Notorious BIG put it best, “What’s Beef?!”
Well, to answer that in today’s NBA depends on what generation you are talking about. Back in the day, beef was a spat on the floor, smack talk, or full on flying fists! These days, the biggest baller conflicts are over peripheral, often non-basketball issues, and even more often happening off the court!
True, a lot of the greatest public feuds of all time are petty or inconsequential. But when looking at NBA players and their beefs, it becomes clear that most of the time it’s not only about pride, but about loyalty, business and foul play. Sounds more like the premise for a mob flick or an episode of Game of Thrones than a basketball conflict. As long as there has been competitive edge, there will be fights and hard-feelings. But there is one element that makes today’s feuds even more bombastic...
It’s no surprise that with the tidal proliferation of smart phones and instant news, the barrier between players and the world has become paper thin, and the result is easy baiting, short fuses and you guessed it... major beefs! So let’s break down some barriers and see who hates who the most in this modern day NBA...
15 Dallas and DeAndre
Somehow DeAndre Jordan managed to piss off not one, but two fan bases in the summer of 2016. After agreeing to a verbal contract to leave the Clippers for Dallas, the Mavs’ fan base couldn’t have really asked for more. They had secured themselves a young center who could rebound and defend the rim better than anyone in the league. However, after a mental breakdown of epic proportions, DJ decided not to return to his home state and instead break his verbal agreement and resign with the Clippers. Now the Clipper fans are like, “wait, what?!?” This nearly unprecedented move did eventually fade in the minds of LA denizens but Dallas didn’t forget quickly, making sure to boo DeAndre 3000 prominently each time he has returned, and of course, absolutely tear into him on social media.
14 Wade and Riley
It was a sad day when Dwyane Wade left South Beach, not just because the fans had to bid farewell to their hero who had helped captured three championships in his thirteen seasons with the franchise, but because it was such an embittered break up. After years of taking less money to keep the franchise relevant and in contention, Wade publicly insisted that the team should finally pay up, giving him the max deal that he and most of the basketball world felt he deserved. Unfortunately, Pat Riley had other plans. To be fair, Riley has been widely considered one of the most prescient and insightful basketball minds, consistently keeping the Heat relevant throughout multiple rebuilds. However, in the end it was business that got the best of Wade and Riley’s marriage. Now with rumors of a Chicago Bulls Wade buyout on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how Riley plays his cards in possibly trying to bring D Wade back to South Beach.
13 DC and Boston
The Wizards and the Celtics rivalry in the last few seasons has had all the drama one could ask for: John Wall calling their match up a funeral, several on-court scuffles, Jae Crowder taunting the franchise-centerpiece John Wall, a seven game playoff dogfight, and even a playoff fight between two grown men named Kelly! Really! Well, given the both teams making a push at taking the Eastern Conference the past few seasons, combined with the vitriolic demeanor of players like Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, John Wall and Bradley Beal, this conflict is interesting yes, but not a surprise either. Things really boiled over when Washington’s small forward Kelly Oubre flat out decked Boston center Kelly Olynyk in the midst of their Eastern Conference Semi-Final duel. Suspensions were doled out, players were reprimanded, but one thing is for sure, both teams are working on the same goal: figuring a way around LeBron James! To add even more fuel to the fire, the two teams now roster the Markeiff and Marcus Morris, the once allied twin brothers, who will be forced to match up in what is likely to be a dirty showdown this season.
12 Draymond’s Leg and Steven Adams/Allan Crabbe/James Harden
In case you’re very late to the party, the news is in: Draymond Green has a strange affinity for kicking other men’s crotches. Before this gets much uglier, understand that this trend got “kicked off” when he nailed OKC center Steven Adams right in the crotch last Spring. In the 2017 campaign, the Warrior’s point forward made countless attempts and hits on other players’ crotches. Simply put, he is an idiot. Not only has the league investigated his claim of the kicks being a part of his basketball-related repertoire, but he has made himself a huge target for criticism and made a lot of enemies along the way.
11 Barkley and LeBron
If there is one thing the undisputed king of the basketball world doesn’t want to hear in the midst of a frustrating losing streak, it’s the truth. That is just what Hall of Famer and commentator Charles Barkley served him. This feud has a long history, but in most recent times it is centered around LeBron not appreciating Barkley’s analysis of why the Cavs were (and basically still are) struggling! LeBron is not a GM... be he sure acts like one! Barkley simply pointed out that Bron had overpaid for several players who he has relationships with, such as JR Smith and Tristan Thompson, but in his frustrated request for a playmaker, James was realizing that they simply can’t afford one! How did James respond? With a viciously personal (and arguably skewed) recounting of some of Barkley’s lowest moments in his career, including his gambling problems and telling kids that he is not a role model. Barkley in his age and wisdom took the high road, but this conflict isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Stay tuned for more this season!
10 OKC You Later! Westbrook and Durant
Honestly, despite the ridiculously salty departure, Russell Westbrook probably has a lot to thank Kevin Durant for. Although he was a step further away from contention this year, he still has plenty of prime left in the tank and this provided him with the fuel to average a triple double this season, and to take his dominance to the next level. This is the same Westbrook that Michael Jordan claimed to identify with most out of any player in the modern NBA. Is it personal between KD and Westy? You can bet it is. But there’s a lot to this story.
KD gave the franchise everything he had, and the product they were putting on the floor was confused and contradictory— buying into a score-first player like Enes Kanter when they had two of the hugest scoring machines in basketball already, losing James Harden, losing Reggie Jackson, letting Serge Ibaka take 3s: overall, the whole organization was entirely lucky and blatantly mismanaged. That said, the circumstance of walking away to join the team that just beat you in the Western Conference Finals will no doubt make the loss of one of the league’s greatest historic talents all the more salty. OKC will always hate KD, and so will the great Russell Westbrook.
9 De’Angelo Russell and Nick Young
A huge teammate no-no, and a classic distracted generation Z move -- allowing a recorded video of a teammate admitting to cheating on his fiance, without his permission, to end up on social media. How did it come to this? Then-rookie DeAngelo Russell crossed the line big time and broke the bro-code in the worst way. What started in a typical locker-room prank war, ended in a huge public relations story. In a way, this isn’t very petty at all... if someone is caught cheating, let it be due to their own mistakes. The 20 year old now-Brooklyn Net is no longer a teammate of Young’s, who has since moved on the Warriors. One thing is for sure however, that relationship is beyond repair.
8 LeBron and Kyrie Irving
What happened in Cleveland this summer? Nobody seems to know, but one thing that can’t be included in that answer is big free-agency additions. Whiffs would be one thing, but it seemed as now ex-GM David Griffin didn’t even attempt to shake things up this summer after Cleveland lost to the Warriors. Since then, a lot of questionable reports have been made about the relationship between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Although many of those reports may be untrue, one thing is certain, Kyrie has requested a trade, and the buzz for LeBron leaving Cleveland in 2018 again has never been louder. Whether the two had a leadership qualm or not, nobody seems to know. But since they are both reticent to clarify the situation, it seems clear that by allowing the public image of the franchise to become tarnished, the two are sending a clear message: this marriage isn’t working out! Where Kyrie Irving will land this summer is still unclear, but when he does leave (as many predict he will), when he and LeBron face off during the season the tension will be at an all time high!
7 Draymond Green and Paul "The Truth" Pierce
Once again, Draymond Green can not seem to stay out of trouble. The kicking issue seemed to be the worst of his problems, until a game against the Clippers proved to be one of his lowest and most unfavorable moments. It was during this game that Draymond decided to sound off to Paul Pierce, letting him know that his retirement farewell tour isn’t much compared to Kobe Bryant’s of the season before. Now, Paul Pierce is widely considered to be one of the most beloved icons in modern basketball, and his retirement was indeed a huge deal as he toured the country one last time. True: Kobe is a greater player. But classless would be an understatement for what Draymond Green said. Now as a frequent commentator, Pierce will have plenty of opportunity to fire back at Green as he enters his prime. Now that’s beef!
6 Serge Ibaka and Robin Lopez
Being one of the least expected stories of last season, Lopez and Ibaka still produced a fight better than you could hope for in a boxing ring! Ibaka known for being a laid back guy, and Lopez known for goofing around with each team’s mascot, when fists started flying last March between the two centers it was one of the most graphic images of the season. Not only did they connect on a punch each, but it seemingly took the entire squad to hold back the powerhouses respectively. Though the two had no previous conflict or history, it will certainly be interesting to see how they compete with each other this season.
5 Shaqtin' a Fool versus Javale McGee
“Shaqtin a Fool” has become one of the most popular TV segments where the Hall of Fame center calls out players for their boneheaded plays, and Shaq’s success can largely be attributed to the oft-confused Javale McGee. Javale’s antics has left the basketball world with a loss for words at times, as he has accidentally run the wrong way on the court, passed the ball out of bounds, and overall just been out to lunch frequently during NBA games. It’s no surprise then, that the guy has struggled to find a home in the NBA despite his elite athleticism and shot blocking ability. Nonetheless, the beef here fired up to a new level when Javale got very defensive over Shaq’s direct and aggressive tweets, pulling out the big guns and saying Shaq was “cooning” -- an offensive term of the highest orders. McGee was essentially saying that Shaq was pandering to a white audience by making fun of black men. It got pretty ugly from there, but inevitably Shaq backed off when his mom called him and said enough is enough. It put Shaq in a negative light, so in this case, Mama knew best!
4 Battle of the Vocal Leaders: LeBron and Draymond
This one is hard to miss, as the two players are respectively the vocal leaders on both sides of the league’s undisputed biggest rivalry in the modern day. But, it goes deeper than just jawing off on the court. Dating back to the 2016 Finals, when Green swiped at LeBron’s crotch in the 2016 Finals after he stepped over him (a move the basketball world considers huge disrespect), this beef has longevity! Perhaps the move was even more clearly deliberate in that LeBron’s coach at the time was none other than Tyrone Lue: yea, the guy from the Lakers who Allen Iverson famously stepped over in the 2001 Finals after hitting a clutch dagger. Fast-forward to over a year later, and Draymond sparked LeBron’s fury when he wore a t-shirt to the Warriors Championship Parade with the word “Quicky” on it, styled after the Quicken Loans Arena the Cavs play at. Mostly a jab at how quickly they polished off the Cavs this year, Bron was quick to fire back with a petty “that’s what she said...” on twitter. Honestly, this plays out more like a plot line for teen basketball drama TV show “One Tree Hill” than a feud between some of the NBA’s heaviest hitters. Whelp, that’s what 2017 has to offer!
3 The Knicks vs. Their Own Icon, Charles Oakley
In case you were born after the 90s, meet Charles Oakley: take the attitude of Westbrook, the rebounding prowess of Andre Drummond, the grit and grind of Tony Allen, and put him in blue and orange. Despite being born way before the late 1990’s, Knick owner James Dolan seems to have forgotten what this guy stands for to New Yorkers… At a home game during the past season, one of the greatest disrespects ever to be seen in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, was issued to the Knick icon: he was asked to leave a game (that he purchased his own ticket to) for reasons undetermined. Now, Oak is certainly no saint. There are many reports that he was pretty liquored up at the time. But regardless, he and owner James Dolan are beyond the point of repairing their relationship. Looking back at this situation, there is one thing that can be determined: as long as James Dolan owns the Knicks, they will struggle to succeed.
2 The Knicks vs. Their Current Stars: Porzingis, Melo
This is a tough pill to swallow for anyone who bleeds blue and orange, but the Knicks simply are cruising in self-destruct mode. They’re like Al Pacino in “Any Given Sunday” -- turning away anyone who has ever loved them or could actually help them. While the “Melo-Drama” of Phil Jackson is over, the scars he left behind don’t hold a candle to the contradictory and downright ugly way the Knicks historically have treated super stars. The fact that the word “trade” and “Porzingis” has even been whispered in the same sentence since Jax has been relieved of his GM duties is simply ludicrous. Yet, a recent report claimed that the Knicks would only get rid of Zinger for Kyrie if the Cavs took on Joakim Noah’s ridiculous contract... (pops Extra Strength Advil) Yea. It’s bad. Meanwhile, reports of Carmelo wanting to be traded to Houston remain strong, and while the Knicks have all but packed his bags for him, there’s almost no scenario that doesn’t involve four teams and a wildly altruistic imagination landing Melo anywhere but in NYC again next season. Both players are frustrated, understandably. With the media attention New York knows how to garner, this is one of the most pronounced beefs in today’s NBA.
1 Cavs and Warriors
Listen: This year marked the third consecutive appearance between the same two teams in the NBA Finals. And despite the ridiculousness of it, that has literally never happened. No, not even the Celtics versus the Lakers. Go google it, I’ll wait here... see? The Warriors are doing something to this NBA that hasn’t happened in a long time, which is revolutionizing the way teams can score and the way individual players can thrive. Curry set the tone for his sharp shooting teammates to shoot the deep deep three frequently, and not in a forced-scenario either. Meanwhile, the Cavs offer something revolutionary as well... LeBron James. This is truly a battle between the dawn of the 3-ball era and the tail-end of the Jordan era. It’s interesting, intriguing, deeply dividing (well, what isn’t these days?), and most of all, it’s giving the NBA a reason to continue growing in the global forum. These two teams have a long history of bad blood, including the Cavs Halloween party with “RIP Warriors 3-1 Lead” decorations, and of course, that competitive edge to be the best.
In the end of the day, despite the painful realities of some of the friction around the league, this type of stuff is what fuels the rivalries, makes them personal, and brings out the human element of the game!