Athletes are allowed to have friends. Fans constantly get annoyed when people like LeBron posts pictures of him and Carmelo Anthony on vacation, but the two men have been friends for a long time and have been through a lot together. They grew up playing AAU basketball, both lauded for their ability to play the sport and each reached a level of fame that 99.9% of the world couldn’t even imagine having. They don’t have a ton of people who understand their pressures or life issues, so naturally they should gravitate towards each other. It’s happened for generations; Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were good friends, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali became friends after beating each other up in the ring, and Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard’s friendship crosses team, league, and country lines. In other words, friendships can come out of competition.
Fans seem to hate this though. Many seem to believe that you can’t be a real competitor against a friend. This thought is untrue, as proven by athletes like Ray Lewis and Tom Brady, who seem to be friendly off the field and give each other heaps of praise but would give it all on the field. Or Venus and Serena Williams, who are sisters and doubles partners, but have given us some of the greatest tennis matches ever.
It’s rare that an athlete has a childhood friend who understands the pressure they are going through. It’s even rarer that that friend will be a teammate. Here are 15 sets of athletes you didn’t know were teammates as kids.
29 Alex Smith and Reggie Bush
It’s hard to compare Alex Smith and Reggie Bush as the two men seemed to approach the game of football with an entirely different point of view. Bush was an athletic freak who used his speed and elusiveness to break huge runs and hurdle would be tacklers, but risk negative gains in attempts to do so. Smith relies on conservative plays that gain 2 yards here and 5 yards there in an attempt to march up the field, leading to “boring” play and less touchdowns. Both ways have their pros and cons, but have worked in different ways. There are places for each style in the NFL, and you can see by their respective drafts that both players were highly valued by teams coming out of college. But even their college choices could not have been more opposite. Bush went to USC where he was a national celebrity and constantly in the public eye, while Smith went to Utah where he quietly excelled. Despite the two men’s differences, they learned the game in the same place when they played with each other in high school. Alex Smith and Reggie Bush were teammates at Helix High School in La Mesa California. Smith was a year ahead of Bush, but the two were reunited in 2004 as Heisman Finalists. In 2005 Smith was taken number 1 overall, and in 2006 Bush was taken second. That must have been one hell of a high school team.
27 Klay Thompson and Kevin Love
Kevin Love and Klay Thompson have been inevitably tied together following the epic 2016 NBA finals. However the only things that seems to be similar between the two men is that they didn’t make a major impact through much of the series, and they play in the NBA. Kevin is a 6’10” Power Forward who went to a powerhouse basketball college (UCLA) where he was a star and was a certain lottery pick in 2008. Klay went to Washington State where he never made the NCAA tournament and was taken 11th in 2011, one of the weakest NBA drafts in recent memory. Even though they were drafted so far apart, both men are about the same age and grew up together in Los Angeles and played on the same Little League team. Kevin was a tall pitcher and Klay was a speedy shortstop. The two kids quickly recognized that the other was immensely talented, however everyone was a top notch athlete on their team. A group of parents got together and put together an All-Star style little league team that won a California state title in 2001, but missed a spot in the Little League World Series. Kevin and Klay dropped their spots on the team to focus on playing basketball, where they continued to compete against one another both at the high school, then the college, and finally in the NBA. “I knew he was good, I didn’t know he was that” Love said about Thompson. “He was a phenom as a kid. To be on the world stage with him, it’s really cool.” Thompson said of Love. It is impossible to imagine what it must be like for these two, rivals their whole life and it has all led up to clashes in the NBA finals.
25 Teddy Bridgewater and Amari Cooper
Back in November of 2015 the Minnesota Vikings handily defeated the Oakland Raiders 30-14 in a game described by fans as something that truly… happened. There isn’t a lot to say about that game, Minnesota took the lead late in the 2nd quarter and then let Adrian Peterson sit on the ball until the game was over. There were some cool plays from Adrian Peterson and Derek Carr, a fan was tackled for running onto the field, and Terrance Newman picked off a pass in the endzone to seal the game. The storyline that seemed to go unnoticed was that this was the first meeting of young star Wide Receiver Amari Cooper and young franchise QB Teddy Bridgewater. The two are the future of their respective teams and also were highly drafted game changers. They also used to play together at Miami Northwestern Senior High. Teddy was a year older than Amari, but the two have said they were good friends during their high school years. As students, Amari and Teddy were credited with changing the culture of the athletics department by focusing greatly on their academics. The two men hope to have a long history in the NFL and we hope that they have a long rivalry with a many meetings for us to look forward to.
23 Chase Utley and Milton Bradley
Chase Utley was a perennial MVP candidate who has aged well and been an important player for the Dodgers. For most of his career Utley has been a respected competitor, but more recently we are starting to see the mean streak that made him fit in Philadelphia so well. Most notably would be Chase’s vicious slide that took Mets’ Shortstop Ruben Tejada out of the playoffs. Milton Bradley only played with a mean streak. He has a history of violence, and it showed on the field where he was suspended multiple times for reasons that included throwing a beer bottle at a fan, throwing a bag of baseballs at an umpire, and fighting with his own manager in the clubhouse. Those were just his “suspendable” actions, he also once tried to fight a Royals in-game TV announcer and had to be stopped by the Texas Rangers GM John Daniels, Bradley tore his ACL when his manager had to hold him back to prevent him from fighting an umpire, and he was such a jerk that manager Eric Wedge of the Indians forced his team to cut ties with the player. The two men came up together and played at the same high school in Long Beach. The two boys were extremely talented, but according to their old manager it was Bradley who was the star and not Utley. Having a bit of anger can get you far in professional sports, as long as you control it. Bradley is a poster child of how not to handle anger, while, up until recently, Utley was the model for how to handle it.
21 Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey
Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey are not superstar players in the NFL. Smith is an underperforming QB who has some attitude problems and is the Jet’s #2 QB option as they are hoping to resign Ryan Fitzpatrick. Bailey was a serviceable receiver for the Rams until he was shot in a drive-by shooting. He is thankfully on the route of recovery and holds a “non-football” role with the Rams until he is able to get back on the field. Smith and Bailey have been long time friends and played together in both High School and College. Originally the two boys played at separate schools, but Geno recruited Stedman to come to his high school because he knew the two of them would do great things together, and they did. They dominated in high school and chose to go to West Virginia to play with each other for four more years. During the 2012 NCAA season the two connected for 25 touchdowns, third most in a single season by a receiver. Smith’s mother, Tracey Sellers, has said that the boys have been best friends since then and that she has conversations with Bailey’s mother about how much football has given their boys. She told USA Today “our boys could have been drawn to the streets. Their interest was always football. So we didn't have all that drama." Geno was invited to the 2013 NFL draft and he chose to bring his best friend with him as opposed to hundred of other people who would have begged for that seat.
19 Jason Kidd and Gary Payton
It’s not often that two first ballot Hall-of-Famers grow up together, but that’s what happened with Jason Kidd and Gary Payton. Both men are from the Oakland area and would practice their game at the same playground. Kidd says that he always looked at Payton as a mentor of sorts. Payton was a major reason why Kidd was able to craft his game and play at such a high level. He says that he toughened up Kidd by bringing him to the Flatlands in Oakland to play against “better players.” Payton said he did this because while in school Kidd was like a man amongst boys and had very little or no competition when playing them. Recognizing Kidd’s talent, he brought him to his playground where he would constantly dominate the much younger Kidd in one on one games. They both say that it toughened Kidd up and that those duels made them the Hall-of-Famers we know today. However, by the time the two men got to the NBA their roles had changed. While both were great, Payton has admitted that Kidd was the better player, though Kidd always gives credit to his mentor and good friend.
17 Salvador Perez and Jose Altuve
Guys like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are the most recognizable names in Baseball. Along with very few other players, these guys take up most of the media stories and are widely regarded as “the best.” However, there are a whole bunch of players who play at the same level of those guys, but don’t get the fanfare because of where they play and because they don’t seek out any spotlight. Two guys who top that list would be Salvador Perez of the Royals and Jose Altuve of the Astros. Yes, if you pay any bit of attention to the sport you probably know these players, Altuve is a favorite to win AL MVP and Perez just won a World Series and is the centerpiece of the Royals franchise. The guys are two of the best Baseball has to offer. Altuve and Perez were born 4 days apart in Venzuela and have been playing together "pretty much since birth," as said by Perez. They played with each other, against each other, and even trained together during the off seasons. The two bragged about each other during the 2014 All-Star game, the first time the two men shared a field with so much fan-fare. Both men look to be around for years and are the franchise players for two of the best young teams in the MLB. Both were just voted to start the All-Star for the American League and we imagine that this won’t be the last time they are voted in. We expect huge things from both men for years to come.
15 Ted Ginn and Donte Whitner
Ted Ginn is a wide receiver who made much of his career as a kick returner bouncing around the NFL, never staying anywhere for more than 3 years. Whitner is a 3-time pro-bowl safety that made a name for himself as one of the hardest hitting safeties, he even once considered officially changing his name to Donte Hit Currently Ginn is coming off his best professional season with the Panthers, pulling in 10 touchdowns and acting as Cam Newton’s top wide receiver for the 2015 season. Whitner is currently a free agent after the Browns cut him after signing a $28 Million four-year deal that he signed in 2014. The two men played in a Super Bowl together with the 49ers in 2012, but they share a much deeper history than even that. Ginn and Whitner were best friends and teammates in high school. Ginn’s father, Ted Ginn Sr., was the coach of their high school football team, and Whitner has said that Ginn Sr. was the main motivator in pushing the two to where they are now. After meeting Whitner at a party in 8th grade, the Ginns recruited him to their school, Glenville. Glenville was a tough school, the boys’ daily schedule meant that they were up at 6 o’clock for practice, then they went to class, then more practice, and followed by some personal training, and to end the day the students had to do their homework while supervised by Ginn Sr. It was a tough life, but look where the two men are now.
13 Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr.
Greg Oden and Mike Conley are such different stories. Oden was taken number 1 overall in the 2007 NBA draft, Conley went three spots later at number 4. Oden was lauded as the best pick that the Trail Blazers could have chosen, Conley was called a reach and the Grizzlies were laughed at for passing on Jeff Green and Yi Jianlian. Now Oden is out of the NBA and is considered one of the biggest busts in NBA history while Conley was just given the largest contract in NBA history. Not exactly the paths most “experts” expected. It’s well known that Oden and Conley were teammates at Ohio State, where they helped lead their team to an NCAA finals berth. They were noted for the chemistry on the court, but much of that came well before their days in Ohio. Greg and Mike were high school teammates and close friends for much of their lives. They chose to play in college together and being drafted in the top 5 (in the same year) was just the cherry on top of their friendship. They rooted for each other throughout their whole career, and Conley was one of the most vocal people showing support for Oden when he was attempting his comeback in 2013. The two remain close friends today even though Conley is living the dream that most expected from his long-time friend.
11 Clayton Kershaw and Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford was the number one overall pick in 2009 and the fastest player in NFL history to reach 25,000 passing yards when he hit that mark after only 90 games. Clayton Kershaw is a three-time Cy Young award winner and the MVP in 2014. Combined, the two 28-year-old men have signed contracts that add up to $291.5 million and it looks like the two will be dominating their respective leagues for years to come. About 22 years ago, Kershaw and Stafford were both dominating their youth soccer league in Dallas as teammates on the “Blue Bombers.” From that point on the two boys were nearly inseperatelable, they played freshmen football and two years of varsity baseball together and both graduated from Highland Park High School in 2006. The two boys were heroes at their school, in their senior year Kershaw compiled a 13-0 record with an ERA of 0.77 while Stafford led the football team to 15-0 record and a state championship (winning the game 59-0). There was a time when they were playing football, Kershaw was the Center and Stafford was QB (obviously), and a defensive player laid out a late hit on Stafford. Kershaw was not happy about that and retaliated by body slamming the player to the ground earning himself an ejection. Stafford is quoted saying that it was “awesome.” The men remain good friends supporting each other and celebrating their successes.
9 Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley
A tale of number 2 overall NBA picks. Both grew up in the DC area playing basketball for the same AAU team. Both are nearly the same age, and are listed at or around 6’10” 240 lbs. They both play the same small forward position and have a silky jump shot. One went to Texas the other to Kansas State, both football-focused school with a basketball program greatly overshadowed by Kansas. Neither played more than a year in college. One is an NBA MVP winner and constant candidate who just signed a 2 year $58 million deal with arguably the best basketball team ever put on paper, The other just came back to the states after winning foreign MVP in the Chineese Basketball Association following a widely disappointing 7 seasons in the NBA. Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant could not have had more different careers in the NBA. Durant is a media darling and a fan favorite while Beasley is a bust that many casual fans forgot about once he was dumped to Minnesota 2 years after being drafted by Miami. As children the two boys were close, very close. As Beasley put it “We're family… I know his whole family. He knows my whole family. We're more than friends. You can't get away from that. We grew up together. We went to the same schools, from the same neighborhood.” Even though the two keep their friendship out of the limelight, they remain close. Many thought that the Rockets signed Beasley this season just to woo Durant to the team during free agency. We would love for Beasley to find what made him so great in school and overseas and have some real showdowns with his old friend now in Golden State.
7 DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora
It’s rare that two defensive linemen from the same college team play each other in the NFL playoff. It’s even more unusual that the college team is not from a Power 5 conference. And it’s shocking when it turns out the two even played for the same high school. That’s the story of DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora when Ware’s Cowboys and Umenyiora’s Giants played each other in the playoffs in 2008. Back in Auburn, Alabama the two boys were friends. Umenyiora said that they used to ride the bus together and talk about girls that they liked. Ware at first wanted to be a wide receiver, but quickly realized he was better suited for defense. Osi didn’t even try to play football until his junior year of high school, but quickly excelled at his position. They both had aspirations of playing at Auburn, but when it came time to pick schools, neither got an offer. Osi, the older of the two, chose to go to the local Troy University, and convinced his team to give Ware a chance a few years later. Little did they know that they had struck gold by finding two of the NFL’s best pass rushers in their generation.
5 Dwight Howard and Josh Smith
Josh Smith and Dwight Howard grew up together in Atlanta playing basketball. Considering they are both freakish athletes it’s not hard to imagine how they gravitated towards each other. When the two men reunited in Houston, teammates described it as if they were “little boys again” because they were so gitty with excitement. The two men’s personalities even seem to mirror each other. Both have been accused of getting lazy on some plays, being hard to coach, being a negative locker room presence, and being excellent basketball players. At least one of those things is definitely true. Some of their greatness was formed while playing for the AAU team, the Atlanta Celtics. That team was arguably the best AAU team ever as they won every game (except one) by a 20+ point margin and the team featured future pros Randolph Morris, Brandon Rush and Jarvis Crittenton. Playing with that level of talent from such a young age definitely molded the talent we have seen in Smith and Howard over the years. We would like to see them reunite in Atlanta again and make a run for an NBA title.
3 Joey Gallo and Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper is the biggest name in baseball after winning MVP in the 2015 season and going on a campaign trying to “make baseball fun again.” Joey Gallo is a name that many people may not know, yet, but has potential to be one of the games greatest players in the next few years. Bryce Harper starts for the first place Washington Nationals and Joey Gallo starts for the AAA Round Rock Express waiting for MLB rosters to expand so that the Texas Rangers will finally bring him up. About 15 years ago the two boys started for the same little league team in Las Vegas. The two men look to dominate the MLB as soon as the Rangers somehow find a hole for him. While Harper looks to be a long-time starter for the Nationals, the Rangers are stuggling to find a spot for their young stud this season with Prince Feilder playing DH, Adrian Beltre holding down third base, and a bunch of other young studs securing their spots in the outfield. Gallo will be a starter in 2017 and we are pumped to see Gallo and Harper go head to head. Young stars playing at the highest level, that’s how we think you make baseball fun again.
1 Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace
This friendship encompasses some of the highest and lowest aspects of life in the NBA. Back when Metta World Peace was Ron Artest, he and Lamar Odom were good friends growing up and playing on the blacktops in Queens. They both went to different high schools and different colleges, but after years in the NBA the two joined forces with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to win an NBA championship in 2010. It was a heart warming moment for fans of Metta, who had struggled with some inner demons for most of his career, and for fans of Odom who had been written off as a bust following some rough times with the Clippers and Heat. The two men were on top of the world, and neither could have predicted what was coming. Metta stayed out of the spotlight following a tumultuous career that involved fights with fans and domestic violence charges. While Metta putting his life together, Odom got involved in a high profile relationship with Khloe Kardashian and seemed to lose his passion for Basketball when he was traded to Dallas. According to Metta, he and Kobe Bryant had realized that Odom had a drug problem and attempted to reach out and help their friend, but were unable to. Odom eventually ended up in a coma following the very public breakdown of his marriage and his unofficial ban from the NBA following the 2013 season. Metta spoke with outrage over the way the media (and certain celebrities) handled the Odom situation, saying that the constant visitors took time away from Odom’s kids visiting their father and stopped old friends (including Metta’s brother) from seeing Odom at all. Both Odom and Metta’s stories are warnings for young athletes on everything from the dangers of addiction, to the importance of mental health, to the issues that come with being a celebrity. It is only fitting that the two men were childhood friends, and we hope they remain friends for a long time.
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