When you have to see your teammate day in and day out, things can start to get a little chippy, especially when you travel together, as well. Part of it has to do with the old saying “Familiarity breeds contempt,” and not everybody is going to see eye-to-eye as NBA players come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some teammates have had professional beefs, while others flat-out hated having to see each other in the locker room on a daily basis.
Then, you have those who remained great friends despite the fact that they not only weren’t playing together, but often going head-to-head in hopes of a championship. Getting along with your rivals shouldn’t be as easy as it is to get along with your teammates, but for some people it is. It’s caused some great “bromances” between rivals and memorable showdowns between teammates over the years.
But which teammates have had the most notable incidents between each other, often leading to fights? And which rivals were such good friends off of the court that it made you wonder why they never played together? Here are eight pairs of NBA teammates that absolutely hated each other, and seven rivals that weren’t actually “rivals” at all.
15 Hated Each Other: Nikola Mirotic & Bobby Portis
We start the list off with a pair of teammates that recently took their aggression out on each other, leading many to believe that the 2017-18 Bulls season was over before it even started. During an October 2017 practice, Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic started to get into it, shoving each other before Portis threw a punch that landed square. Most punches don’t result in hospital visits, but Mirotic had to be treated for fractures and a concussion.
As a result of their scuffle, Portis would end up being suspended for eight games while Mirotic missed several weeks because of his injuries. Portis issued an apology to both Mirotic and the Bulls team after the incident, but it’s clear that things are going to be awkward for the rest of the season at the best case scenario, while worst case scenario involves more paramedics.
14 Friendly Rivals: Charles Barkley & Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley had some great battles in the 1990s as two of the greatest players of their generation. Even though they were rivals that had reputations for being a little hotheaded, Barkley and Jordan were good friends off the court. They played golf together, hung out, smoked cigars and even starred in “Space Jam” at one point. Then, years after they retired, Barkley said something that made Jordan mad. Barkley said that Jordan wasn’t doing a great job of running the Hornets while on television, and Jordan took it personally. Barkley was bummed about the reaction, telling Dan LeBatard that “He was a great friend to me for a long period of time, and I love him and I miss him like a brother.”
13 Hated Each Other: Isiah Thomas & Bill Laimbeer
During his 15 seasons in the NBA (the last 13 of which were with the Detroit Pistons), Bill Laimbeer was never really known as the easiest guy to work with. While practicing with a broken rib, Isiah Thomas found that out when he took a couple of elbows to the chops. As a result, Thomas threw a punch, hitting Laimbeer in the head and breaking his hand in the process, causing him to miss several weeks. After the scuffle, Laimbeer said he was considering simply retiring from the league. They had been friendly in the years leading up to the incident, but it definitely soured their relationship to the point where the Pistons were never the same. Laimbeer would retire after playing just 11 games in the following season.
12 Friendly Rivals: Isiah Thomas & Magic Johnson
While playing against each other, Thomas and Magic Johnson were incredibly friendly, and one of the great “bromances” in NBA history. Thomas said that he cried for 15 minutes when he heard that his friend had HIV, but Thomas made some remarks that Johnson wasn’t happy with. In his book, Johnson said that Thomas questioned Johnson’s sexuality after his HIV diagnosis, causing him to blackball Thomas from joining the 1992 Olympic team. “Nobody on that team wanted to play with him,” Johnson said at the time. After a few years, the two long-time friends finally reunited in 2013, with Johnson saying that he had a great conversation with Thomas, and that he was “Glad we can be friend again.”
11 Hated Each Other: Tony Parker & Brent Barry
Spurs guard Tony Parker first met actress Eva Longoria back in 2004, and by July 2007 they were married. It only took a few months before rumours started about Parker cheating on his famous wife, and the two filed for divorce in November 2010. It turned out that the rumours of infidelity were true, and it was Parker’s own teammate that suffered. Brent Barry was playing on the Spurs at the time, and found that his wife Erin had been with Parker. Not only did Parker’s marriage with Longoria end as a result, but Barry and his wife also parted ways. Barry even attended Parker and Longoria’s wedding when it happened, and there was no way that the friendship could be reconciled, especially since Barry had moved on to Houston for his final season in 2008-09.
10 Friendly Rivals: Kevin Durant & Michael Beasley
Though they haven’t been considered among the greatest rivals in NBA history, Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley certainly drew comparisons to each other early in their careers. Part of that had to do with the fact that they had known each other since they were 11 years old, though their first meeting was a bit odd. Beasley had been the new guy on the team, and after practice had taken an entire box of pizza that the team was supposed to eat for lunch. Durant said of their friendship: “He would come over before school, after school, stay late and then leave...We’re brothers. We tell each other we love each other. We’ve been through a lot. Almost the same things.”
9 Hated Each Other: Jason Kidd & Jimmy Jackson
In the mid 1990s, the Dallas Mavericks had a lot of potential with Jason Kidd teamed alongside Jamal Mashburn and Jimmy Jackson. After just a couple of years, though, the three were split up and it’s rumoured because of something that happened between Kidd and Jackson in 1996. Kidd and singer Toni Braxton were supposed to hang out, but she backed out, causing rumours that she was involved with Jackson instead. Mashburn has talked about the rumours since then, and said that Braxton “definitely cost me relationships with Jimmy Jackson and Jason Kidd. I necessarily wouldn’t even put it on her... She played a part in it from the standpoint that she had an album out at the time (called “Secrets”). She went on the Dallas airwaves and said she doesn’t kiss and tell.”
8 Friendly Rivals: Bill Russell & Wilt Chamberlain
One of the top individual rivalries in sports history, the public eye thought that Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain hated each other on the court. This was before social media and 24-hour news, however, so we didn’t see that the two were actually great friends. “That’s always the first mistake,” Russell said years later. “We were never rivals. We were competitors. A rivalry means there is a victor and a vanquished.” The public didn’t quite see that Chamberlain and Russell were always hanging out together away from the court and even attended Thanksgiving dinner together. They would eventually have a scuffle in 1969 after Chamberlain left a game due to injury, causing Russell to say he was “copping out” while losing. Eventually, they met 20 years later and apologized.
7 Hated Each Other: Michael Jordan & Kwame Brown
One of the biggest NBA Draft busts of all-time, Kwame Brown was selected first overall in 2001 by the Washington Wizards, and never really caught on with the team. During his first two seasons in the league, Brown was paired with Michael Jordan, who had retired and come back to play with the Wizards. Rumours said that Jordan made the young player’s life a living hell in practice, and was even reported as using homophobic slurs and made Brown cry. Brown has tried to downplay the overall feud between the two, but sources (that included reporters) have said that things were always heated, and often ended with Jordan saying some very harsh things.
6 Friendly Rivals: Karl-Anthony Towns & D’Angelo Russell
In the 2015 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves made Karl-Anthony Towns the first selection out of Kentucky while the next pick was Ohio State star D’Angelo Russell heading to the Lakers. Though they didn’t play together in college, the two were close friends both before and after the draft, even if many NBA fans were hoping that they’d be bitter rivals during the new generation of players.
Russell has since gone to Brooklyn after two seasons with the Lakers, but the two hang out and train together quite often in the offseason. Towns said of his friend that “I wish him the best anytime he needs to talk to somebody. I’ve always been that brother. I’m rooting him on constantly and being that number one fan.” The two have known each other since high school, and Towns has even said that Russell is “one of the best human beings on the planet.”
5 Hated Each Other: Magic Johnson & Maurice Lucas
The late Maurice Lucas (who passed away in 2010) was known as The Enforcer, playing for nine different pro teams from 1974 to 1988, including one season with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985-86. Lucas probably could have stuck around for longer, but he and Magic Johnson weren’t getting along too well. Lucas could bully other players around, but apparently not Johnson. Johnson was reported as trying to keep Lucas in his place, challenging each other at team meetings and practice and even getting Pat Riley involved. Johnson is also rumored as saying that “I can’t play with this motherf***er anymore” during a game, asking him to bench Lucas. In their one season together, they didn’t reach the NBA Finals.
4 Friendly Rivals: The Banana Boat Squad
For years, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony were battling in the Eastern Conference to try and reach the NBA Finals. However, the three players that were all drafted in the same year (2003) remained good friends while they weren’t struggling for conference supremacy. Thrown in Chris Paul (who has never really been a direct rival) and you have the most famous group of friends in the NBA.
In fact, James and Wade are such good friends that not only would they team up in Miami, but are now playing together once again in Cleveland. In the offseason, you can usually see this group hanging out together on vacation, including one year when they were riding on a banana boat. This is why the 2003 generation of stars is known as The Banana Boat Gang by fans around the league.
3 Hated Each Other: Kobe Bryant & Shaquille O’Neal
A lot of those that hated each other while teammates never really buried the hatchet, but that’s not the case for Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The duo won three titles with the Lakers from 2000 to 2002, but certainly had their differences both on and off the court. Their divorce in 2004 was an ugly one, and O’Neal had plenty to say about Bryant after heading to the Miami Heat.
There was even the infamous “How does my a** taste” rap that O’Neal performed on stage, but the two are actually good friends now that their careers have ended. Bryant has said that he and O’Neal “have a really, really good relationship now,” while O’Neal said that there was an “athletic dislike” that was never personal seething hatred.
2 Friendly Rivals: Kevin Love & Russell Westbrook
The 2008 NBA Draft featured two UCLA teammates selected one after the other in the top five, as Russell Westbrook became the fourth pick (Oklahoma City) and Kevin Love the fifth (Minnesota via Memphis). The two were incredibly happy for each other, especially since they were beyond teammates at UCLA, they were also roommates. They’ve said that they had their differences when it came to the dorm room thermostat, but the differences ended there.
The two train in the offseason despite being on different teams, as Westbrook has said that “Sometimes you meet somebody and it just clicks, and that’s what happened with me and him.” They’ll hang out for dinner and still speak to each other, reportedly at least once per week. Love has said that Westbrook is “stubborn” about some things, but they’re still tight.
1 Hated Each Other: Gilbert Arenas & Javaris Crittenton
You know things are bad in the locker room when you’re pulling guns on your teammate, which is what happened between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton when they were with the Washington Wizards. When the two were arguing over a gambling debt (which was reported to be $1,100) on a team plane, they told each other that they “play with guns” after the plane had landed.
The next day during practice, the team arrived to see Arenas standing in front of his locker with four guns. Caron Butler said Arenas then challenged Crittenton, saying “Hey motherf***er, come pick one. I’m going to shoot your a** with one of these.” Then, Crittenton said “you don’t need to shoot me with one of those. I’ve got one right here,” pulling out his own gun and pointing it at Arenas, and he even cocked it. Arenas’s guns weren’t loaded, but Crittenton’s was. Needless to say, both players got into huge trouble both with the team and the law.