We’ve all been there and it’s terribly uncomfortable. A situation where someone says or does something highly inappropriate without thinking and what results is dead silence. This is the type of silence that makes one want to sink out of their chair, teleport themselves to another dimension or jump into a DeLorean and go back in time—anything to avoid the utter discomfort of finding themselves in an awkward moment. No amount of forced chuckles or subject changing can save one from a humiliating awkward moment; you basically have to swallow the bitter pill and move on.
It’s a different story when you’re in sports and awkward moments take place. On live TV, there are cameras capturing the moment as it unfolds for live television, and unfortunately it’s unscripted and there are no take-backs or do-overs. The athletes and coaches will never be able to escape the embarrassment of an awkward incident that likely becomes immortalized on YouTube and relived for years to come.
Indeed, for all the times our NBA heroes have inspired us or brought us to our feet in amazement, they have also dazzled us with their uncanny ability to make us cringe. Sometimes, the cringe level is so off the charts that the moments themselves go down in history. Which brings us to this groan-inducing list.
Below are some noteworthy examples of some of the most painfully cringeworthy moments that the NBA has ever captured. We dare you to get through this list without wincing.
31 Nick Young Shoots A Three, Confident He Made It... It Bricked
When you’re getting into a good rhythm on the court, it may feel like the rim is a mile wide and you can’t miss. That’s how Nick Young felt in the middle of a blowout game in 2014 versus the Knicks when Swaggy P launched a three pointer and turned away from the goal to celebrate, certain that he had swished the shot only to realize a second later he had missed.
The moment took place at the tail end of a Laker record 51 point fourth quarter when Nick Young, who contributed to the blowout by nailing 5 straight three pointers, took another three point jumper and turned his back to the basket to raise his arms and flash the three pointer hand single. In hilarious fashion, the ball would clang in and out and Young would have to cut the premature showboating short to get back on defense.
It’s not something that Young should hang his head in shame about though, but it was funny nevertheless.
29 Mavs Players Getting In The Way Of Westbrook’s Dancing Routine
Russell Westbrook is known for being an absolute monster on the basketball court. He’s also known for his eccentric sense of style and even more eccentric pre-game rituals consisting of a whole lot of silly synchronized dancing with fellow teammates. As ridiculous as the little dance number is, it apparently works to get Russell pumped for the game and try for another triple double. However, during the 2016 playoffs, some Dallas Maverick players may have been fed up with Russell’s little dance party and decided to try and crash it.
Mavs players Charlie Villanueva and Justin Anderson walk in between Russell Westbrook's pre-game routine and are given light shoves out of the way by an annoyed Russell. Villanueva would make some comments in the media criticizing the dancing after the video of the awkward exchange went viral. Westbrook and the Thunder weren’t bothered and would respond by eliminating the Mavs in convincing fashion.
27 Robinson Jumping All Over Pierce
In the closing minutes of a heated back and forth matchup, every possession counts. These are moments both fans and players live for; a potential clutch play that will deflate or erupt a rabid crowd and fire up teammates. Usually if one is successful, there’s high fives all around, chest bumps, smacks on the rear and all kinds of amped up celebrations. Sometimes a player joins in with his congratulatory teammates and revels in the game-changing play. Other times, a player is so in the zone he disregards any pats on the back. This was one of those instances.
In 2010, the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks were playing down to the wire in a close game. In the final possession, the ball was in Paul Pierce’s hands and as customary of “The Truth”, he was able to seal the game with a clutch jumper. With the games decided, Paul Pierce ran to the other end of the court like an airplane to showboat his great play. Teammate Nate Robinson wanted to celebrate with Pierce and jump on his back, but apparently, Pierce wasn’t interested. What resulted was an awkwardly hilarious sequence that nearly broke Nate’s neck. Hopefully Nate has learned something from this and will keep his feet planted to the ground rather than his face and celebrate safely.
25 Kevin Love/Wesley Johnson Handshake Attempt
In the NBA it’s customary for teammates to show solidarity and support with frequent handshakes. Some get cute and do special handshakes that have all sorts of gestures and movements in them that they may have spent more time on choreography than practicing their shot. During free throws though, most teams keep it simple and give a quick supportive handshake whether a players makes or misses the shot. Easy peasy, right?
Apparently not for former Minnesota Timberwolves teammates Kevin Love and Wesley Johnson who found themselves in a painfully awkward handshake-gone-wrong that would never end (or did it ever even really begin?). Johnson would try to go for a handshake, but Love would take too long to approach. Once Love was ready, Johnson looked to have given up on it. When Johnson noticed that Love had extended his hand, he looked to come back but the distance was too much that he once again disengaged. Finally they would meet up to awkwardly seal the deal. Yes, I just provided a play-by-play of the entire charade.
23 Dick Bavetta and Charles Barkley Race, Then Kiss
NBA All-Star weekend is a time for all the fans and players of basketball to take a break from the hard grind of the NBA season and just have a little fun. There’s usually a good slew of activities set-up annually before Sunday’s traditional All-Star game. We have the Dunk Contest and 3 Point Contest, there’s the yearly celebrity game that takes place and other fun little events. But sometimes the NBA decides to hold an event no one really cares to see featuring people no one wants to see.
That’s what happened in 2007 when the NBA held a race for charity between NBA referee and senior citizen Dick Bavetta and NBA legend Charles Barkley. The whole race was inconsequential and unnecessary and was capped off with a kiss on the lips between Barkley and Bavetta. NBA may have been going for comedy but it was mostly just uncomfortable and weird for the live audience and for those watching at home.
The moment did provide a funny moment where Shaq would tease Barkley on television over the incident by stating, “You kissed Dick in the mouth.”
21 Draymond Green Snaps On Reporter Over Terrible Flood Question
In another instance of “dumb reporter questions” a reporter was put on blast by Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green at the game 4 post-game press conference of the 2016 NBA playoffs. The Warriors had just beaten the Houston Rockets on the road in Houston. The city of Houston at the time was going through a second straight year of dangerous thunderstorms and flooding during playoff time. The reporter apparently felt the outcome of the game was decided by Mother Nature and asked a question so foolish and insensitive, it went viral.
The reporter words were, "So last year you visit (Houston), Game 3 there's no flood, you win. Game 4, there was flood, you lose. This year you visit (Houston) ... Game 3 there's a flood, you lose. Game 4, there's no flood, you win ..." It was there that Draymond would stop the reporter and go off on him regarding his insensitivity and attempt to trivialize the floods that had claimed lives. It was embarrassing journalism and the Chinese reporter was fired as a result, thankfully.
19 Westbrook Ends Interview Due to Stupid Question
Elite point guard Russell Westbrook isn’t the most media friendly athlete and has often shown his disdain for pre- and post-game interviews, with this clip above we now know why. After taking a loss against the Utah Jazz, a clearly disappointed Westbrook was finishing up getting dressed in the locker room as reporters surrounded him to ask questions. It only took one idiotic question from a reporter to make Westbrook snap and end the interview because he felt the reporters were “trippin”.
The reporter asked one of those stupidly worded questions and was reamed for it, "Did you guys lose this game, or did the Jazz win this one?" Westbrook would respond in classic fashion: a disgusted look upon his face and a confused drawn out “WHAAAAT?” before turning his back on the reporters and saying “I’m out man. Y’all N***** trippin”. You can’t help but laugh and cringe at the same time from the absurdity of the question and Westbrook’s reaction.
17 Pistons Leave Bulls Hanging, Refuse to Shake Hands After ECF Loss
The playoff atmosphere can get pretty intense between teams trying desperately to advance to win a championship. However, as chippy and physical as things get on the court, in the end when the series is decided, it’s customary for both teams and coaches to meet up and shake hands in a show of sportsmanship.
This wouldn’t happen in 1991 when the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons would walk off the court against their bitter rivals The Chicago Bulls after they were swept. The Pistons were the force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference and had won back to back championships in 1989 and 1990. The Bulls though were gradually getting better over the years and grooming themselves to overtake the Pistons as the new Eastern Conference heavyweight. They would shock the defending champs with a 4 game sweep.
When the final buzzer sounded, one by one they Pistons quickly whisked past the Chicago Bulls’ bench, some not even making eye contact. The Bulls watched in awkward amazement as they were totally ignored and denied handshakes. It was butt-hurt sore loserism at its worst.
15 LeBron Goes To South Beach, Cleveland Backlash
The NBA has seen plenty of blockbuster moves made over its 70 year history but the LeBron James departure from Cleveland in 2010 was a particularly noteworthy one because of the hype and buzz created by the King himself. Lebron was the hometown darling on the Cavaliers and the team basically was his. The front office catered to his every whim. When he demanded the front office to make some moves, they did. When he wanted a coach gone, they swiftly sent the man packing. The team did everything to keep LeBron happy and content in Cleveland but in 2010 he still left them for the Miami Heat
What made the move so unprecedented was the length that LeBron went to just let the world know where he was going with an unnecessary and narcissistic live televised special known as “The Decision”. After the announcement was made that James was taking “his talents to South Beach”, Cleveland fans burned his jersey and Cavaliers GM Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing public letter which ripped into LeBron. Needless to say, it created an awkward public fiasco that made James the most disliked athlete in sports. It took a few years, an apology, a return to Cleveland and a championship ring but it looks like finally bygones are bygones with LeBron and Cleveland.
13 Scottie Pippen Refuses To Enter Game On Final Play During Playoffs
Scottie Pippen may have been one of the greatest small forwards ever to play the game of basketball but he’s mostly known for playing second fiddle to Michael Jordan during the Bulls championship dynasty years. When Jordan would retire to give baseball a try, Pippen saw it as a prime opportunity to prove that he can carry the Bulls team as the marquee star.
With a big chip on his shoulder, Pippen would struggle in the role and he was clearly frustrated. This was made awkwardly evident when in the crucial final moments of a playoff game vs. The Knicks, Pippen would refuse to go into the game. That’s because the final play was drawn up for Toni Kukoc to take the last shot rather than Pippen.
The incident has gone down as one of the darkest moments of his career which he surely regrets.
11 Iverson and Webber No-Show Before Tip-Off; Coach Finds out from Reporter
No matter how good we are at our jobs, if we no-show without a good reason you better believe there will be severe consequences. Productivity comes to a halt and everyone else has to pick up the slack on top of their own duties, making it a tense environment for everyone involved. Add some cameras and reporters into the mix and the tardiness is magnified into a media disaster.
That’s what happened in 2006 when Philadelphia 76ers coach Maurice Cheeks was gobsmacked by news that his two star players weren’t at the arena to play that night’s game—55 minutes before tipoff.
Maurice Cheeks had just finished calling Allen Iverson the ultimate gamer during an interview when a reporter informed him that neither Iverson nor Chris Webber had arrived yet to the arena. Cheeks would go to the locker room to see for himself, and sure enough, it was true. Coach Cheeks would return to inform the reporters neither would be playing tonight. When asked if he was disappointed in his players Cheeks responded, “I’m done, man” and excited the interview. Yeesh.
9 Chris Paul 3 Team Trade Vetoed for “Basketball Reasons”
In December 2011 as the NBA was just about to wrap up its 5 month lockout season, a trade occurred that would have shook the NBA to its core—and then it was cancelled. The proposed trade would have been between the LA Lakers, the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets where Chris Paul would have been sent to LA, Pau Gasol to Houston and a number of role players from both Houston and LA going to New Orleans.
David Stern, acting as principal decision maker for the Hornets who were temporarily without an owner, would nix the deal. When asked why, he merely stated, “basketball reasons”. The vetoed trade would send create a ripple effect in the NBA and its controversy is still talked about to this day with plenty of unanswered questions.
Imagine the awkward conversations that occurred between the players and the team’s front office when it was discovered by players that the team that was looking to ship them out had to say “Whoops, it’s not going down. Uh, glad to have you back?” Yikes.
7 Tim Duncan Ejected by NBA Ref Joey Crawford for Laughing
Retired NBA official Joey Crawford had long carried a reputation as a no nonsense referee that would not tolerate players complaining and questioning his calls. He also had a confusing beef with one of NBA history’s greatest power forwards in Tim Duncan. So much so that he famously ejected Duncan merely for laughing on the bench in one of the most head-scratchingly bizarre sports incidents caught on camera.
It was during a regular season game in 2007 when Joey Crawford gave the Spurs franchise player back-to-back technical fouls simply because he was laughing on the bench during a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Just laughing. To make matters worse, he even challenged Tim Duncan to a fight if he had a problem with the decision. Yes, a tiny 60 year old ref threatened the 7 foot Tim Duncan with fisticuffs.
Though Duncan was the one ejected, Crawford would be suspended by the league for the rest of the season and would spend his time away from officiating to see a sports psychologist to work out his temper issues.
5 Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame Speech
It goes without saying that Michael Jordan is the GOAT when it comes to the game of basketball. MJ’s illustrious career filled with numerous accolades and championship rings has proven that and his induction into the Hall of Fame was an absolute no brainer.
In 2009 Jordan had finally reached the zenith of his profession by being enshrined in the Hall of Fame and was given the stage to conduct an acceptance speech worthy of his greatness, and boy did he deliver. Not one to show humbleness and appreciation, Jordan would use the platform afforded to him to bring up a laundry list of all people in his life that have ever wronged him, even those who were instrumental to his success.
With tears in his eyes, Jordan would stick it to all his doubters in his life, going so far as to fly various people –like his high school coach Pop Herring—only to publically berate him. The entire speech came off hysterically petty and had his peers squirming in their seats.
3 Reggie Evans Grabs Kaman's Nuts
If you’re playing in the NBA, you’re playing amongst the world’s biggest and strongest ball players so you need to do whatever you can to gain an advantage when it comes to boxing out to grab rebounds or getting favorable positioning in the paint. Some crafty players have gotten away with elbows and tugging on a players shorts—but grabbing a person’s junk? That may be taking things a bit too far. That’s what PF Reggie Evans did to center Chris Kaman in a 2006 incident which resulted in Kaman getting a flagrant foul for shoving Evans
When given a chance to comment about it after the game, Kaman stated “He grabbed my nuts…this dude reached from behind me, grabbed my nuts and pulled them back towards—he tried to rip them off basically. I couldn’t believe it.” Reggie Evans would have to pay a $10,000 fine and was assessed a flagrant 2. After explaining the situation to the refs, one referee stated he would have knocked him out had it been him who was violated. Fortunately for the rest of the NBA, Reggie Evans is no longer in the league so players can rest easy knowing their testicles will be safe.
1 Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy Have the Most Awkward Interview Ever
There’s brutal cringeworthy moments and then there’s moments that are so awkwardly painful that perhaps death would be the sweetest escape. That’s probably what Stan Van Gundy felt in one of the most awkward sports interviews of all-time. Van Gundy talked candidly to reporters about Dwight Howard and how he is certain that Howard wants him fired mere seconds before Howard would appear on camera with his coach, all smiles and totally oblivious to what was being discussed.
The horribly awkward moment speaks for itself. Van Gundy, who was butting heads with both Howard and the front office over his coaching and role, felt the writing was on the wall for his tenure in Orlando and explained to reporters that he felt Howard wanted him gone. Van Gundy was powerfully forthright in this no BS interview when all of a sudden—speak of the devil! Dwight Howard appears and puts an arm around his coach, playfully jibing with a big smile on his face.
Van Gundy would quickly change subjects and slip out of the interview, probably to go find a gun and contemplate this being the end. Reporters then turned their attention to Dwight to ask him if it was true he wanted Van Gundy fired. Dwight was taken aback by the questions and uncomfortably denied everything.
Both Howard and Van Gundy would be gone from the Magic later that year and this nauseatingly hard to watch interview puts a fitting cap on their stint.