As much as NBA viewers enjoy the actual basketball product on display, many who follow the league are just as intrigued by the individuals playing the game and their personalities.
Sometimes these stars, as famous and media-savvy as they can be, show their human side. Players can get heated with opponents or even teammates, as evidenced by Damian Lillard and Paul George’s recent verbal spat.
“Beef” between players both heightens the tension on the court and keeps interest high throughout the long season. While there are too many feuds throughout NBA history to count, here are 10 of the most notable.
10. Kevin Durant — Russell Westbrook
It started well before the summer of 2016. Westbrook and Durant, for as talented a duo as they were, never got over the hump. Many felt Westbrook’s incessant shooting and poor decision making at the end of games was holding the small forward back. When the Thunder blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, there was a feeling that the pair would split.
What followed was a shocking free-agent decision, one that left Westbrook “angry and hurt” and the two not speaking for months.
This feud has subsided in recent years, but in the couple seasons following Durant’s controversial departure from Oklahoma City to Golden State, it was clear Durant and Westbrook weren’t on good terms.
Westbrook even made it clear before the 2017 Finals that he would rather watch “Sister Act 2” instead of the Warriors in the Finals. A clear shot at his former teammate.
They had some unresolved issues after the breakup, and it came to a head in a game when the Thunder were blowing out the Warriors in November of 2017. After Westbrook swiped the ball from Durant, the two got into a (literal) head-to-head verbal exchange and had to be separated by teammates. It was the first significant time the two players acknowledged each other, and it fueled the fire for fans and media members who wanted a more definitive display of their issues.
Durant and Westbrook both denied there being any added tension in the matchup at the time, but they each have since opened up about their relationship issues. Durant said “I feel like I f—ed that up … I feel like I just made it a thing when it shouldn’t have been,” before the two played on the same All-Star team in 2018. Westbrook, about his interactions with Durant, said “It’s been fine. It’s been normal. Communicating, and that’s about it, you know?”
9. Reggie Miller — Spike Lee
Miller and Lee’s beef hasn’t endured over the years. The two can be seen exchanging pleasantries and laughing whenever Miller announces a Knicks game in Madison Square Garden. But back in the 1990s, fans tuned-in to see what antics the two would get into.
As discussed in an early ESPN “30 for 30,” Miller tortured New York in his heyday. Miller was known for his constant trash talk and flair for the dramatic, and Lee — always courtside for a Knicks game — was all too close to Miller’s escapades.
The two would routinely jaw at each other during the game. There was a genuine dislike between them that manifested itself on the court when Miller would reach an even higher level of play against the Knicks. The pinnacle of this beef came in the 1995 playoffs when Miller stole a game in the Garden by scoring eight points in the final 8.7 seconds of the contest, much to the dismay of Lee.
Miller even reignited their trash talk recently when he tweeted about Lee’s altercation with Knicks security last March. This beef isn’t more than skin deep at this point, but these two provided fans with several YouTube clips of them bickering.
8. LeBron James — Dan Gilbert
This one stems back to “The Decision” back in the summer of 2010. James, the hometown hero of the Cavaliers who played the first seven seasons of their career there, opted for a change of scenery. Back then it wasn’t as common for players to change teams, especially after winning back-to-back MVPs, but James had the right to do so since Cleveland couldn’t surround him with other championship-caliber teammates.
Gilbert, the Cavaliers owner, deemed it wise to then publish a scathing letter about James’ decision to leave, which included many quotable passages like calling the move a “shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our ‘motivation’ to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.”
Gilbert was fined $100,000 by the NBA, but he continued to throw shade at his former superstar, like tweeting “Congrats to Mark C. & entire Mavs org. Mavs NEVER stopped & now the entire franchise gets rings. Old Lesson for all: There are NO SHORTCUTS. NONE,” after James and the Heat lost the 2011 Finals.
Who does something like that? It was absurd at the time and even more so now since James returned to the franchise and won a title.
The letter stayed on the Cavaliers’ website right until before the summer of 2014. Many speculated that James could return to Cleveland, but issues with Gilbert made things difficult. James met with Gilbert to bury the hatchet, and it appeared the two established a working relationship from a distance.
James left Cleveland once again after the 2017-2018 season after the franchise once again couldn’t surround him with talent. It’s unlikely he’ll want to work with Gilbert again.
7. Jason Kidd — Jim Jackson — Jamal Mashburn
This beef is wild, long-winded, and shrouded in falsehoods.
These three were rising stars on a lackluster Mavericks team in the late 1990s. You may have heard about the story when Jackson allegedly stole a date with singer Toni Braxton from Kidd, but all parties involved have denied this ever happening.
Although that’s the most widely publicized reason for this young big-three’s demise, the real reason was a good ol’ fashioned clash of egos.
SB Nation has an informative video on the entire saga that goes into more depth on these three’s relationship, but the gist of it was that they all were selfish and went unchecked by a string of ill-equipped head coaches. All three wanted the team to be built around them and were frustrated by the team’s constant losing. Immaturity played a major role in this talented core imploding.
Jackson and Kidd allegedly feuded about women as well, but the most surprising aspect of this situation was the constant media bashing between these teammates. You typically don’t see guys on the same team publicly criticizing their teammates and wanting them traded — especially these days — but these three didn’t care. Everything was fair game.
6. Matt Barnes — Derek Fisher
This incident was one that blew up on Twitter at the time and had fans making memes instantly.
Barnes and Fisher were teammates on the Lakers from 2010 to 2012 and reportedly pretty close friends at the time. By the fall of 2015, Fisher was coaching the Knicks, and Barnes was preparing for Grizzlies’ training camp. Barnes was going through a divorce, and apparently, Fisher developed a relationship with the woman.
Barnes got wind that the two were in some sort of a relationship and spending a lot of time at his house with his kids, and the story goes that Barnes drove down to Los Angeles to confront his former teammate. Barnes says the drive wasn’t far, but initial reports stated he drove upwards of 95 miles to fight Fisher.
They got into a scuffle at 11:45 p.m. Barnes claims he won and then also approached his ex-wife, but pictures the next day didn’t show Fisher endured any noticeable injuries. Fisher didn’t file any charges, rather electing to repeatedly say to reporters that he likes to keep private matters private.
This beef seems to be an isolated incident but is one of the weirder and most widely-publicized feuds in recent NBA history.
5. Gilbert Arenas — Javaris Crittenton
This beef wasn’t as lengthy as some others on this list, but it reached the highest boiling point.
Arenas’ gun-related suspension is well known. The true story behind the incident, though, is somewhat clouded. Although Arenas says this isn’t his recollection of the story, then-Wizards teammate Caron Butler details the situation in his book “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA.”
He essentially describes how Arenas and Crittenton got into a dispute on the team plane over $1,100 Crittenton felt Arenas owed him from a card game in December of 2009. Arenas and Crittenton exchanged words and had to be separated, which led to them each threatening the other that they “play with guns.”
Two days later, Arenas brought out four unloaded guns in the locker room before practice and allegedly told Crittenton to pick one that he’d use to shoot him. Crittenton then reportedly pulled out his own loaded and cocked gun and pointed it at Arenas as the rest of the team fled the scene.
Both players were suspended for the rest of the 2009-2010 season and never played a significant minute in the NBA again. Crittenton was later sentenced to 23 years in prison in April of 2015 after pleading guilty to manslaughter and admitting he had joined a Los Angeles gang after being drafted by the Lakers in 2007.
4. Alonzo Mourning — Larry Johnson
These two disliked each other from the beginning. Mourning joined Johnson in Charlotte in 1992 after Johnson’s Rookie of the Year season and immediately felt slighted by the forward when Johnson flaunted his early success.
The pair was dominant on the court, but things got bad once Johnson signed an $84 million contract in 1993. Mourning began publicly complaining about the money his teammate was making and his lack of touches on offense, which led to him leaving for Miami soon after. Johnson, after suffering a back injury, also left the team or New York.
The Heat and Knicks were huge rivals in the late 1990s, if nothing else because former New York coach Pat Riley left for Miami and the teams faced each other in the playoffs four consecutive seasons.
The rivalry peaked in the 1998 playoffs when Mourning and Johnson — after years of resentment and disdain — engaged in fisticuffs near the end of Game 4. The two put forth an embarrassing display of inaccurate punching, but the most famous shot of the fight was Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy desperately grasping the leg of Charles Oakley trying to stop the altercation.
NBA scuffles are typically isolated incidents that develop throughout a single game or series, but this one was years in the making. For as much as the two feuded, you would have expected a more substantial brawl.
3. Michael Jordan — Isiah Thomas
If you watched “The Last Dance” documentary, you’re undoubtedly aware of Jordan and Thomas’ beef. The two met four straight times in the playoffs from 1988-1991, with Thomas’ “Bad Boy” Pistons employing the “Jordan Rules” tactic to beat up Jordan and defeat the Bulls.
Jordan endured some serious poundings before finally overcoming Detroit in 1991. Thomas was fearless and ruthless in his prime and would try to win by any means necessary, which included telling teammates to foul Jordan hard whenever possible. Jordan didn’t take kindly to this and repeatedly clashed with the Pistons superstar both on the court and in the media, which is the initial source of their feud.
But when the NBA was constructing the 1992 “Dream Team,” it’s been reported that Jordan and Scottie Pippen wouldn’t play on the team if Thomas was on the roster. Not wanting to hurt the team’s chemistry and needing the two Chicago superstars on the roster to recruit the league’s other great players, the NBA obliged and left the deserving Thomas off the Olympic team.
Jordan denies specifically requesting Thomas to be left off the team, but Thomas doesn’t see it that way. It’s obvious Thomas’ presence would have felt awkward alongside so many stars he tormented over the years, so you can’t only blame Jordan for Thomas’ absence. Still, the two haven’t reconciled, with Jordan referring to Thomas as an “A—hole” in the documentary.
2. Shaquille O’Neal — Kobe Bryant
O’Neal and Bryant’s beef is one of the most publicized and controversial in NBA history. The pair enjoyed extreme success in the early 2000s, including three-peating as champions, but unfortunately, let their egos get in the way of the team’s success.
Bryant, being the obsessive workhorse that he was, hated that the more gifted O’Neal didn’t work hard and was often out of shape. O’Neal, being a more lighthearted and established superstar at the time, was annoyed that a No.2 option wanted all of the spotlight.
The two frequently exchanged blows in the media, allowing the masses to fuel the fire developing in the locker room. By the 2003-2004 Finals, the two were at each other’s throats, with Bryant refusing to pass to O’Neal at times in a series in which the center was dominating his matchup and the guard was struggling to hit shots.
O’Neal wanted a contract extension after the season but made the Lakers choose between him and the younger Bryant. Los Angeles dealt O’Neal to Miami, where he won his fourth and final title in 2006, while Bryant tallied outrageous scoring numbers on mediocre Lakers teams in the next few seasons.
Fortunately, the two made amends before Byrant’s tragic death, but many wonder how many more championships the pair could have won had they set aside their differences.
1. Michael Jordan — Jerry Krause
Like Jordan’s beef with Thomas, Jordan’s issues with Bulls general manager Jerry Krause were well documented in “The Last Dance.” This feud began in 1986 and extended past Jordan’s last game for Chicago in 1998, with the Bulls somehow overcoming the two’s issues to win six championships.
In 1986, Jordan despised Krause for trying to withhold him from returning to action after breaking his foot early in the season. Krause put Jordan on a stringent minutes restriction to end the year, which infuriated the ultra-competitive Jordan. Krause wanted to tank and avoid the playoffs to earn a favorable draft pick, but Jordan willed his team to the playoffs. Once unleashed in the first round, Jordan set a playoff-record with 63 points in a game against the 67-win Celtics.
Jordan lost trust in Krause after that and continued to grow hatred for him as the years went on. Krause was always difficult to offer substantial contracts to Jordan and his teammates — particularly Pippen — and repeatedly credited the organization’s structure for the Bulls’ success instead of the players.
The tipping point came before the 1998 season when Krause told head coach Phil Jackson it’d be his last year as the team’s coach, even if he went 82-0. Jordan made it clear he didn’t want to play for any other coach, but Krause was adamant that the organization he built was bigger than any single coach or player.
Krause, for some reason, didn’t want to keep Chicago’s core of Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson together past 1998, feeling that the team’s best seasons were in the rearview mirror. Despite completing Chicago’s second three-peat in the decade, Krause stayed true to his word and let Jackson walk. Jordan then retired, Pippen went to Houston and Jackson won five more titles with the Lakers.