decimal places. From this, we make the list.

Call this a beta, a version one. Something to build on. In a perfect world, this would be a team of people assigning their own scores, averaging those scores, and then creating a super-average, but this is an imperfect measure and will only improve over time.

But first, some qualifications:

  • The Front Office is a tough one. It encompasses ownership, president, GM, and associated operations, as well as hiring and interpersonal management. By its very nature, it is unethical, because billionaire ownership and the management professions are inherently unethical. However, assume this starts in the basement and ends in the depths of hell. A 10 for Front Office means they don’t go out of their way to abuse players, aren’t engaged in the most evil business, or largely keep to themselves.
  • The Court is an outcome of the original tweet, with added caveats. From fouls drawn to dirty players, allegations off the court, coaches, and camaraderie with a few intangibles, this one almost feels the most self-explanatory: Are these guys good guys in the sense of how they play, elevate, and engage with the game, and each other, at the highest levels?
  • The Fans are the easiest to editorialize. These are based on reputation, historic behavior, and overall, well, annoying-ness. Everyone thinks they’re the best fans in the league. This is categorically untrue. Truth is, most fans suck. History has proven religious fervor and devotion don’t really equal ethical behavior, it usually equals some sort of holy war. In the age of the internet, this holy war is often relegated to the online discourse, but I’m really trying to include in-arena and the occasional on-the-street behavior as well.

Lastly, I am a Raptors fan. I must state this fact as it relates to my own objectivity. This has been done in consultation with numerous non-Raptors group chats and a few choice twitter polls, but I’d be remiss not to say it in the interest of full disclosure. Take that for what you will.

Without further ado, let’s start listicling.

22. New York Knicks

Front Office: 2
On Court: 4
Fans: 3.5
Aggregate Score: 3.16

It turns out that putting a failson with a shitty rock band (who was also friends with Harvey Weinstein) in charge of an NBA team is actually a really bad idea. The Knicks have some of the most expensive tickets in the league, a pervasive culture of temper tantrums, and a coach who thinks running your players to the bone is a good way to run a basketball team.

Their star player can’t take accountability for himself, and, yeah, they also have Derrick Rose on the roster. Their fans can be counted among the most entitled in the NBA, and become devils the second the Knicks win four games in a row. Dolan’s also a legendary union buster, so there’s that.

21. Philadelphia 76ers

Front Office: 2
On Court: 6.5
Fans: 4.5
Aggregate Score: 4.33

I think the worst thing about the Sixers is that they don’t have to be this way. Embiid draws the most fouls in the NBA but doesn’t have to in order to be as great as he is. They have an incredibly high potential defender in Matisse, who’s anti-vax. Their coach will blame anyone but himself for failure.

That said, Tobias Harris is, fortunately, one of the NBA’s most ethical players and Tyrese Maxey’s smile earns them another half point. The fans are another story. Simply put, booing your own team isn’t a good look, and neither is ripping on Simmons the way they did. Like the next team on this list, the ownership is tied to Apollo Global Management, and you can read about what that entails from someone far more lawyered up than the good folks at Music Movies and Hoops.

Daryl Morey is also an arrogant, stats-obsessed, freak in an abusive relationship with James Harden. This is also the team that supercharged tanking in a way that only made the NBA worse. The list goes on.

20. Atlanta Hawks

Front Office: 4
On Court: 6
Fans: 4
Aggregate Score: 4.66

Despite being really hard done by in terms of success and dealing with sputtering attendance (it’s gone up in the Trae era) they somehow have one of the most aggro fanbases in the NBA, not a terrific combination if we’re being honest. Trae’s a heel but embraces it and that makes a big difference in terms of the team’s identity and likability… But a heel’s still a heel, and Trae falls into the Joel Embiid school of “not having to be like this.” As far as ownership goes, Tony Ressler’s an Apollo Global Management guy, and you can read all about the twisted web of dark money and genuinely evil political connections that entails.

19. Miami Heat

Front Office: 1
On Court: 8
Fans: 5.5
Aggregate Score: 4.83

This is a team made up of people who will hold you accountable, but may also give you the MJ-to-Kwame Brown treatment in the process. They’re gritty. They’re arrogant. They know how to game the game. They’re also not the most annoying about it. You want to see a lot of these folks succeed.

Owner Mickey Arison has single-handedly caused more damage to the planet than at least half of the other owners combined, alongside a host of straight-up labor abuse and exploitation through Carnival Cruise Lines. Pat Riley’s so old school as to be kinda problematic (minimum BMI? Really?) and should probably retire. The Heat have some really cool, chill, good fans, amazing true believers. The shadow of 2013’s Game 4, among a host of other embarrassing incidents, haunts them.

18. Brooklyn Nets

Front Office: 5
On Court: 5
Fans: 5
Aggregate Score: 5

This team makes no goddamn sense. They’re a Gordian knot of “????” I don’t know if they have fans, or if the fans are just fans of the superstars on the roster. I can’t assess it. The front office evicted a lot of people to build Barclay’s Center–that’s really shitty. The team is in such a state of chaos it’s impossible to determine the ethicality of the current roster. They have a lot of hubris, I guess, so watching them lose is cool, but watching KD play basketball is cooler? I don’t get the Nets. Best to settle for the middle ground.

17. (Tie) Orlando Magic

Front Office: 1.5
On Court: 6
Fans: 8
Aggregate Score: 5.16

The Devos family is straight-up evil both in their roles within the Trump administration, as well as their inability to put together a FO that appears to have anything other than complete apathy and failure at developing talent. At times, the Magic feels like an NBA retirement home trapped in purgatory. Having Jonathan Isaac there doesn’t make it easy, either. It’s just a milieu of weird guys! The fans are genuinely sad human beings that have lived through so much bad basketball with sprinkles of false hope and glimmers of “maybe.”

17. (Tie) Los Angeles Lakers

Front Office: 7
On Court: 6.5
Fans: 2
Aggregate Score: 5.16

The fans are toxic and irritating as shit, but at least they have the benefit of cultural power and seventeen championships to propel them out of Crypto.com (fucking lol) arena and onto Twitter, where they can make mock trades that give you seizures. This team is currently defined by arrogance and schadenfreude. It’s indisputable that to witness Bron and AD play together (no matter how unlucky the latter might be) is to witness greatness, but it’s also to witness basketball hubris at unprecedented levels. In terms of the FO, you can argue about the Buss family’s incompetence all you want, but they’re less evil than, say, the prison guys.

16. (Tie) Indiana Pacers

Front Office: 1
On Court: 9
Fans: 6
Aggregate Score: 5.33

Owner Herbert Simon’s property group counts Amazon among its partners and has been accused of segregation and exploiting both tenants and its most marginalized staff. They also banned Segways, which might be a point in its favor… or not, since it was sued for violating the ADA. Hoosier fans are passionate. They’re also Hoosiers. There’s a limit to their love, with some of the worst attendance records in the NBA for what’s been a strange year of low-key pivoting for the team, and a relatively drama-free season. There is nothing bad you can say about the Pacers players. In fact, there’s almost nothing you can say about the Pacers players. It’s a team in the midst of transition, looking for identity and personality. It’ll come, but they’re milquetoast at best right now.


16. (Tie) Utah Jazz

Front Office: 6
On Court: 8
Fans: 2
Aggregate Score: 5.33

Utah Jazz fans have a reputation for being both legendarily racist and also idolizing Karl Malone, alongside the freshly minted anti-vax hero, John Stockton. On the other side of it, the recently traded Rudy Gobert may have been the NBA’s patient zero, but also, strangely, the man that woke up America to the COVID-19 pandemic (alongside some charitable mea culpas). There are many worse owners, but the missionary/LDS connection across a good chunk of the FO is very sus.

15. (Tie) Dallas Mavericks

Front Office: 1.5
On Court: 7
Fans: 8
Aggregate Score: 5.5

The only reason the FO didn’t land at one is because Mark Cuban was an anti-Trump guy, I guess. He also hired an alleged rapist to coach his team, and the whole FO covered up one of the worst internal cultures in all of sport. They’ve got an exciting team with international appeal, I guess, though Dinwiddie’s weird Bitcoin bullshit and Luka’s occasional crybaby antics definitely undermine a bit. The fans have a reputation for chirping, but who among us hasn’t? They have some of the highest attendance in the league, and a number of high-profile (and very shitty) fan-player interactions to match.

15. (Tie) Detroit Pistons

Front Office: 1
On Court: 9
Fans: 6.5
Aggregate Score: 5.5

Tom Gores loves prisons. The Pistons have great, dedicated, and uh… overzealous… fans when they actually show up. Team attendance has been low, and their moment of greatest renown is one of the most legendary brawls in sports history, which most of the fanbase appears to be fairly unapologetic about. The team, though, is fun, on the up, and oozes the best kind of high-flying potential. It’s weirdly composed, compelling basketball anchored by a great development coach and one of the most exciting draft picks in recent memory.

14. (Tie) Milwaukee Bucks

Front Office: 1.5
On Court: 7.5
Fans: 7.5
Aggregate Score: 5.5

The fans became a lot more obnoxious after the chip, but can you blame them? It’s still a pretty decent, functional fanbase for a team that plays in a region similar to the fourth circle of Hell. The roster’s great, with a lovable superstar, but Pat Connaughton’s a point knock against them because he’s a very gross, gentrifying landlord. Owner Wes Edens’ Fortress Investment is evil and poorly managed. Their controversies are the dense kind requiring a Big Short style explanation to make sense of, so you can be assured they’re extra bad. Wes Edens also got his start at Blackrock, so he doesn’t deserve happiness.

13. Golden State Warriors

Front Office: 5
On Court: 7
Fans: 5
Aggregate Score: 5.66

Warriors have two kinds of fans: Dedicated cool fans, or the worst fairweather fans ever. Moving the team away from a city like Oakland definitely hasn’t helped their case, either. The Warriors are heavily involved in the gentrification of basketball via stats ruling everything around us, with ownership ties to the tech world making all our lives so, so much worse. All that said, their recent championship run was anchored by some wicked, watchable basketball, with the unfortunate questions plaguing them always coming Draymond’s dubious ethicality as a player, and, well, don’t forget Zaza either, who still roams the FO.

12. Portland Trailblazers

Front Office: 1
On Court: 8.5
Fans: 8
Aggregate Score: 5.83

Without Paul Allen, the front office would be decently higher on the ethics ranking, but hiring Chauncey Billups was a vile move. The reputation of toxicity that has followed this team has been nothing less than despicable, and no amount of removing Neil Olshey can change the fact that a lot of trust has to be rebuilt. Hiring Billups, with the history of allegations against him, didn’t help them much. Blazers fans are an inadvertent NBA punching bag, getting dogpiled constantly for wanting to keep the scraps of hope they have left. They also didn’t raise too much of a ruckus when Billups got hired, so maybe they deserve it. Their long-term ethicality really depends on the future of their vague ownership situation.

11. Boston Celtics

Front Office: 8
On Court: 8
Fans: 1.5
Aggregate Score: 5.83

I genuinely hate to put them so high. Minus a bit of questionable Marcus Smart behavior, this is easily one of the most likable teams in the NBA. They also don’t have billionaire owners and have employed really annoying front offices that have largely made the right moves. However, the fans, especially their biggest ones (Bill Simmons and Barstool among them) are nothing if not putrid, both historically and in the here-and-now. They’ve done too much cultural damage to the world, despite the Celtics’ pedigree of helping break basketball’s unofficial color barriers.

10. (Tie) Phoenix Suns

Front Office: 1
On Court: 8
Fans: 9
Aggregate Score: 6

I’m not going to recap everything their owner has done. Just read about it yourself. Their treatment of key players, such as the Ayton extension debacle isn’t a good look either, but Monty Williams is a beautiful man who makes everything better. Ultimately, your opinion on the roster’s ethicality probably depends most on your opinion of Chris Paul, as well as your thoughts on unorthodox team-building exercises. The Suns have a feverish, disappointed fandom, but Suns in Six demonstrated a kind of community-building exercise that was nothing if not beautifully infectious.

10. (Tie) Chicago Bulls

Front Office: 1
On Court: 9
Fans: 8
Aggregate Score: 6

It’s not the ‘90s anymore. There’s nothing really bad to say about the fans, except maybe their enduring adoration of Derrick Rose, which is a huge knock against. On court, Aaron Gordon’s rap career may be the biggest knock against the roster, which is just full of guys who’ve got something to prove but have proven historically bad at proving it. How can you not love that? Jerry Reinsdorf has taken the fans from the pits of hell, then to heaven, and back to the abyss. He’s also fought tooth and nail to disenfranchise worker power at every turn, even by billionaire standards, and been a key player in the gentrification of Chicago, a deeply segregated, stratified city.

9. (Tie) Cleveland Cavaliers

Front Office: 2
On Court: 9
Fans: 8
Aggregate Score: 6.33

Owner Dan Gilbert loves prisons. Fuck Dan Gilbert. With respect to the fans, it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for people who support Cleveland teams. Rare sputters of greatness in between extraordinary eras of misery. Sure, the fans get really defensive and loud, but can you really blame them? They’re mostly harmless, like a less loud and less numerous mirror to Raptors fans. On court, the Cavs are a really fun young team with one of the most straight-up physical defenses in the NBA. Adding Mobley only clinched the fact they’re exciting, cool, and fun to watch no matter who you root for.

9. (Tie) Memphis Grizzlies

Front Office: 5
On Court: 7
Fans: 7
Aggregate Score: 6.33

They should have been a shoo-in for a higher rank based on their assembled players alone, but the arrogance of this team and its fans as it comes up hasn’t done them any favors. Being annoying isn’t inherently unethical, however. A more knock-down, aggro playstyle certainly isn’t helping, although it speaks to the grit-and-grind lineage. Their ownership comes from Ubiquiti networks, one of those tech companies you’ve never heard of that only makes your life worse. Zach Kleiman and Taylor Jenkins, however, provide a needed counterbalance to that. Interestingly, Memphis counts the most right-wing fans in the NBA on paper, though this rarely rears its head in fan behavior.

9. (Tie) Toronto Raptors

Front Office: 7
On Court: 8
Fans: 4
Aggregate Score: 6.33

They’re owned by a telecom oligopoly that might as well own Canada’s federal government and charges out the ass for tickets, but have one of the best FOs in the league, minus stuff like keeping TDII on as long as they did. The team has remained largely scandal-free; a gritty, likable bunch with a couple of questionable moments. The fans, however… they’re ride or die, largely vocal on the right issues, have a great media ecosystem, and are without a doubt the NBA’s redheaded stepchildren. On top of cheering KD’s injury, they’re just fucking annoying, alright. I can say this because I am one. We’re the most insecure fanbase in the league. It’s a point of pride. I don’t know if that makes us worse or better.

8. New Orleans Pelicans

Front Office: 3
On Court: 9
Fans: 7.5
Aggregate Score: 6.5

It’s hard for fans of a team as browbeaten and worn down as the Pelicans to be dislikable. Most displeasure should be reserved for their FO, though fans fat-shaming Zion certainly don’t do themselves any favors. At times, the team appears somewhat abandoned by ownership. Gayle Benson clearly loves her Saints. She appears to love her Pelicans as much as she loves labor laws. New Orleans is an easy city to root for, despite all their issues. The Pelicans are showing a great level of grit, with a very watchable and very fun defensive identity anchored by a great supporting cast of talent.

7. (Tie) Washington Wizards

Front Office: 7
On Court: 6
Fans: 7
Aggregate Score: 6.66

They… exist. The fans… exist. There’s not a lot of them, and not a lot to say about them, except they’re there. Lots of likability when it comes to the team itself and high hopes for the future, minus one enormous red flag in Kristaps Porzingis, who should not even be in the NBA. Owner Ted Leonsis is a big DNC guy, which doesn’t make him less evil, but definitely makes him more boring.

7. (Tie) LA Clippers

Front Office: 5
On Court: 8
Fans: 7
Aggregate Score: 6.66

Another team it pains me to put so high. Steve Ballmer is unhinged, egotistical, and weird, but you have to look at him relative to the last guy. The team’s fun when it’s firing on all cylinders, with a great next-man-up attitude and a definite upgrade at coach recently, but the Marcus Morris of it all definitely works as a hit against them. The fanbase seems to be… Growing? And definitely has a sense of humor about itself. It’s like a weird community of people who transplanted to LA and wanted to be different from the noxious Lakers clique.

6. (Tie) Oklahoma City Thunder

Front Office: 3
On Court: 9
Fans: 9
Aggregate Score: 7.00

The Presti Special of hoarding draft picks like a mountain dragon is insane and weird and incredibly annoying, but the other side of that is an incredibly likable and awesome young core. The fans tend to be easygoing, easy to love, and easy to excite about the future. There’s a great community here and they’ll probably get way more irritating if the Presti Special works out, but that future is not our now. Owner Ike Bennett’s pretty quiet, except that in the year of lord 2022, his company, Dorchester Capital, is making big moves into oil and gas, helping rip apart our planet in a very dire time.

6. (Tie) Houston Rockets

Front Office: 6.5
On Court: 6.5
Fans: 8
Aggregate Score: 7.00

Fertita is your run-of-the-mill despicable billionaire. But, for all the hate he gets, a lot of other owners deserve worse. The Rockets have been hyper complicit in the 3-point revolution, but also in the statsification of the game that definitely limits a lot of the artistry and expression that makes basketball such a viscerally fun sport to watch. Rockets fans eat disappointment for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but at least they’re not Astros fans, baby! Right now, it’s a fun, young team with an unfortunate supporter of the autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Sengun). Given the Rockets’ history of speaking up against perceived injustice, their silence on this matter has definitely put a downer on the court proceedings. Additionally, Rockets fans have either been too forgiving or too unforgiving of Jalen Green, depending on who you ask. Split the difference.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

Front Office: 5
On Court: 9
Fans: 7.5
Aggregate Score: 7.16

Glen Taylor is a die-hard Republican and proud of it, but again, not out-of-the-ordinary levels of evil. He didn’t do right by his guys historically, but the FO has assembled a really likable group of people on court. Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards are lovable dudes, and hey, Pat Bev got moved so there’s that. Minnesota fans are loyal and downtrodden, with any hope they’ve ever had stamped out due to some kind of freak move by the FO, or just bad luck. They have a reputation for drinking… a lot. Understandable. They’re Minnesota fans. However, their behaviors necessitated a pretty intense “Don’t drink and drive” campaign, which also synergized with their star center being hit by a drunk driver.

4. Sacramento Kings

Front Office: 7
On Court: 6
Fans: 9
Aggregate Score: 7.33

The fans they have deserve the world. Sticking with this team, year after year, bad decision after bad decision… that’s loyalty like nothing else. You gotta respect it. However, the Kings are a dumping ground for players like Terrence Davis, and they’ll gladly take ‘em. Not a great look when you’re watching the games. Vivek Ranadive’s offer to pay players in Bitcoin, general lack of trust with his FO, nepotism, and failure to manage aren’t, pure evil, they’re more signs of deep incompetence. You know, normal billionaire shit. When it comes to the Kings, he’s just a bad boss more than anything.

3. Charlotte Hornets

Front Office: 8
On Court: 7
Fans: 8
Aggregate Score: 7.66

No billionaire is a good billionaire, but MJ at least adds diversity to a very white pool of team ownership. Having some of the cheapest tickets in the league and still persevering while getting a Tar Heel to the face in terms of popularity really goes to show how this is the people’s team. You could actually bring the whole family for a fun night out and have enough left over for rent. The team’s fairly likable, minus one Gordon Hayward and his less than stellar political leanings. This team’s ethicality moving forward is entirely dependent on their handling of the Miles Bridges situation, which it appears they’re handling the right way.

2. Denver Nuggets

Front Office: 7
On Court: 8
Fans: 9
Aggregate Score: 8

The ownership’s ethicality might really depend on your opinions of Arsenal F.C. more than anything else, but Enos Kroenke is a behind-the-scenes operator without a lot of dirt to dig up. That probably means he’s up to the most evil shit, but without proof, we’ll never know. Minus one tentatively anti-vax guy on the rookie scale extension and (as the time of writing) no Boogie Cousins on their roster, the team’s really damn likable. The fans have high hopes and very little controversy, plus their TV deal sucks and you gotta respect the true believers for sticking through that kinda bullshit.

1. San Antonio Spurs

Front Office: 7
On Court: 10
Fans: 9
Aggregate Score: 8.66

Coming in at number one: The remarkably unremarkable. Their owner’s a Republican who sells heavy machinery in the state of Texas. That’s business as usual, and there’s nothing really out of the ordinary on the scale of “evil.” Pop’s one of the most respected coaches of all time, beloved by media, players, and fans. The roster is… well, it’s the roster. The Spurs have always been unremarkably ethical, minus a Bruce Bowen in the distant past. Their current composition is a rebuild, which fans reacted to with understanding and completely inert disappointment. Arguably, “lack of inertia and excitement relative to other teams” defines the Spurs fan identity, which is to their credit! Does boring always equal ethical? No, but it definitely helps.

And that’s the initial NBA ethicality ranking.


Any and all suggestions for improving the matrix are appreciated, as this ideally becomes a yearly, pre-season project. Next time, it will not be written concurrently with free agency starting.