It’s been said that a bad apple can have a malignant effect on a sports team, and that an infected appendage must be removed. This is why talk of Indiana Pacer guard Lance Stephenson possibly being denied a contract extension has begun to surface. The former second round draft pick has drawn much criticism, as various sources have hinted at a possible lack of chemistry between the player and his teammates. The speculation regarding Stephenson’s internal antics reached a boiling point at the beginning of the playoffs when reports surfaced that the guard had come to physical blows with teammate Evan Turner during a practice. Yet despite the negative allegations surrounding Stephenson, the young prospect also serves a critical role in the Pacer body: the heel.

Stephenson has a history of on court antics. In short, the third year player is a one-man circus. He leads the league in flopping fines with four, and is well known for baiting opposing superstars into trash talking matches. And though Stephenson does not discriminate when it comes to choosing which teams to give the heel treatment, something about the Miami Heat just brings out the worst (or best) in him.

It all began in 2012, when Stephenson made a choking gesture after a LeBron James missed free throw during a playoff game, drawing much criticism from media outlets.

It carried on past march, when the young guard went to war with Miami guard Dwayne Wade. Stephenson made public comments that his goal in the game was to force Wade into a rigorous game tempo in order to cause the veteran’s questionable knees to “flare up”, and was later ejected for taunting the Heat player.

But Stephenson’s tomfoolery reached new heights last week during game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacer resolved himself to doing whatever he could to get inside LeBron James’ head. Not only was Stephenson slapped with yet another fine for flopping on little contact, but he also became an instant Internet meme sensation when he blew into Number 23’s ear for good measure. The bad boy also created a buzz when he invaded an Erik Spoelstra huddle, drawing a cold glare from the Miami Heat head coach. This action in particular drew extensive criticism from ESPN commentator and former coach, Jeff Van Gundy, who labeled Stephenson “Steve Jabby”, and exclaimed that invading Spoelstra’s huddle takes a direct shot at the integrity of NBA coaches everywhere.  

As aggravating as Stephenson’s shenanigans may be for opposing teams, they serve his team in valuable ways that do not show up in the post game stat sheet. For example, in game 5, Stephenson held LeBron James to a mere seven points, which is the lowest of the two-time champ’s playoff career. James’ embarrassing performance may be attributed to Stephenson and his methods. In this way, Stephenson has placed himself in an important role on his Pacer squad, as the mental enforcer and overall ringleader of a gritty, pesky style of basketball. One might say that Stephenson is beginning to follow in the footsteps of notorious playoff heels such as Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Rasheed Wallace, Metta World Peace, Kevin Garnett, and Bruce Bowen. Each of these stars had a reputation for getting into their opponents heads and doing their team’s dirty work. And it should also be noted that each of these past NBA heels has at least one championship ring on their fingers.

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