Commentary

Sports beefs: When teams attack

Updated: May 28, 2009, 8:13 PM ET
By LZ Granderson and Mike Philbrick | Page 2

We love the games. We love the players. But we live for the feuds. Real, imagined or somewhere in between, a large, spicy helping of animosity is the best way to get us to tune in.

In a three-part series, Page 2 takes a look at the most memorable feuds in sports history.

We broke down the best player vs. player feuds, and now LZ Granderson kicks off the player vs. management grudges with one of sports' biggest choke jobs.

It takes more than an understanding of X's and O's to be a good coach on the professional level. You have to balance the media, outspoken fans and egos.

Oh, those precious, fragile and sometimes volatile egos.

PAGE 2: BEST SPORTS FEUDS


Part 1: Player vs. player

Part 2: Player vs. management

Part 3: Wild-card feuds

What you say to motivate one player might not work so well for another. Take Latrell Sprewell, for instance. Now, I'm sure whatever P.J. Carlesimo said to Spree that December day in 1997 is probably something he has said a million times before to a million different players. But there is a reason P.J. has been unceremoniously fired from his past three posts and has a 41-127 record since Spree tried to choke the living daylights out of him -- he's good with X's and O's but not good at talking with pros.

A good coach would have recognized that Spree was not in a space to get yelled at in practice that day and would have found another way to get his message across. Do you think the late, great Chuck Daly or Phil Jackson handled Dennis Rodman the same way they did Vinnie Johnson or Steve Kerr? I'm not saying Spree was justified in choking P.J., but I do sympathize with a man who, for a moment, thought he was going to die over a game. But beefs are a two-way street, and when you have a player who shows up to practice with a two-by-four to beat down another player -- as Spree did in 1995 against Jerome Kersey -- then you either insist management trade him or you make some adjustments to your style to work with him better. What you don't do is tick off an already angry player with a history of violence just to make a point. Spree wasn't right in the head that day. But neither was P.J. Parents understand that not every child can be dealt with in the same fashion, and we all know some pro players behave like children, so coaching pros is like a course in situational parenting.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Carlesimo
JOHN G. MABANGLO/AFP/Getty ImagesYell for help, P.J.! Here comes Sprewell!

It would have been really interesting to see what Spree would have done with a coach like Bob Knight, who was caught on tape choking former Indiana player Neil Reed in a 1997 practice. Does Knight dare confront Spree in the same way? Does Spree just bite his tongue? Do team owners sell courtside tickets to practice so fans can find out?

Yes, X's and O's are an important aspect in coaching millionaires, but never underestimate the importance of people skills and the ability to keep egos in check -- with the most important ego to tame sometimes being your own.

Rounding out the Top 5:

Terrell Owens vs. Bill Parcells
Anytime your new coach refers to you as the "player" and not "playa" (cuz you're boys), you don't have what we in the biz call job security. But in the end, it was Parcells who was out in Dallas, and Owens would go on to have one of the best seasons of his career under Wade Phillips, underscoring Owens' complaints about Tuna. Of course, that was followed by one of the worst seasons of Owens' career, thus underscoring Owens' complaints about Phillips, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, "The OC," "The Hills" and "Gossip Girl."


Brett Favre vs. the Packers
If it is true that Brett's primary motivation for returning to football and playing for the Vikings is to have a crack at beating the Packers twice, then the record-breaking quarterback holds the record for the most self-serving reason to play football. The HOFer is lauded for his joy and leadership on the field, but his constant indecisiveness placed the franchise in a difficult situation. But that was last year, and the Pack have moved on … here's to hoping Brett finally will, too.


David Beckham vs. Fabio Capello
From Tom Cruise to Giorgio Armani, it seems everyone bends toward Beckham. Everyone except Capello, who regularly froze Becks out when the two were at Real Madrid, then made Becks prove himself before inviting him to the England squad when he took over. An argument can be made that by not joining the lovefest, Capello motivated Becks to work harder. You also could say Beckham's beef with Capello prompted his move to the MLS in 2007. The money wasn't bad, either.


Bobby Layne vs. the Lions
People laughed when Layne said the Lions would not win for 50 years after he was traded from the winning franchise in 1958. Detroiters now are wondering whether Layne made that statement twice. Despite having some pretty exciting seasons, especially in the Barry Sanders era, the franchise has won just one playoff game since Layne was shipped out. You know that movie "Drag Me To Hell," where the little old lady curses the loan officer who refuses to give her an extension? Yeah, it's like that.


The best of the rest of Page 2's player vs. management beefs:


[+] EnlargeHideki Irabu
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty ImagesSay what you want, Hideki still got two rings and $12.8 million.

Hideki Irabu vs. George Steinbrenner
When the San Diego Padres acquired the rights to pitcher Hideki Irabu from Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines in 1997, Irabu said he would not report to the team and wanted to play for the Yankees only. New York, under the daily guidance of owner George Steinbrenner, obliged and sent Rafael Medina, Ruben Rivera and $3 million to San Diego for Homer Bush and Irabu. Rather quickly, Irabu found himself in the Yankees' rotation, but his $12.8 million contract and ever-expanding waistline were constant issues for The Boss. Irabu had trouble from the start, right down to the first time he left Yankee Stadium. His chauffeur-driven car hit Steinbrenner's in the parking lot, loosening the bumper and damaging the left fender. Another famous incident occurred in spring training 1999 and caused Steinbrenner to lose it. Irabu failed to cover first base on a ground ball in the ninth inning, causing Steinbrenner to call Irabu a "fat pus-y toad," and he refused to let the pitcher accompany the team to Los Angeles. Steinbrenner would apologize two days later, but the Yankees would send Irabu to Montreal after the season. Not before Irabu got two World Series rings, however.


Troy Aikman vs. Barry Switzer
Troy Aikman loved and thrived in the rigid, disciplined system of Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, so when owner Jerry Jones announced that Johnson would be replaced by Barry Switzer, there was bound to be trouble. The two men already had history together -- Aikman briefly played under Switzer at Oklahoma before transferring to UCLA. The rift only grew when Aikman would see the lack of commitment and discipline the Cowboys developed at practice and in preparing for games. The biggest blow came when assistant coach John Blake said that Aikman was to blame for any racial tensions in the Cowboys locker room. Many of the team's African-American players came to Aikman's defense, but Switzer's silence on the matter caused an irreparable break between the coach and quarterback. After several embarrassing off-field incidents for the Cowboys, Jones wanted to clean up the team's image. In the middle of all this, Switzer was found carrying a loaded .38-caliber handgun on an airplane. A 6-10 season followed, and Switzer soon found himself out of football.


Magic Johnson vs. Paul Westhead
The alleged feud between Magic Johnson and Paul Westhead turned out to be less riveting than everyone is taught to think. Westhead won the NBA title in his first year running the Lakers with a little help from his rookie guard Johnson and superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, with a similar cast of characters coming back for the 1980-81 season, the Lakers weren't able to get by Moses Malone and the Rockets. This lost opportunity irked Johnson, the whole team and, most importantly, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. So although many think it was a Magic-led revolt that sent Westhead to the unemployment line, the writing was already on the wall. Early in the 1981-82 season, Westhead would be replaced by Pat Riley, who went on to win four titles with the Lakers.


Marcus Allen vs. Al Davis
Despite Marcus Allen's winning the MVP with the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII by rushing for a then-record 191 yards, team owner Al Davis had a short memory. When Allen wanted a new contract five years later in 1989, Davis showed his appreciation by forcing Allen, one of the most respected players in the franchise's history, to play backup to has-beens such as Roger Craig and Eric Dickerson. Allen then famously appeared on a taped interview on "Monday Night Football," saying, "I think he's [Davis] tried to ruin the latter part of my career, tried to devalue me. He's trying to stop me from going to the Hall of Fame." Allen would leave the Raiders in 1993 for the Chiefs, joining another West Coast castoff -- quarterback Joe Montana. The two led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game that season, and Allen won NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors.


Michael Jordan vs. Doug Collins
When you're Michael Jordan, you often get what you ask for. After two years of losing to the Pistons in the playoffs, who used their "Jordan Rules" defense, Jordan began to lobby Bulls GM Jerry Krause that a change might be needed. This was no surprise, considering that Jordan and Collins did not get along for years. They kept most of their disagreements private, but the most public came in the 1986-87 season when Jordan left a practice after bickering with Collins over the score of a team scrimmage. Collins would be replaced by his assistant Phil Jackson, who, in his first year as head coach, led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals, only to suffer the same fate as Collins -- losing to the Pistons. Years later, when Jordan was running the Wizards, he would hire Collins to be the team's head coach.


[+] EnlargeJerry Krause
Getty ImagesKrause took heat from his players for saying, "players and coaches alone don't win championships. Organizations win championships."

Michael Jordan vs. Jerry Krause
Although Bulls GM Jerry Krause eventually surrounded Michael Jordan with the coaches and players he needed to win six NBA championships, Jordan's demand for credit and what Jordan viewed as the disrespect of his not being included in personnel discussions helped perpetuate a mass exit of the team's stars after the 1998 season. The first major rift the two had was when Krause traded Jordan's best friend (to this day) Charles Oakley to the Knicks for Bill Cartwright. Jordan and Oakley reportedly found out about the trade while watching television in Las Vegas. Despite the titles the two won together, Jordan would continue to show his disdain for Krause throughout his years with the Bulls by publicly calling the overweight GM "Crumbs" because of the food stains that often appeared on Krause's clothes.


Michael Jordan vs. Abe Pollin
When any team isn't performing and the coach or manager is fired, inevitably you will hear the phrase, "Well, you can't fire the players." True, but what happens when the player is no longer a player? Michael Jordan learned that lesson on May 7, 2003, when he was summoned to the office of Wizards owner Abe Pollin to be told his services were no longer needed as president of basketball operations. In short: His Airness got fired. Through a spokesperson, Jordan said, "I am shocked by this decision and by the callous refusal to offer me any justification for it." One reason could be reports that got back to Pollin that Jordan's representatives had called the league office for clarification on the rule that prevented him from talking to other clubs while under contract with the Wizards. So, history will show that only two people could stop Michael Jordan: Jordan himself, and Abe Pollin.


Stephon Marbury vs. Isiah Thomas
When Knicks president Isiah Thomas fired Larry Brown and took over as coach, Stephon Marbury looked forward to his next season with the Knicks. However, things spiraled out of control quickly between Marbury and the new coach, culminating in Thomas' taking Marbury out of the starting lineup. Marbury then left the team and allegedly said he would get his starting job back because he has "so much [stuff] on Isiah and he knows it. He thinks he can [get] me. But I'll [get] him first. You have no idea what I know." Considering these statements came in the shadow of the Knicks' being found liable in a sexual harassment suit in which Marbury was a witness, they weren't taken lightly. Marbury and his untradable $30 million contract sat on the bench, and he eventually would have season-ending ankle surgery in February 2008, with the team publicly questioning its necessity. Although Thomas made statements that Marbury never would play for the Knicks again, that ultimately wouldn't be his decision. Thomas was fired from the team in April 2008 and replaced by Donnie Walsh.


Jay Cutler vs. Josh McDaniels
When Josh McDaniels left the safe confines of Bill Belichick's cocoon to become the coach of the Denver Broncos, he probably didn't think he would have to deal with a quarterback controversy in his first few months on the job. After a failed trade that would have sent Cutler to either Detroit or Tampa Bay and brought in Patriots QB Matt Cassel -- the signal-caller McDaniels worked with as offensive coordinator of the Pats in '08 -- Cutler took this as a slight by his new coach and vowed never to play in Denver again. Cutler went as far as to make a pubic display over putting his house on the market to show his intentions. After a final closed-door meeting between McDaniels, Cutler and Cutler's agent, Bus Cook, Cutler wouldn't listen to the claim that the Broncos never initiated the trade talks and merely listened to offers, and he formally demanded a trade. The Broncos then shipped Cutler to Chicago for Kyle Orton and some draft picks. The Bears and Broncos face off in a preseason game Aug. 30. Let the insignificant hype begin.


Earl Weaver vs. Jim Palmer
Orioles manager Earl Weaver famously chided his star pitcher Jim Palmer for what he thought was a lack of toughness. Palmer often would question Weaver instead of letting his three Cy Young awards in four years speak for themselves. Weaver said once, "See those gray hairs? Every one of them has number 22 on it," referring to Palmer's number. But despite the back-and-forth, the two maintained a respect for each other. In the mid-'90s, Palmer openly campaigned the veterans committee to get Weaver into the Hall of Fame. He was successful; Weaver was elected in 1996. On hearing of Weaver's pending induction, Palmer told The Baltimore Sun, "Earl was the best manager of his era. He was scrappy, loyal and never held a grudge. He knew what buttons to push, and he wasn't afraid to push them." Palmer also knew what buttons to push on Weaver. During a charity roast of Weaver in 2000, Palmer's comments were so harsh that Weaver took his chance at the mike to call Palmer an "idiot" and an "egotist," and closed by once again questioning Palmer's toughness.


Bobby Clarke vs. Eric Lindros
As general manager of the Flyers, it was up to Bobby Clarke to negotiate a new contract for star Eric Lindros in 1998. While negotiations stalled, Clarke threatened to trade Lindros instead of meeting his demands to be paid $8.5 million a year, going as far as to tell The Philadelphia Inquirer, "if you want to be the highest-paid player in the game or close to it, you've got to play that way. He's 25 years old, and he's been in the league six years. It's time. If you're going to pay him $8.5 million, you hope to get more games out of Eric, and better games." One of the reasons Lindros didn't play as many games was concussions. Lindros would suffer seven of them during his tenure with the Flyers, in addition to one incident in 1999 when a collapsed lung was misdiagnosed as a rib injury. The Flyers initially planned to send Lindros back on the team plane, a move Lindros' father (and doctors) claim would have killed him in his condition. After criticizing the team doctors for the mistake in the offseason, Lindros was stripped of his captaincy for the 1999-2000 season. After sitting out the 2000-01 season rather than accept the Flyers' offer sheet, Lindros was traded to the Rangers, ending his career in Philly.


Mike Scioscia vs. Jose Guillen
During the Angels' run to the AL West crown in 2004, manager Mike Scioscia did something he has done a million times in his career -- he replaced a player for a pinch runner to have a better chance to score. Only problem is, this time he lifted outspoken Jose Guillen. When Guillen was pulled, the Los Angeles Times reported, "He walked slowly across the diamond, ultimately hurling his helmet at the end of the dugout occupied by Scioscia before walking to the other end, where he continued to throw a variety of objects against the dugout wall." As a result, Scioscia suspended Guillen for what was left of the season and left him off the postseason roster. Guillen would be traded to the Nationals in November 2004, but he wouldn't forget the slight. When the Nats and Angels met the next season in interleague play, a controversy erupted when Nats manager Frank Robinson got Angels pitcher Brendan Donnelly ejected for having pine tar on his glove. Guillen used the moment to say this about his former skipper, "I have no respect for him anymore because I'm still hurt from what happened last year. Mike Scioscia to me is like a piece of garbage. I don't care if I get in trouble. He can go to hell."


[+] EnlargeBilly Martin
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesDon't feel bad, Reggie. Billy punches everyone.

Billy Martin vs. Reggie Jackson
Although controversial Yankees manager Billy Martin and his self-promoting slugger Reggie Jackson were able to keep their relationship cordial for a time, all that ended June 18, 1977, in Fenway Park. In a nationally televised game, Martin pulled Jackson from the game for what he believed was a failure to hustle on a ball hit to him. When Jackson arrived in the dugout, the two had words, which quickly escalated to a brawl, with coaches Elston Howard and Yogi Berra keeping Martin from getting in a swing. The Yankees won the World Series that season, but in 1978 Martin was forced to resign by owner George Steinbrenner after Martin, who never endorsed the free-agent signing of Jackson to begin with, famously said of Steinbrenner and Jackson, "The two of them deserve each other. One's a born liar, the other's convicted."


Roger Clemens vs. Dan Duquette
When Red Sox GM Dan Duquette continually low-balled Roger Clemens in their contract negotiations after the 1996 season, his famous wish, and reasoning, would be repeated for years to come: "We had hoped to keep him in Boston during the twilight of his career." Twilight? Clemens would go on to play for another decade, winning four more Cy Young awards and two World Series titles with the hated Yankees. Clemens so hated Duquette for the slight that he often said if the Hall of Fame mandated he wear a Red Sox cap, it would have "an empty chair" because he wouldn't show up. Although many in Boston loathed Duquette for his lack of foresight in the years that followed, time has vindicated the former GM, as Clemens continues to be embroiled in multiple steroid accusations.


Scott Boras & J.D. Drew vs. the Phillies
After the Phillies made Florida State phenom J.D. Drew the second overall pick in the 1997 draft, they figured they had an outfielder they could build their future around. One problem: Drew was represented by Scott Boras, and he was demanding a record $11 million signing or else he wouldn't sign with the club. How far apart were the two sides? Philadelphia wouldn't budge past $3 million (which still would have been a record). Boras and Drew stuck to their promise, and Drew ended up playing for the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League before he re-entered the draft in 1998, going fifth overall to the Cardinals. Drew made his first appearance in Philadelphia on Aug. 10, 1999, going 2-for-4 with a triple and a stolen base. The Phillies would win 7-5, scoring five runs in the bottom of the eighth, but the game would be remembered more for the two D batteries that were tossed at Drew from the stands, adding another chapter to the folklore of the notorious Philly fan.


Carlton Fisk vs. Haywood Sullivan
In the 1980 season, the last year of his contract, Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk was having another All-Star season -- and making only $210,000. He spent the season working with his agent, Jerry Kapstein, to get general manager Haywood Sullivan to give him a raise, a new contract and the respect he felt he deserved. He didn't get any of that. After the season, Sullivan would mail a new contract to Fisk, but it was sent out a day after a deadline imposed in the collective bargaining agreement. In February 1981, an arbitrator would declare Fisk a free agent. Fisk would sign with the White Sox and play 12 more seasons, setting numerous records as a catcher.


Robert Horry vs. Danny Ainge
Before he was Big Shot Rob, Robert Horry was more a problem than a solution. In January 1997 in a game in Boston, Horry, then with the Suns, got in an argument with coach Danny Ainge after he was taken out of the game and threw a towel in Ainge's face. After Horry was suspended for two games (the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement), the Suns traded him and Joe Klein to the Lakers for Cedric Ceballos and Rumeal Robinson. How badly did the Suns want Horry out? They took back Ceballos, a guy who not only nicknamed himself "Chise" (short for "Franchise") when he got to L.A. but also had left the Lakers for four days the previous season so he could go Jet-Skiing with his friends on Lake Havasu.


LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

Mike Philbrick | email

Grantland contributor
Mike Philbrick is an editor for Grantland.