Even though we still think of basketball being nothing more than a game, the locker rooms in the National Basketball Association (NBA) are just like any other work place: there are going to be co-workers who are going to end up becoming your closest friends, and there are co-workers whom you’ll simply never get along with, no matter how important it is or how much you’re paid to do so.
And because everything that happens in professional sports gets reported publicly, those personality clashes are only amplified. In some cases, those “beefs” can be awful enough to destroy entire teams, if not derail existing dynasties.
Let’s take a look at 20 of the biggest feuds between NBA teammates:
LeBron James vs. Delonte West
Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals is a game that will forever live in infamy in the hearts of the fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers, even if LeBron James did return back “home” to deliver said fans an NBA Championship. It’s no so much about the fact that the Celtics — the hated rivals of James and the Cavaliers — upset top-seeded Cleveland, to win the series in six games. It’s about the fact that James’ 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 assists don’t come close to telling the story of how he quit on his team when the game was at its most critical juncture.
Why did he quit? There were swirling rumors about discord and hostilities between James and Delonte West, stemming from allegations that West may have engaged in some type of relationship — with varying rumors about the extent of said relationship — with James’ mother. It’s one of the most amazing urban legends in NBA history, and it was one that helped push James out the door from Cleveland, and to the Miami Heat.
Nick Young vs D’Angelo Russell
A “beef” born of modern technology. Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell briefly stole any headlines associated with the Los Angeles Lakers away from Kobe Bryant, when Russell posted a video on the popular social media application Snapchat, in which Russell basically baited Young into admitting he cheated on fiancée Iggy Azalea.
For a while, Young and other Lakers veterans basically “froze out” Russell, refusing to associate or even speak with him for a period of time, as his punishment for breaking the code of trust for what goes on in NBA locker rooms.
Jimmy Butler vs. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins
Jimmy Butler is the epitome of the double-edged sword NBA teammate — he’s the type of guy you want on your team because of his work ethic and desire for wining, but he’s also the guy on your team who makes everyone else miserable for those same reasons. Tom Thibodeau brought Jimmy Butler to Minnesota to help instill a sense of culture with the young Timberwolves, and teach young franchise cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins about what it takes to be a playoff team.
But Butler’s abrasive style, coupled with Towns and Wiggins immaturity (as well as the fact that the latter two were first to receive lucrative contract deals over Butler), led to Bulter eventually going nuclear on the team, basically calling everyone in the organization “soft” and demanding to be traded.
Ruben Patterson vs. Zach Randolph
The Portland Trail Blazers of the early 2000’s were well-known for being a team that employed seemingly a whole roster full of hot heads. So, it’s natural that two of them would clash with each other. In 2003, during an otherwise routine practice, notorious hot-head Ruben Patterson was scuffling with young teammate Qyntel Woods, and said scuffle escalated into Patterson getting decked by forward Zach Randolph (who has always been the type of guy to not take anything from anyone).
Patterson would continue to brush the Trail Blazers organization the wrong way during his five seasons there, though Randolph was far from a saint himself.
Bobby Portis vs. Nikola Mirotic
Two guys who would otherwise be a member of the NBA’s D-List (and that might be generous), Bobby Ports and Nikola Mirotic of the Chicago Bulls became headline names in 2017, when the former punched the latter got into an altercation at practice after incessant jawing at one another. Unsurprisingly, the feud led to a physical exchange, with Portis punching Mirotic in the face, leaving the latter with a fractured orbital bone and a concussion.
Even after being suspended, Portis initially refused to apologize for the incident, though he did so publicly a bit later. Of course, that meant virtually nothing to Mirotic, who eventually demanded that the Bulls could move on with only Mirotic or Portis, but not both. One season later, Mirotic was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Kevin Durant vs. Draymond Green
If Kevin Durant were to leave the Golden State Warriors at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 NBA Season, NBA archaeologists will point to the spat between himself and the extra-emotional Draymond Green in November of 2018 as one of the main inciting points. Their blow up, which came as a result of all the rumors about Durant’s impending departure from the Bay Area at season’s end, was seen by many as Green voicing what many of his teammates were saying privately, and led to endless chatter around the team about Durant’s future.
More importantly, it turned one of the most beloved stars in the league (Durant) into a public malcontent.
Chris Paul vs. Blake Griffin
While nobody can deny that Chris Paul is one of the best point guards in the NBA over the past decade-plus (if not among the very best of all-time), the “win-at-all-costs” competitor has earned a rightful reputation for being notoriously difficult to play alongside, because of his devotion to winning. Plenty of people have insinuated, indirectly or directly, that Paul was an awful teammate. And Blake Griffin was often the prime subject of Paul’s prickly demeanor, while the two played on the Los Angeles Clippers.
Many people around the NBA saw Griffin as someone who was as much interested in enjoying the perks of being a famous athlete in Los Angeles as he was being a top player in the league, and the continued shortcomings of the Clippers led to a very tense — if not destructive — relationship between LA’s two top players.
James Harden vs. Dwight Howard
For all of his career accomplishments and accolades, Dwight Howard will forever be known as that uncle who comes to visit, makes everything fun for a short time initially, but then overstays his visit and suddenly makes you count days until he leaves. That happened in his two previous stops (Orlando and Los Angeles), After the two worked together to win 56 games and take the Houston Rockets to the Western Conference Finals in the 2015 NBA Finals, the following season was a complete disaster.
It got to the point where the two players were barely on speaking terms, especially given how the team knew Harden was the centerpiece of the offense, but Howard insisted on being treated as such. That tumult led to former head coach Kevin McHale getting fired, and lending greater credence to the idea of Howard being a coach-killer.
David Robinson vs. Dennis Rodman
You have to look far and wide to find anything uttered by San Antonio Spurs’ legend David Robinson, when it comes to Dennis Rodman. But that’s mostly because that’s the type of human being Robinson generally is. But it’s no secret that Robinson, who was the embodiment of the Spurs culture as much as anyone, couldn’t fare well on the same team as Dennis Rodman, the latter of whom never met a rule he didn’t actively try to break.
Rodman routinely biased Robinson for being the reason the Spurs would come up short in the playoffs, and when the Spurs finally traded Rodman to the Chicago Bulls, head coach Gregg Popovich called the move “addition by subtraction.”
Kevin Garnett vs. Stephon Marbury
Can a feud be one-sided? Because if so, that’s the case here. For all the people Kevin Garnett has gone out of his way to antagonize over the course of his career, former teammate Stephon Marbury was not one of them. If anything, it was Marbury who couldn’t stand to be in Garnett’s shadow, when the two of them played for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Not content to being Garnett’s tag-team partner on one of the most young and promising teams in the Western Conference, Marbury’s jealousy of Garnett’s large contract extension — and Marbury’s belief that he could be a bigger star if he played in a market besides Minnesota — led to him demanding a trade out of town.
LeBron James vs. Kevin Love
If you’re wondering why other NBA players aren’t lining up to play with LeBron James when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, look no further than the way James treated Kevin Love. After effectively making Cleveland’s acquisition of Love (who played for the Minnesota Timberwolves at the time) the move that needed to be made if James was to return to Cleveland, James then spent the next few years in Cleveland publicly antagonizing Love, when the latter struggled to find his role as the “third wheel” alongside James and Irving.
Most famously, James took to social media to take a veiled shot at Love, demanding that the latter not try to “fit out,” but instead “fit in.”
Shaquille O’Neal vs Kobe Bryant
Once dubbed the “biggest travesty in sports” by NBA onlookers, the feud between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant lasted for the better part of a decade, and remained the biggest storyline amidst a potential Los Angeles Lakers dynasty in the early 2000’s. It was a simply a matter of two great players, two enormous ego’s, and two vastly different personalities not being able to relinquish their “alpha dog” status on the team. As the biggest personality — figuratively, and literally — on those great Lakers teams, O’Neal went out of his way to state the fact that the Lakers were his team, and that any success the team had coincided with O’Neal’s success.
However, as O’Neal began to break down physically (from all the pounding he would take year after year), and as Bryant’s abilities continued to grow, the latter resented how the former’s playing skills diminished, but his ego hadn’t. It all finally came to a head when Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchack traded away O’Neal after the 2004 season, per his request, as O’Neal was highly displeased with the fact that the Lakers were not going to bring back Phil Jackson, and believed that the franchise wanted to make Bryant their centerpiece.
Gilbert Arenas vs Javaris Crittendon
NBA players take their card games, and subsequent gambling debts among themselves, very seriously. For instance, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon’s initial argument started over a $1,100 pot in a game of cards they played as members of the Washington Wizards. The argument over said game continued on and on, only to get more heated as time went on. Eventually, Arenas threatened to settle the issue through the use of weapons, and followed through on that threat by actually bringing four pistols into the Wizards locker room, and telling Crittendon to pick one (and that he was going to shoot Crittendon anyway).
Crittendon instead brandished his own pistol, cocked it, and pointed it right back at Arenas. Eventually, teammate Caron Butler was able to help diffuse the situation, but the entire thing was just a culmination of a Wizards season careening off the tracks anyway.
Tony Allen vs OJ Mayo
Guard Tony Allen has never been one to shy away from conflicts, and has generally been one of the players in the NBA whose bad side you’d like to prefer. But, former Memphis Grizzlies teammate O.J. Mayo decided to tempt fate, when he not only refused to pay a debt of approximately $1,000 or so, which he lost to Allen in a card game, but then became belligerent towards Allen in a fit of anger about losing.
Mayo wouldn’t stop going off on Allen, even after Allen warned him to shut his mouth, so Allen went ahead and shut it for him by punching him in the face. Mayo was later seen with a swollen face, as a result of the haymaker delivered from Allen.
Jason Kidd vs Jim Jackson
The moribund Dallas Mavericks hoped that their “Tree J’s” trio of Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn, and Jim Jackson would resurrect the team out of purgatory. However, in the two-plus seasons that the trio were together, Kidd and Jackson simply could not co-exist. But, where the plot really thickened between the two was the date — and date that never happened — with R&B singer Toni Braxton.
The story goes that Braxton appeared at the Mavericks team hotel one evening, to go on a date with Kidd, but ended up leaving that evening with Jackson instead. Shortly after, Kidd gave an ultimatum to the Mavericks front office: either Jackson was traded, or Kidd would demand a trade. The Mavericks acquiesced to the latter, trading Kidd to the Phoenix Suns in just his third season in the NBA.
Larry Johnson vs Alonzo Mourning
Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning were the first and second picks (respectively) in the 1991 and 1992 drafts, taken by the Charlotte Hornets. Initially, Johnson went out of his way to let Mourning know that the Hornets were his team, as Johnson won the 1991 Rookie of the Year award, and Mourning didn’t. Even though the two were supposed to the cornerstones of an up-and-coming Hornets team that won 50 games at its peak, their battles for “top dog” badly damaged what could have been a very bright future.
After Mourning rejected contract extension offer with Charlotte, and with Johnson losing a step due to a back injury he suffered, Charlotte ended up trading both players between 1995 and 1996.
LeBron James vs. Kyrie Irving
This feud started from the moment that LeBron James arrived in Cleveland, but came to a head in the summer of 2017. Immediately after James returned back to Cleveland in 2014, he clashed with Kyrie Irving, as he viewed the latter as being something of a selfish player, who was more about himself and his own statistics, at the expense of making his teammates better. Irving eventually began maturing as a player, but chafed under James’ constant prodding, criticism, and condescension.
Knowing that James could potentially leave Cleveland after the 2017-2018 season, and highly miffed at the idea that Cleveland would consider shopping him in the first place, Irving demanded a trade by the Cavaliers in the summer of 2017, leading to the deal that sent him to the Boston Celtics.
Kobe Bryant vs Dwight Howard
Similar to another seven-foot center who led the Orlando Magic to an NBA Finals appearance, Dwight Howard demanded a trade out of Orlando. The Magic again granted his wishes, trading Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, to (ironically) play alongside Kobe Bryant. In what shouldn’t be any surprise, Bryant absolutely loathed Howard’s lackadaisical attitude towards winning (compared to Bryant’s pathological competitiveness).
Similar to his feuds with Shaq roughly one decade earlier, Howard insinuated Bryant was a “ball hog” while Bryant publicly stated that winning championships is not synonymous with being the most popular guy in the locker room — a shot at Howard’s fun-loving (and borderline childish) nature. After just two seasons in Los Angeles, Howard left town, signing with the Houston Rockets.
Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook
When both players were still teammates, the media tried to paint a picture of discord between former Oklahoma City Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, even though they both vehemently denied as such. When Durant won his MVP award, he publicly praised Westbrook’s work ethic in that speech.
But when Durant left Oklahoma City in the summer of 2016, and Westbrook later re-upped with the team via an extension, the bad blood between the two eventually came out, especially after a few very public moments of jawing back and forth with each other when their teams played.
Shaquille O’Neal vs Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway
Between 1993 and 1995, there might not have been a more electrifying team in the NBA than the Orlando Magic. The insanely young and talented duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway led Orlando to three straight playoff appearances, including an NBA Finals appearance in 1995. But O’Neal eventually began to grow resentful of all the attention Hardaway received from the media and fans, and this jealousy was only exacerbated when a poll published in the Orlando Sentinel resulted in over 91% of respondents saying O’Neal wasn’t worth the $115 million contract extension he was looking for in free agency.
O’Neal groused that the Magic wanted make Hardaway their centerpiece, and subsequently signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.