Leave it on the floor. It’s all part of the game. No harm, no foul. You’ve heard many times how the intensity of a game can heighten emotions and anger but really doesn’t get too personal or travel beyond the lines.
Well, not always. Or do you buy the idea Carmelo Anthony waited by the Celtics’ bus a few weeks ago to help Kevin Garnett with his bags?
Those two breakfast buddies met Thursday for the first time since KG put Honey Nut Cheerios on the menu and caused Melo to flip out. Bad blood ensued, and you wonder how these All-Star teammates will coexist next month in Houston. How genuinely will they root for one another in that game? When it’s time to bump fists, will Melo accidently aim high? Oh, the possibilities.
At least Melo isn’t alone. A handful of players would love to swipe at KG if it didn’t cost them money or a fractured knuckle, and standing second in line would be Joakim Noah. He and KG go at it every time the Bulls and Celtics meet.
“He’s always on some BS,” Noah said last week. “Just trying to throw elbows. Cheap shots. Just trying to get you off your game.”
Because of his passion for elbows and getting personal in trash talking (calling Charlie Villanueva, who suffers from a skin disease, a “cancer patient” and wishing Tim Duncan a happy Mother’s Day after Duncan lost his mother), KG is a modern-day Bill Laimbeer. Antagonism is his tool, and he keeps it sharp, which leads to feuds that often go beyond the court.
While most player feuds die peacefully before the buzzer, the NBA is rather rich in those that don’t. Some feuds are more than just competitive fire (Chuck Person vs. Larry Bird). Some don’t take a unique and peaceful turn, like when Kobe Bryant campaigned hard for the Lakers to sign Matt Barnes, who notoriously irritated Kobe in the past. Those are harmless spats that go nowhere.
Other feuds run deep and personal and often have far-reaching consequences. Here are 10, like Melo vs. KG, that left the floor.
10. Charles Barkley and Charles Oakley
Barkley is famous for hitting hard while sitting at the Turner studios. Oakley isn’t a studio gangster. He punched Tyrone Hill over an unpaid debt and clocked Jeff McInnis over a woman. You messed with Oak at your own risk. So when Barkley said something that Oakley didn’t like during their playing days, Oakley went Oakley on him, slapping him at a preseason game and then, more famously, at the players association meeting in 1999. Witnesses said Oakley told Barkley: “Every time I see you, I’m slapping you.” Just last year, Oakley said: “He’s a coward … he wasn’t a leader or a role model. Now he talks so bad about the younger guys. He’s a fraud, he can criticize the younger kids … he wants to be funny, the whole TNT thing and all that, they’re like some clowns on that show.” Barkley and Oakley share a good friend in Michael Jordan, but that’s where it ends between the two. When told Oakley’s remarks, Barkley didn’t slap back, more like pushed back when he said: “Dude, it’s over with. Let it go.”
9. Kobe Bryant and Smush Parker
Kobe had many teammates he didn’t respect. Parker topped that list, as Kobe has reminded us many times. Parker was the Lakers’ starting point guard in the post-Shaq years, and during this transitional period Kobe wasn’t close to winning a title. He took it out on Parker, an overachiever who only lasted two seasons with the Lakers. After Parker left, Kobe always dropped a Smush reference, and none were complimentary. The entire episode blew up last fall in Lakers training camp when Kobe, without being prodded, mentioned Parker again: “Smush was the worst. He shouldn’t have been in the NBA but we were too cheap to pay for a point guard.” Parker responded by saying he refused to pass Kobe the ball; that Kobe often separated himself from the team even during dinner functions; and that Kobe refused to speak to Parker. It was a revealing look at Kobe during a selfish period. Smush said: “What I don’t like about him is the man that he is. His personality. How he treats people.” Kobe didn’t respond to specifics raised by Parker, but maybe Kobe finally put this one to rest. “I wish him the best,” Kobe said, before one last dig. “He’s playing in China, right?”
8. Tim Duncan and Joey Crawford
Referees are taught early to develop thick skin, but Crawford is more egotistical than most. Duncan has been one of the biggest whiners for years, always quick to disagree with the most obvious of calls, and so this was bound to happen. Crawford ejected Duncan for laughing on the bench in 1997 and then challenged him to a fight. Crawford was fined $25,000, suspended by the league and banned from working Spurs games. This was an embarrassment for the league because Crawford gets high marks and Duncan is headed to the Hall of Fame. Yet the league couldn’t risk having Crawford ref Spurs game for appearance reasons, if nothing else. The ban no longer exists, but Duncan did get revenge when he and Tony Parker were photographed at a Halloween party last October aiming fake guns at a fake Crawford.
7. Dan Gilbert and LeBron James
Love hath no fury like a spurned boss who loses his cash cow and then fires off a letter written in comic sans. Rather than take a long walk after LeBron announced he was going to South Beach, Gilbert went straight to the keyboard and let his emotions go. He said LeBron was guilty of “cowardly betrayal” and “selfishness” and was a “former hero,” all of which was perhaps true. But an owner shouldn’t stoop to that level; that’s what fans and media are for. Besides, Gilbert also guaranteed the Cavs would win a championship before LeBron. Well, the Cavs haven’t won 50 games since LeBron left two-plus years ago. Gilbert has since admitted his mistake and said he’s over it. That’s good, because we’ll be reprising the letter in a few summers when LeBron teams up with Kyrie Irving to give Gilbert and Cleveland the championship they wanted all along.
6. LeBron James and DeShawn Stevenson
You had to be versed in hip-hop-ology to understand the depths of this beef that began in 2008 and ended, we think, when Stevenson rubbed salt in LeBron’s wound at the 2011 NBA Finals. They were on different teams when the Cavs and Wizards met in the playoffs six years ago. LeBron was a rising superstar and Stevenson an aggressive role player who could shoot three-pointers and also from the lip. The short version of what happened: Stevenson talked tough to LeBron, who compared himself to Jay-Z and Stevenson to Soulja Boy. What’s interesting is, when Hova himself interjected and also dissed Stevenson in a rap lyric, Stevenson backed down and took it as a compliment. Now that’s power. Anyway, Stevenson had a solid run in the Finals -- we all saw what happened to LeBron -- and said The King “checked out.“ Basically, the roles reversed: Stevenson was suddenly Jay-Z and LeBron was, well, Vanilla Ice.
5. Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson
They were teammates for four years in Charlotte, back when the city had winning basketball, and looked to have a long relationship together. But then the Hornets stupidly gave Johnson a groundbreaking $84 million contract, which ultimately forced them to trade Mourning and begin an exit strategy for the franchise out of Charlotte. For unclear reasons, Johnson and Mourning became bitter enemies after going separate ways. Unfortunately for them, they were on separate teams during those Knicks-Heat alley-fights of the late 1990s. And so we were blessed with one of the most enduring video snippets of all time: Jeff Van Gundy attached to Mourning’s leg in an effort to break up a nasty fistfight between Mourning and Johnson in 1998. Near the end of their careers, they bonded over health problems; Johnson had multiple back surgeries while Mourning required a kidney transplant. Recently, Johnson said: “Man, I’m 42 years old. I don’t have time to hold grudges against another grown man. I had my back issues. He had his kidney issues. So there’s no time for any real grudges.”
4. Spike Lee and Reggie Miller
Miller actually had a more intense relationship with Knicks guard John Starks, who head-butted Miller in a playoff game, but his courtside “chats” with the Knicks’ No. 1 fan were more infamous. Their running dialogue almost became a self-parody because of all the attention it received, and besides, Lee couldn’t physically prevent Miller from doing anything. But maybe that’s why this “feud” is considered one of the most historic in sports. Miller credits Lee’s taunting for helping him score 25 points in the fourth quarter of a 1994 playoff game, and Spike’s image blew up bigger than any of his films. Then and now, Spike enjoys relationships with NBA players and coaches and even was on speaking terms with Miller when they saw each other at functions. Word is they “played up” their “bad relationship” to make things seem more legendary than it was. But they weren’t as chummy as Jordan and Spike. Anyway, Miller said: “Time heals all wounds. We’re friendly. We can talk about things now.”
3. Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas
They went from a kissing match to a pissing match, two friends and competitors breaking apart and going years without speaking. Two weeks ago Magic tweeted: “I had a great private convo with @iamisiahthomas. Glad we can be friends again.” Wow, that’s a long time between smooches. They were famous for a peck on the cheek before tipoff whenever their teams met in the 1980s. Their famous friendship was well-documented in sappy TV stories. Then Magic announced he was HIV-positive in 1991 and accused Isiah of making insensitive insinuations in the days that followed. The feud had costly consequences for Isiah immediately. When Michael Jordan hesitated to join the Dream Team if it included Isiah, Larry Bird (remember Isiah’s “white player” comment?) and Magic agreed to keep Isiah off the historic Olympic team. That was insane. Isiah is the only player to beat all three in a game or series of any significance, and remains the greatest “short player” of all time. But such was the price of former friendship. Good that they’re now catching up on old times.
2. Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas
They were fierce competitors not only locked in the same conference, but the same division, meaning they were guaranteed to meet at least a dozen times, including playoffs. So that’s one reason for the beef. Also, Jordan represented the flashy new-school player who threatened Isiah’s place in the game. And so we had the Jordan Freeze Out at the All-Star Game, and the Pistons Walk Off with seconds left before losing to the Bulls in the East finals, and most famously the Isiah Keep Out from the 1992 Olympic team. Again, Isiah was the loser here, and unlike the feud with Magic, there’s almost no chance of reconciliation with Jordan, who holds grudges well. At least Isiah can say he ran a team better than Jordan. Or can he? Close call there.
1. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal
This is the most damaging feud in NBA history because it robbed the Lakers of at least one championship and ruined a great dynasty. They had money, the treasures of fame, Los Angeles by the throat and the chance to leave an unmatched mark in NBA history. And yet, after title No. 3, they couldn’t be in the same room together because the “Kobe beef,” as Shaq later recounted in a rap, became too great. Kobe complained about Shaq’s lack of conditioning and Shaq complained about Kobe’s shot selection. Both were right, actually. When Kobe panicked and told police in Colorado about Shaq’s supposed off-court habits, that was the final straw. It’s shocking how they didn’t come to blows and reached the 2004 Finals anyway. Not even Jerry West and Phil Jackson could repair the damage, and mediator Brian Shaw only managed so much. The feud lasted for another two years before they finally made peace and realized the opportunity they lost. The best moment of the feud? When Shaq, during a cameo in the film parody “Scary Movie 4,” hears a frightening voice and replies, “Kobe?