Dr z-bo
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Heel Face Turn (heel fas' turn) noun. When a formerly (and widely recognized) "bad guy" becomes a "good guy."

Usage example: Zach Randolph pulled a heel face turn this season.

Word origin: In Professional Wrestling, an evil wrestler (known as a "heel") sometimes has a change of heart and becomes good, transforming into a "babyface." The term for this is "Heel Face Turn."

The Heel Face Turn, or the concept at least, didn't originate in Professional Wrestling. It's actually a pretty common literary device. One of the most well-known Heel Face Turns occurs when Ebenezer Scrooge goes from being an evil old miser to a loving bastion of generosity in Charles Dickens' 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. A similar metamorphosis happened to the Grinch in Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Don't get me wrong. The Heel Face Turn isn't limited to Christmas stories. For example, take Dolokhov in War and Peace, Edmund in King Lear, or Inspector Javert in Les Misérables. They all did Heel Face Turns.

Of course, the Heel Face Turn happens in movies all the time. A classic example was when Arnie's T-800 was sent back in time to save John Connor in Terminator 2. But the best film example -- and maybe the most well-recognized modern example -- was when Darth Vader turned on Emperor Palpatine to save his son in Return of the Jedi.

The Heel Face Turn happens in real life, too. Take the story of Johann Blumenbach, the man who helped popularize the concept of "scientific" racism, known as eugenics. Blumenbach went on to fall in love with a black woman and spent much of the rest of his career trying to undo his mistakes.

In the realm of real life, though, Heel Face Turns happen most often in sports. Take the (relatively recent) story of Brett Favre, who went from a tormenter of the Vikings to a hero that nearly led them to a Super Bowl (and then, of course, blew his hero status to hell by playing like feces the next season).

This happens periodically in the NBA as well. Just this season, Zach Randolph went from heel to babyface right before our eyes. There wasn't a large deviation in his stats, which remained similar to his career numbers, but he seemingly became more interested in contributing to a winning situation than "getting his."

For most of his career, Z-Bo had annoyed and/or astounded his coaches and teammates by displaying a shockingly low basketball IQ. I mean, here was a guy who was unstoppable in the paint, but who would jack up three-pointers in critical situations. Nobody knew quite what to expect from Zach...other than that he would make the worst conceivable decision and the worst possible time.

Until this season. Remember, prior to the 2010-11 campaign, Randolph was widely considered a loafer at best and a head case at worst. In essence, he was seen as a better (and let fat) version of Eddy Curry.

Randolph's Heel Face Turn happened slowly over the course of the season, but his clutch dismantling of the Spurs in the first round of the 2011 Western Conference Playoffs was "The Moment" when his transformation became complete. The change didn't only change the public perception. It seems (unless I'm way off here) to have changed Randolph's perception of himself. Take the Grizzlies' second round series against the Thunder. If you watched it, you know Oklahoma City's anti-Randolph strategy was to play Z-Bo as physically as possible. They grabbed him, held him, sometimes arm-locked him and often delivered "harder than strictly necessary" fouls.

The old Zach, I'm convinced, would have eventually lost his shit and thrown a punch. Or at least flipped somebody off. I mean, we're talking about a guy who once face-punched a teammate in practice. And there were times I think he really wanted to do that to somebody on the Thunder. But when those situations presented themselves, he could be seen visibly calming himself and then patting his defender(s) on the back and saying something like, "Good foul, man."

It wasn't just a career transformation. It was a life transformation.

Other notable Heel Face Turns include:

Wilt Chamberlain, who became a hero in the later stages of his career, if only because NBA fans had become threatened by the emergence (and political/religious leanings of) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Kareem also did a Heel Face Turn during the second half of his stint with the Lakers. He went from being a cold, angry black man who aroused fear and resentment to a wise elder statesman and a winner. (It helped that he was paired with the irresistibly charismatic Magic Johnson. In point of fact, Magic's demeanor may have done more to change perception about Kareem than anything Abdul-Jabbar did himself.)

Dennis Rodman experienced a lesser version of the Heel Face Turn when he -- a former Bad Boy Piston and certified villain in Chicago -- joined forces with Michael Jordan on the Chicago Bulls.

Shaq, who for years had been seen as a fearsome (and, at times, spiteful) goliath who used his mammoth strength (and uncalled offensive fouls) rather than skill to power his way to the basket, became a sympathetic figure when the Lakers seemingly took sides in the big man's feud with teammate Kobe Bryant, shipping O'Neal to the Miami Heat and rebuilding around Bryant despite the fact that Shaq had been the foundation of their three most recent NBA titles.

Kobe himself went from a near pariah -- thanks largely to accusations of rape, allegations that he threw Shaq under the bus during those rape accusations by telling police that O'Neal paid his lovers off to ensure their silence, for allegedly demanding the Lakers ship Shaq out of town, and, of course, his on court selfishness -- to redeemed MVP and "The Man" on back-to-back championship teams. However, this wasn't a true Heel Face Turn, given that a very large segment of the NBA fandom still despises Bryant.

The flip side to the Heel Face Turn is the Face Heel Turn, in which a good guy becomes a bad guy. Real life Face Heel Turn examples include Marcus Brutus and Benedict Arnold. Or, using a previous example, Brett Favre. After all, Favre became a Heel in the eyes of Green Bay fans (and many other NFL fans as well) when he retired from the Packers, unretired, joined the Jets, re-retired, unretired again, joined the Vikings, re-re-retired, unretired yet again, rejoined the Vikings, re-re-re-retired, etc.

In the NBA, LeBron James did what may be the biggest Face Heel Turn in the history of sports Face Heel Turns. After years of leading his "hometown" Cavaliers -- and, in fact, promising not to stop until he led Cleveland to a championship -- he spurned the city and team that loved him with manic desperation to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. As we all know, it wasn't so much that he did it as how he did it, in a public TV spectacle that was aired on ESPN to feed his titanic ego...as if he could possibly have needed any ego-stroking. This, of course, came on the heels of several years worth of rabid speculation that has turned Cavs fansa and management into a bunch of paranoid basket cases.

In many ways, LeBron's Face Heel Turn mirrors my personal all-time favorite Face Heel Turn...by Hulk Hogan at WCW's Bash at the Beach in 1996.

And here's a funtastic extra: In this thread at TheW.com, TheOldMan transcribes Hogan's words from the bash, as if it was what LeBron really said during The Decision. In this case, Dwayne Wade would be Scott Hall and Chris Bosh would be Kevin Nash.

Michael Wilbon: LeBron James, excuse me. Excuse me. What in the world are you thinking?

LeBron James: Wilbon, the first thing you gotta do is to tell these people to shut up if they want to hear what I've gotta say.

Michael Wilbon: I have been covering you for so many years...for you to join up with the likes of these two men absoulutely makes me SICK to my stomach! And I think that these people here and this circus? The whole basketball world have had just about enough of this man and this man and you want to put yourself in this group? You've gotta be...kidding me!

LeBron James: Well the first thing you've gotta realize brother -- is that this right here is the future of basketball. You can call this the New World Order of basketball, brother. These two men were tired of losing and everybody was wondering about who the third man was. Well, who knows more about losing in the playoffs than me, brother?

Michael Wilbon: I've covered lots of great athletes and seen how built their legacy with their original team. You have made the wrong decision in my opinion.

LeBron James: Well let me tell you something, I made the Cleveland Cavaliers, brother! I made the people rich up there. I made the people that ran that organization rich up there. And when it all came to pass, the name LeBron James, the man LeBron James got bigger than the entire organization, brother! And then James Dolan amigo, he wanted to talk turkey with LeBron James. Well, James Dolan promised me endorsements brother. James Dolan promised me a trillion dollars. And James Dolan promised me world-class teammates. Amar'e Stoudemire??? So as far as James Dolan, Dan Gilbert and the rest of the NBA goes, I'm bored brother. That's why I want these two guys here, these so called All-Stars, these are the men I want as my friends. They are the new blood of professional basketball and not only are we going to take over the whole NBA, with LeBron James, the new blood and these monsters with me. We will destroy everything in our path Wilbon.

Michael Wilbon: [referring to the garbage being thrown in their direction] Look at all of this crap at your feet! This is what's in the future for you if you want to hang around the likes of this man Wade, and this man Bosh.

LeBron James: As far as I'm concerned, all of this crap represents the fans out there. For seven years brother! For seven years, I held my head high. I did everything for the charities. I did everything for the kids. And the reception I got when I announced my decision? You Cavalier fans can stick it, brother! Because if it wasn't for LeBron James, you people wouldn't be here. If it wasn't for LeBron James, Mike Brown would be selling meat from a truck in Indianapolis. And if it wasn't for LeBron James, all of these "Johnny come-lately bandwagon fans" that you see out here - basketball wouldn't exist in Cleveland! I was selling the world out brother as an 18-year old while they were waiting tables to get through college. So the way it is now brother, with LeBron James and the New World Order of basketball brother, me and the new blood by my side. Whatcha gonna do when the New World Order runs wild on you? Whatcha gonna do?

LeBron James: [Grabs Wilbon] What are you gonna do?

Michael Wilbon: Hey, don't touch me! Don't touch me, I'm going to see the lawyers! Stu, Jim, Chris, Dammit let's get back to you!

Stuart Scott: All right. We have seen the end of LeBronamania. For Chris Broussard, for Jim Gray, For Michael Wilbon, I don't know...I'm Stuart Scott. LeBron James, you can go to hell! We're outta here. Straight to hell.

Stuart Scott: Boo-yah!
Usage note: Many times, you'll see Heel Face Turn shortened to simply "Face Turn" and Face Heel Turn" truncated to "Heel Turn." That's how I typically do it, anyway.

Contribute! Can you remember an NBA-related Heel Face Turn or Face Heel Turn I didn't mention? Leave it in the comments. The best submissions will be added to this post.

References: Television Tropes and Idioms; Wikipedia Glossary of Professional Wrestling Terms.

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33 Comments:
Blogger Dan said...
Boozer! Cleveland's pretty much a jobber.

Gilbert Arenas went from lovable goof to Clint Eastwood. Then he reveled in it with the finger guns.

The entire Detroit Pistons went from a beloved championship team (in Detroit at least), to mutineers.

Blogger Marcus said...
ron artest anybody?

Blogger Will said...
I gotta take exception with you calling Brutus a heel. If anything Julius Caesar made the heel turn. JC refused to surrender his troops, invaded Italy, set himself up as dictator, and basically took over the Senate. Brutus et al. were just trying to preserve the Senate.

Anonymous abusaud said...
I think people despised Kobe since he joined the Lakers. Especially the Jordan fanatics, "How DARE he try to emulate his idol the great Air Jordan?!". All of those accusations against Kobe have been wittled down to basically, "he doesn't have 6 rings like Jordan."

I would add Carmelo Anthony to the list of turning into a Heel, he was a really really good player carrying the Nuggets in the Western Conference, then the whole "Melodrama" happened and he turned into LBJ 2.0 (or is it LBJ 0.5?).

Anonymous Adrià said...
Someone call me when Kobe has 6 Finals MVPs. I will choose him first for my team, but come on...

Ron Artest is a great one.

But Rasheed Wallace could be even better, from butthead to champion to fatass.

And another Heel Turn: Vince Carter. jeez...

Blogger Lord Kerrance said...
Vince Carter. I remember hanging with a friend who was super gleeful the day the Raptors got him. I also remember that same friend posting "ding, dong, the Vince is dead" on his Facebook the day we traded him. The way he STILL gets booed in TO cements his heel status.

TURNING POINT: Dancing onstage with Nelly after a so-called ankle-injury.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I dunno about artest. A heel is somehow evil. He just went from bat shit insane to mildly idiosyncratic.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Umm, most people who dislike Kobe feel that way because he was amazingly arrogant and cocky from the first minute of his rookie year, pushed his most talented teammate off the team to "be the man", tanked a playoff game and didn't shoot to prove some sort of point, and may or may not have raped a girl and then used his $$ to humiliate her publicly until she dropped the charges.

Doesn't have much to do with MJ.

Anonymous Stockton said...
Latrell "I have a family to support" Sprewell?

Anonymous Stockton said...
Shawn Kemp?
After all, stopping "giving a f###" and putting up monster weight qualifies you as a heel, no?

As for quiting on your team (Vince, Kobe)...

Anonymous The Other Chris said...
SI is claiming that Mike Dunleavy is a serious candidate to coach the Lakers.

Do it for the lulz Dr. Buss!

Blogger LotharBot said...
Seconding Carmelo Anthony's heel turn. He was a really good player saying and doing all the right things for a playoff team that made a deep run, and then... decided he wanted to play in New York and make his own "big 3" instead of playing on an improved version of the Nuggets' WCF team.

And he ended up taking hometown favorite Chauncey Billups with him. Chauncey wanted to retire a Nugget, and all of Denver wanted Chauncey to retire a Nugget. I don't think outsiders understand how much Chauncey Billups *is* Denver basketball. Seeing the Nuggets organization trade him away a second time, this one because someone else forced a trade, was really tough.

Cleveland lost its hometown hero because he's a douchebag. Denver lost its hometown hero because Melo was a douchebag. I don't know which is worse; they're bad in different ways.

Blogger Michael Hsu said...
Did Zbo change or is he just making his bad shots now. I watched some of the Memphis games and he's still taking bad shots he's just making them.

Fading away with collison's hand in his face and time left on the clock. You can't tell me that's a good shot.

You could argue that if he can make them now then they are not bad shots kind of like the shots that Dirk takes. If it was anyone besides him it would be a bad shot.

However, Zbo is not Dirk. I think this is an anomaly and contract year awesome sauce. He has a chance to revert to a 20-10-50 player again.

Blogger Joseph said...
Face Turn:
Charles Barkley - From the "I am not a role model" and spitting on a kid era to becoming more beloved as a TNT commentator.

Heel Turn:
Kevin Garnett - Loved KG's intensity and stoic performance as he fought in vain for the Timberwolves. Got completely disgusted seeing him morph into such an on-court bully with the Celtics.

Anonymous abusaud said...
"... feel that way because he was amazingly arrogant and cocky from the first minute of his rookie year"

Can't fault you on that one, those airballs still hurt.

", pushed his most talented teammate off the team to "be the man""

Dr. Buss kicked Shaq out, Kobe had no involvement in the matter.

", tanked a playoff game and didn't shoot to prove some sort of point,"

When a player wins 3 championships in a row and suddenly gets starters like smush parker, kwame brown, and Luke Walton, I don't blame him (even though he should've played hard regardless).

"and may or may not have raped a girl and then used his $$ to humiliate her publicly until she dropped the charges"

He was found innocent, and she humiliated herself by constantly changing her story that it was obvious she was trying to get some $$ from him.

Anonymous Drew said...
You could argue Brett Favre did a face-heel-turn and back for the Packer fans, given his crappy performances last season, which completely undermined the Vikes, the Pack's great rival.

Kemp - I feel a bit bad for him, after all he was a little under-appreciated by the Sonics who decided to give Jim McIlvaine big money. How could a guy not question his own self worth after that?

Anonymous JJ said...
The thing with Zbo wasn't so much that his skills changed, but his attitude changed. Also, I don't think his "bad" shots were that bad, even less so if you consider his past standards.

Blogger Marmatard said...
Cleveland lost its hometown hero because he's a douchebag. Denver lost its hometown hero because Melo was a douchebag. I don't know which is worse; they're bad in different ways.

I'm trying to come up with a heel turn in pro wrestling that was equivalent to Melo's (i.e. being completely whipped by his "celebrity" wife).

Blogger 49er16 said...
My personal Heel Face Turn was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He used to torch the Kings when he was with Denver and wouldn't you know, he was traded to the Kings. I liked him when he was with Sacramento.

Anonymous Reignman said...
How about Deron Williams? He went from being one of the best PGs in the league and the guy everyone would like to root for to being that f*cker who might've had a big part in running Sloan out of town.

Then there's Josh Howard. At one point in his career many Mav fans I know where actually discussing wether the Mavericks were still Dirk's team or Josh had become the go-to-guy (it all seems so distant now, like it happened in the 90s or something).

Blogger TransINSANO said...
@Will- Yeah, but in trying to save the Republic Brutus betrayed and murdered his friend and mentor and plunged said Republic into civil war that ultimately resulted in its destruction/transformation into Empire anyway. That's not a winner, and history, sports or otherwise, is defined by the winners, so Brutus is a heel. Just like how Kobe eventually validated his feud with Shaq, even though he was a total heel at the time.

Anonymous Czernobog said...
Kevin Garnett. He established himself as the purist's favourite player during that championship season in Boston, if not earlier, and a season or so later revealed himself to be a mean-spirited bully who only picks on those who won't fight back.

Blogger clicc916 said...
That Hulk Hogan Face Heel Turn link may have been good...but I remind you of this more awesome clip of The Decision: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7xlzLOZH5c

Blogger AnacondaHL said...
Face Heel - Shawn Marion.

Anonymous Shrugz said...
My friends and I call Melo's situation a Wubar (you know Fubar LOL)
Whipped beyond all recognition.
you know when you're friend was single he'd drink party gamble and all of a sudden this girl comes in and all of sudden he stopped drinking stopped partying stopped gmabling. Essentially stopped hanging out us. (I'm currently taking credit for this term lol)

Anonymous Anonymous said...
How about Dennis Johnson for Heel Face Turn in basketball. He was traded from Seattle to Phoenix for being uncoachable even though he was the 1979 Finals MVP. Then he was traded from Phoenix to Boston for still being uncoachable. Then in Boston he wins mutiple titles, Larry Bird calls him the greatest teammate he ever had, has his jersey retired and is elected to the Hall of Fame.

Blogger vanjulio said...
Johnny Damon is about the worst I've seen. Every guy in New England tried to look exactly like him and every childbearing woman would have had his children. then he goes to New York - the evil empire...


to some extent I consider Bill Gates another positive one. His guilty conscious now has him leading philanthropic causes instead of handcuffing people to the Blue Screen of Death.

Blogger Wormboy said...
@Stockton: "Latrell "I have a family to support" Sprewell?"

Spree gets both. Coach choker to star in NYC to Star in Minny to "feeding the family"


Kemp is a great one: from "lathered up" star in the Finals (Bill Walton quote) to whining about a contract and being traded for alcoholic Vin Baker. I lived in Seattle 89-97, and still haven't forgiven Kemp.

@Shrugz: "you know when you're friend was single he'd drink party gamble and all of a sudden this girl comes in and all of sudden he stopped drinking stopped partying stopped gmabling. Essentially stopped hanging out us. (I'm currently taking credit for this term lol)"

So WUBAR is a term made up by his friends to rationalize the fact that he'd rather have sex and be loved rather than do stupid shit with the guys? Sounds like losers trying to make themselves feel better. Also sounds like your friend is a wise man. "Whipped" is frequently used in that context: to insult a man who is quite happy. IMO if the woman orders him around and holds him on a short leash, you have a point. But if he's spending his time with her instead of you because he's in love, that's hardly whipped. Really? Hanging with a bunch of smelly dumbass guys instead of some lovable woman? That's a no-brainer, dude. Maybe a better term should be applied to you and your pals: evolutionary dead ends unless the condom breaks with the coyote ugly chick from the bar. :P

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Just a point of clarification on abusaud's comment. Kobe wasn't "found innocent." He paid the woman and in exchange she refused to testify against him. That doesn't prove he was guilty of rape, but it doesn't prove his innocence either.

(and he's a total d-bag).

Anonymous spinetingler said...
Kobe was a heel from the first moment he said he wouldn't play in Charlotte.

K

Anonymous DumbGenius said...
i'm sorry but.. Karl Malone. He was the lovable type (smiley, always said the right things) in his first decade or so in the league then developed into a grumpy old man, who didnt want to play in all star games the latter part of his career and even got caught up in the lake show bungle.

But unlike zach, he developed into that character, it wasnt a one event heel turn.

Anonymous Byron said...
I think this is what you're looking for...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7xlzLOZH5c

Blogger lordhenry said...
Carlos Boozer. When he left Cleveland for Utah. Face Heel.

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