- - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

He went from NBA obscurity to mainstream celebrity faster than the paparazzi flash. Only four players averaged more rebounds per game than he did last season. He ravaged the Washington Wizards in their season opener and was booed lustily each time he touched the ball.

He’s New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries, and he’s the NBA’s Most Disliked Player.

That’s the distinction Forbes gave Humphries last week, based on surveys by Nielsen and E-Poll Market Research, a company that tracks perceptions of athletes and other celebrities.

Judging by Humphries‘ production (21 points, 16 rebounds) in the Nets‘ victory, and the track record of his fellow disliked ballers, Washington needs a player on the list.

If that wouldn’t be the ultimate sign of progress for the Wizards, at least it would demonstrate some relevance.

Aside from Humphries, who developed into a top rebounder in his seventh season, one other player on the list hasn’t won or played for an NBA championship. That would be Carmelo Anthony, one of the league’s premier scorers.

Otherwise, we’re talking about LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker, Ron “Metta World Peace” Artest, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade and Lamar Odom, all of whom are considered among the best at one thing or another.

Humphries‘ claim to infamy was marrying a Kardashian sister — Kim — a ballyhooed union that lasted a mere 72 days before the reality TV star dumped him. He seemed out of his league with her, kind of like a camera assistant marrying a leading lady.

But I don’t understand how choosing a mate poorly made him Public Enemy No. 1 in NBA arenas. During a preseason game at Madison Square Garden, he was booed incessantly every time he touched the ball. The crowd at Verizon Center tried to one-up the New Yorkers and get a jump on the Philadelphians, who get their shot next month.

I’m not the only one confounded by the cacophony.

“I’m trying to figure it out — what did he do?” coach Avery Johnson asked reporters after his Nets rallied for a 90-84 victory. “I’m serious. Maybe because I don’t follow reality TV, I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, but it’s pretty hilarious to me. I don’t even know why they’re booing. Keep booing him. We’ll take 20 and 16.”

Surely fans in New Jersey love Humphries and those numbers. Fans in Brooklyn will be even more enamored when the Nets move there next season.

Here in Washington, candidates for the most-disliked Wizards would face the same animosity at home that they would find on the road.

They don’t have the luxury of playing in glamour markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami, places accustomed to us-against-them scenarios. They don’t have the redeeming qualities of championship rings, MVPs, or scoring titles to blot other shortcomings. They don’t have TV-star wives, celebrity girlfriends or gossip-page divorces to provide juicy, off-the-court diversions.

No, the most-disliked Wizards are judged solely by our expectations and their limitations.

It’s not that fans want to dislike them. But that’s what happens when players are maddeningly inconsistent in judgment, effort, discipline and maturity. Especially when said players possess the potential and physical gifts for so much more.

I suspect Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee would be voted Nos. 1 and 2 among Wizards fans, perhaps by a wide margin. Part of the reason is longevity, as Blatche is the franchise’s longest-tenured player (seventh season), and only Nick Young has been in Washington longer than McGee (fourth season).

Another part of the reason is what we witnessed Monday.

As usual, both players showed flashes of goodness, especially in the early going when Washington built a 21-point lead. But McGee managed just six rebounds and late in the fourth quarter yielded a crucial offensive put-back to a player 6 inches shorter. And Blatche, who settled for too many jumpers and appeared to blame the coaching staff afterward, took to Twitter to complain about his many critics.

That’s not the start either player desired, and it certainly can’t please team president Ernie Grunfeld. He repeatedly has expressed faith that Blatche and McGee will be worth the frustration before long, rewarding the Wizards with steady production and heady play on the front line.

Putting players on the home team’s most-disliked list isn’t personal. Fans gladly remove them if business on the court is pleasing enough.

Humphries & Co. are loved at home. And they would be loved on the road if they played for those teams.

Blatche and McGee have work to do before they reach that position. It’s definitely possible, but how they handle negative energy will be a key.

They should follow the example of the NBA’s most-disliked players.

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