With the circus surrounding LeBron James signing with the Heat, the topic came up, "are the Heat now the most hated NBA team?"
When I think of most hated teams there are some obvious choices that jump out in the respective leagues.
MLB - NY Yankees - I don't think there is any question the Yankees are the most hated MLB team and likely the most hated of all teams. Their domination of nearly every decade since the 1920s is the main crime. But certainly the Yankees ability to buy whichever players they want doesn't help.
I don't even know who the 2nd most hated team would be. Maybe the Post 2004 Red Sox and the birth Of "Red Sox Nation?" Particular fanbases may have a second team to hate Cubs fans hate the Chisox and the Cardinals; Dodgers hate the Giants etc. But no one comes close to the Yankees in hatred.
As far as individual MLB players - I would guess A-Rod is the leader in the hatred clubhouse. Barry Bonds would have been the leader until his retirement. But for the most part I don't think individual players generate much hatred. Again, the hatred is more likely to be local. And more likely to be against their former player who left rather than a longtime opponent. JD Drew is despised in Philadelphia for holding out and not signing as the #1 pick is the biggest example.
NFL - Dallas Cowboys - The arrogance of "America's Team" from the 1970's to Jerry Jones's Big Screen that matches his ego, the Cowboys have to be the most hated team in the NFL.
Prior to their recent fall to obscurity, I think the Raiders would have been the obvious second choice. But out side of Denver, Kansas City and probably parts of Oakland, the Raiders don't create the hate they used to.
The Patriots must have some hatred out there, but my Tom Brady goggles hide that from me.
For individuals, again I think it is the players who have "drawn too much attention." Brett Favre, Chad Ochocinco etc. I guess Michael Vick would probably lead the league do to his violence towards dogs etc.
NBA - I think there is likely a Celtics or Lakers front out there that splits the hatred between those two equally. But the Heat will likely move up to the third most hated.
But outside of that does any other team even make the radar for dislike? The Bad Boy Pistons and the Pat Riley Knicks are long gone... Who could hate the Orlando Magic?
James will get heat more for the attention he drew to the situation (ala Favre) more so than the choice he made (outside of Cleveland). I don't think even Kobe really draws much hatred by opposing fans - maybe by people who dislike the NBA in general.
NHL - Still has rivalries, Maple Leafs - Canadiens; Canadiens - Bruins; Rangers - Bruins; Red Wings - Black Hawks... Maybe the Wings are the most hated - but they seem to have the perhaps the strongest out-of-town fanbase well.
I think it boils down to the hatred in professional leagues boils down to jealousy. The Yankees, Cowboys, Celtics and Lakers win more championships than "our" teams do, so we dislike them. For players it seems to either be someone who left "our" team or someone who gets more attention that "we" think he should.
Real hatred is a level lower in the college ranks. Again I may have a bias because I care much more about NCAA sports than professional sports, but I think it generally holds true. Browns fans may hate the Steelers, but I think they hate Michigan more. Plus with over 100 "major" football programs and 300+ basketball programs there are more chances that you're closer to the local college than the closest professional team.