Biggest Feuds in Sports History

Biggest Feuds in Sports History

Professional athletes are the ultimate competitors, doing everything they can to win. When hyper-competitive people are going up against each other night after night, they can get under each others skin. Usually, players are able to move past whatever issues they have, but sometimes these disagreements can turn into long-running feuds that boil over into downright hatred.

To determine the biggest feuds in sports history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed sports media reports from outlets like ESPN and Bleacher Report about infamous interpersonal feuds between players throughout the histories of the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. We selected feuds based on their intensity, length, media coverage, and importance to the sport as a whole.

Many of the players on this list had quite a few antagonists. For some, this was because they were great players who drew the ire and attention of opponents — many NBA teams tried to rough up Michael Jordan as a way to slow down his scoring or to get him off his game. Others were despised because of their physical play that sometimes bordered on dirty. Sean Avery, for example, made many enemies as the prototypical NHL “pest” during his career.

Many of these feuds began because the two players were swept up in a huge rivalry between teams. When teams face off over and over again, minor issues can snowball into huge issues. Personal issues between star players are often forged in hotly contested rivalry games between teams like the Yankees and Red Sox or Rangers and Devils. These are the biggest rivals in sports.

Some of these feuds began with the players badmouthing one another in the press, adding fuel to the fire of the rivalry. Others either resulted in a fight or some other violent conduct, or started because of an especially dangerous or violent incident. These are the pro sports teams that play the dirtiest.

These are the biggest feuds in sports history.

Source: Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

1. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Dwight Howard
> League: NBA

Comparisons between Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal were inevitable — both are strong, physically dominant centers who started their careers with the Orlando Magic. Their feud seemed to begin in 2008, when Shaq bashed Howard for dressing up as Superman for the NBA Slam Dunk Contest — a superhero motif O’Neal had coopted for his own use throughout his career. O’Neal did not appear to appreciate the imitation, writing on social media “There can only be 1 Superman #ME.”

The two players had some physical battles when they were in the NBA, but the beef has continued beyond Shaq’s career. After O’Neal retired, he joined TNT’s “Inside the NBA” and used his national media platform to repeatedly take shots at Howard’s play and taunt him for never winning a championship. Howard has often responded with mocking imitations of Shaq. The feud went to another level in 2017, when Shaq released a diss track about Howard. Even in 2019, O’Neal is still taking shots at Howard. Over a decade since it began, the beef is showing no signs of slowing down.

Source: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

2. Bryce Harper vs. Hunter Strickland
> League: MLB

The feud between one-time NL MVP Bryce Harper and reliever Hunter Strickland began in 2014, when Harper, then a Washington National, homered off Strickland, then a San Francisco Giants, in Game 1 of the NLDS. Harper admired his home run and glared at Strickland as he rounded the bases. Harper got him again in Game 4 of the series, but the Giants won the series on their way to a championship.

In 2016, Harper and Strickland exchanged barbs in the media about baseball’s “unwritten rules” about whether it is ok to admire a home run or not. Harper said the old school code of etiquette was “tired,” but Strickland said there was a history of the game that needs to be respected. In 2017, Strickland looked to enforce the rules by drilling Harper with a 98 mph pitch. Harper took exception and charged the mound, leading to a massive brawl between the Nats and Giants. Harper left Washington in free agency for the rival Philadelphia Phillies. Strickland signed with the Seattle Mariners before he was traded to the Nationals in 2019, winning a World Series with Harper’s old team. This beef may be far from over as Strickland and Harper will likely face each other frequently, playing for NL East rivals.

Source: Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

3. Jalen Ramsey vs. Josh Allen
> League: NFL

Jalen Ramsey has earned bragging rights as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, making three Pro Bowls in his first four years. He’s also made a name for himself as a trash talker, largely due to a 2018 GQ profile. He ripped a number of NFL QBs, but no one received his ire quite like Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen, who the team had just drafted. He called Allen “trash” and a “stupid draft pick,” poking fun at him for going to a smaller school in Wyoming and predicting he would turn the ball over a lot as a pro. Ramsey even went to the Bills’ Twitter account to find a video of an Allen pass and called it “a pick waiting to happen.”

Allen seemed to shrug off the comments when asked about them, but he was able to get his own digs at Ramsey on the field. The Bills and Jaguars played each other in 2018, a game that resulted in a 24-21 win for Buffalo. After a Bills touchdown, Allen appeared to have some choice words for Ramsey when he ran to celebrate with his team. Allen confirmed he “might have said” a few things to Ramsey after the play. The feud continued into 2019, when an image surfaced of an autographed photo of Allen, which the Bills QB captioned “Hey Ramsey… am I still trash?” Ramsey confirmed on Twitter that this was still the case.

Source: Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images

4. Donovan McNabb vs. Terrell Owens
> League: NFL

Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens had a lot of success together as a quarterback-wide receiver tandem — when they could get along. In 2004, their first year together, Owens was an All-Pro wideout, with 1,200 receiving yards. But the relationship soon deteriorated. Owens battled back from a broken leg to play in the Super Bowl, which the Eagles lost. He then blasted McNabb for his performance in the game, though the QB was reportedly ill during the game.

The next season, Owens said the Eagles would be better off if their quarterback was Brett Favre and not McNabb. McNabb called the comments “a slap in the face.” The Eagles suspended Owens for the final nine games of the 2005 season before trading him to rivals Dallas Cowboys for those comments. After both players had retired, the beef continued. In an interview in 2017, Owens said the friction began when he asked McNabb why he didn’t pass Owens the ball when he was wide open. Owens said McNabb shut him down with an expletive.

Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

5. Jose Bautista vs. Rougned Odor
> League: MLB

The beef between Rougned Odor and Jose Bautista started and ended with big hits. Bautista, a Toronto Blue Jays outfielder at the time, hit a mammoth seventh inning home run when the teams faced off in the 2015 playoffs, taking the game from a 3-3 tie to a 6-3 Toronto lead. Odor and the Rangers were upset Bautista flipped his bat and celebrated the huge home run.

Resentment still simmered between the teams a year later. Rangers pitcher Matt Bush plunked Bautista with a pitch when the teams met during the regular season. Shortly after, Bautista angered Odor when he slid well past the bag when trying to break up a double play — a maneuver outlawed by the MLB because it can injure the fielder who plants his foot to throw to first. Odor took exception, shoving Bautista in the chest, then punching him squarely in the jaw. Both benches cleared and 14 players and coaches were disciplined for the fracas.

Source: Keith Allison / Flickr & Christian Petersen / Getty Images

6. Gilbert Arenas vs. Javaris Crittenton
> League: NBA

Typically, bad blood emerges between foes, but sometimes teammates can get into it as well. Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon both played for the Washington Wizards in 2009 when they got into a legendary intra-team beef over a card game. After losing money on the game, Crittendon reportedly got into a heated argument with center Javale McGee. Arenas jumped into the squabble, and things eventually escalated to the point where Arenas and Crittendon threatened to shoot one another, according to Arenas.

In a later interview, Arenas said he was simply calling Crittendon’s bluff when he brought four unloaded guns into the team’s locker room and offered to let Crittendon use one. However, Crittendon reportedly had his own weapon, which was loaded, and he pointed it at Arenas. Thankfully, the incident never went any further. As reports of the standoff emerged, both players were suspended for the rest of the season. Crittendon never played in the NBA again, and he is currently serving a prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

Source: Getty Images

7. Darren McCarty vs. Claude Lemieux
> League: NHL

There was an intense rivalry between Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche in the 1990s. Important playoff games between the two were often marred by brutal cheap shots and vicious fights. The teams were locked in a tough, physical battle filled with fights during the 1996 Western Conference Finals. The rivalry escalated when Colorado’s Claude Lemieux shattered the face of Detroit’s Kris Draper with an illegal hit into the boards — an event almost the entire Red Wings team missed when it happened. That game was a 4-1 loss that ended Detroit’s season, so they had to wait until the following year, when the Avs were reigning champions, to get revenge.

The next season, Avs-Red Wings games were testy affairs, with several Colorado players getting knocked out of the game after being slammed into the boards. When the teams played again in March 1997, things erupted into an all-out melee, with Darren McCarty walloping Lemieux before scoring the overtime game-winning goal. The teams met, and fought, again in the Western Conference Finals. This time, Detroit won the rivalry on their way to winning the Stanley Cup. The feud was still far from over, as McCarty and Lemieux dropped the gloves and fought again the next season. Afterwards, McCarty said, “I still have no respect for him as a human being” in regards to Lemieux. This beef may be never-ending. In 2019, McCarty said he still watches the fight once a year, admitting he can still “feel the anger” from that moment.

Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

8. Alex Rodriguez vs. Jason Varitek
> League: MLB

In the summer of 2004, the Boston Red Sox were mired in an 86 year-long World Series drought, and the New York Yankees seemed like the team to beat. Though the two were rivals, there was no disputing that the Yankees were the better franchise. The Red Sox, led by catcher Jason Varitek, wanted to show the Yankees they still had some fight by going after their new superstar player, Alex Rodriguez. Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo drilled A-Rod with a fastball, to which A-Rod responded by yelling some choice words back at Arroyo as he walked up the first base line.

Though this has never been confirmed, there are reports that during the shouting match Varitek told Rodriguez, “we don’t throw at .260 hitters,” ribbing A-Rod for his disappointing batting average that season. Whatever actually was said, Varitek and Rodriguez scuffled soon after and benches cleared. The fight has been credited by some Red Sox players as the catalyst for their incredible ALCS comeback against the same Yankees later that season, earning Boston their first World Series in decades. Varitek and Rodriguez were still icy towards one another years later. When they played for Team USA in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the two reportedly refused to speak to each other.

Source: Denis Poroy / Getty Images

9. Zack Greinke vs. Carlos Quentin
> League: MLB

The beef between Zack Greinke and Carlos Quentin had been brewing long before 2013 when the two got into a massive brawl that left Greinke with a broken collarbone and ended his season. In 2008, when Quentin played for the Chicago White Sox and Greinke with the Kansas City Royals, Quentin was plunked by Greinke. He got his revenge the next at-bat by hitting a home run. When they faced off the next year, Greinke got Quentin again, this time with a pitch square in the back. Quentin noted the two had a history, while Greinke tried to shrug off the incidents, saying he wasn’t hitting Quentin on purpose.

Whatever the case, Quentin had enough. The two faced off again in 2013 — this time with Quentin a San Diego Padre and Greinke a Los Angeles Dodger. Quentin took a pitch to the shoulder, so he charged at Greinke. Instead of either throwing a punch, they rammed into one another with their shoulders. Greinke took the worst of the hit, breaking his collarbone, and ending his season. The Dodgers were furious, with some even confronting Quentin in the locker room hallway after the game. The injury to their starting pitcher may have spoiled Los Angeles’ playoff run that season — they lost in the NLCS.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

10. Lyle Odelein vs. Matthew Barnaby
> League: NHL

Many hockey feuds stay primarily on the ice, but some cross over into the media, with players rushing to reporters to get in as many verbal jabs as possible. This was the case in the beef between journeymen NHL players Lyle Odelein and Matthew Barnaby. The two had, by their count, fought close to 10 times before their 1999 playoff matchup as members of the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. So a healthy dislike had developed.

Things escalated when Barnaby told reporters his teammates called Odelein “Cornelius,” an unflattering comparison to a character from the “Planet of the Apes” films. Odelein responded by saying Barnaby’s wife was “god-awful to look at.” The two continued fighting on and off the ice throughout their careers, with Barnaby telling hockeyfights.com, “I do hate the guy,” in 2004. Odelein retired in 2006, but not before getting into one last scrap with his nemesis.

Source: Getty Images

11. Larry Johnson vs. Alonzo Mourning
> League: NBA

The beef between Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning began when they were both members of the Charlotte Hornets. The pair were a formidable duo, but when Johnson signed a massive $84 million contract in 1993, Mourning became envious and publicly complained about the deal as he became a bigger part of the Hornets offense than Mourning was. The two went their separate ways — Johnson to the Knicks and Mourning to the Heat — and that’s when their disagreements would really reach a boiling point.

The late 1990s Knicks and Heat were huge rivals — facing off in the playoffs four straight times from 1997 to 2000. These series were characterized by testy, physical play. Things finally culminated in 1998, when Johnson and Mourning, after playing tough against one another, began throwing haymakers at the end of a playoff game. None of the punches landed, but both teams faced huge suspensions that marred the series. After they retired, the two were able to patch things up.

Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

12. Jose Mesa vs. Omar Vizquel
> League: MLB

Omar Vizquel and Jose Mesa were once friends and teammates, but one game turned the friendship into a yearslong beef. As members of the 1997 Cleveland Indians, the pair nearly won the World Series. Mesa was called on to close out game 7, which the Indians led 2-1 going into the 9th. After two singles and a sacrifice fly, the Florida Marlins tied it up, winning it all in the 11th inning.

Vizquel blasted Mesa’s performance in his autobiography six years later, saying Mesa’s “eyes were vacant. Completely empty.” This clearly stung Mesa, who vowed to bean Vizquel every time the two faced off, saying, “If I face him 10 more times, I’ll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him.” Mesa kept his word, drilling Vizquel in the back. The feud continued for years. In 2006, Mesa was with the Colorado Rockies and hit Vizquel, of the San Francisco Giants, with a fastball, sparking a huge series of beanballs and ejections. Mesa eventually stopped plunking Vizquel, but there is still no word that the two ever made up.

Source: Justin K. Aller / Getty Images

13. Alex Ovechkin vs. Evgeni Malkin
> League: NHL

As arguably the best two NHL players of their generation, Alex Ovechkin is often compared to Sidney Crosby. His biggest personal rival, however, may actually be fellow Russian player and Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins teammate, Evgeni Malkin. The two started as friends and Russian National Team teammates, but something soured the relationship. Malkin told reporters Ovechkin punched Malkin’s agent at a Moscow nightclub. The players refused to say exactly what went down and why, simply saying it was the result of a “bad situation.”

The bad blood spilled over onto the ice, as Ovechkin appeared to go out of his way several times to hit Malkin throughout 2008, including a near-miss blindside hit that could have ended badly. Malkin’s Penguins continually got the better of Ovechkin’s Capitals for nearly a decade — bouncing Washington out of the playoffs in 2009, 2016, and 2017 on their way to three Stanley Cups. The feud seems to have cooled over the years. Malkin said in 2017 he wanted Ovechkin to win a championship eventually, which happened the next year, when Ovechkin finally got his Cup in 2018.

Source: Stephen Lam / Getty Images

14. Aqib Talib vs. Michael Crabtree
> League: NFL

Wide receivers and cornerbacks are natural enemies as they face off play after play for the entire game. Few confrontations have gotten as heated as the one between Denver Broncos corner Aqib Talib and Oakland Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree. The feud seems to have ignited in early 2017, when the old AFC West foes faced off. Talib took issue with a gold chain Crabtree had been wearing during the season, so he ripped it right off Crabtree’s neck. TV cameras caught Talib laughing about the incident on the sideline. Afterwards, Crabtree said Talib was a fake tough guy, telling the media, “I really don’t like No. 21, though. I think he’s fake.”

When the two teams met the next season, Talib tried to snatch the chain again, but Crabtree taped it to his chest to try to secure it. That strategy didn’t work, as Talib broke the chain. Crabtree took Talib down to the ground, and the scuffle escalated into a full-blown fistfight. Both players were ejected and suspended one game. This story has a happy ending as the two have reportedly made up after running into one another at a Texas go-kart track and decided to make amends.

Source: Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images

15. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kobe Bryant
> League: NBA

The feud between Shaq and Kobe has given the sports world one of its greatest “what ifs” of all time. How great could the tandem have been if they could have continued playing together? The two were dominant as Los Angeles Lakers teammates, winning three straight titles from 2000 to 2002, but there were behind the scenes issues. Kobe accused Shaq of being out of shape, while O’Neal contended Bryant was a ball hog. O’Neal even rapped that they couldn’t even be in the same room together because of their beef.

Reportedly, the final straw came when Bryant, while under investigation for sexual assault in Colorado, told police that the married O’Neal would pay women hush money. O’Neal denied the allegations, saying, “I never hung around him,” and adding, “I’m not the one buying love. He’s the one buying love.” O’Neal demanded a trade and got his wish when the Lakers shipped him to the Miami Heat. O’Neal played well in Miami, winning the 2006 title with the Heat and periodically taunting Kobe. But Bryant may have had the last laugh with back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. After O’Neal’s retirement, the two seemed to have patched things up, with Bryant saying in 2013 the two had a “good relationship.”

Source: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

16. Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson
> League: NBA

The Bird vs. Magic beef is different than just about every other sporting squabble, as these two basketball legends faced off at a championship level for over a decade. The two, though complete opposites in style and demeanor, always seemed to have great respect for one another. They first played in 1979, when Bird’s Indiana State team surprised the basketball world by making it to the NCAA Championship game, where they faced off against Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans. Michigan State ended up winning the matchup, which still ranks as the highest-rated college basketball game of all time in terms of viewers.

As fate would have it, the two happened to be drafted by the biggest rivals in the NBA — Bird by the Boston Celtics and Johnson by the Los Angeles Lakers. There, they tried to outduel one another. Bird even admitted that his morning routine began with checking in the paper to “look at the box scores to see what Magic did.” They met in the 1984, 1985, and 1987 NBA Finals, with the Lakers winning two of those matchups. When all was said and done, both Bird and Johnson ended their Hall of Fame careers with three MVPs, multiple championships, and a legendary rivalry that helped make the NBA what it is today.

Source: Getty Images & tradingcarddb / Wikimedia Commons

17. Carlton Fisk vs. Thurman Munson
> League: MLB

Few players have epitomized the intense Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry like catchers Thurmon Munson and Carlton Fisk. Both vied for the title of best catcher in the game throughout the 1970s. The Yankees’ Munson often felt overshadowed by Boston’s Fisk, who had more advertisements and magazine covers. Munson made sure to note when he got his own commercials, writing in his autobiography, “Eat your heart out Fisk,” and gleefully pointing out that Fisk spent more time injured than he did. An intense dislike developed between the two.

This came to a head in 1973, when Munson decked Fisk during a play at the plate, which led to a huge brawl with Boston and New York players coming out of the dugouts. Both players continued to excel, racking up All-Star appearances throughout the 1970s. Somewhere along the way, the mutual respect Fisk and Munson had for one another overtook the rivalry, and the catchers would even joke with each other during games. Munson died in a plane crash in 1979, and Fisk said he would really miss Munson, saying his career “just isn’t the same without him.”

Source: Michael Reaves / Getty Images

18. Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Josh Norman
> League: NFL

As a late round pick out of Coastal Carolina, cornerback Josh Norman had to fight for his NFL opportunities. Even as an established player, he showed he wasn’t done fighting. He and superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. got into a pregame fight in 2015, when Norman was a Carolina Panther and Beckham played for the New York Giants. The two battled all game — sometimes during play, often scrapping after the whistle. Norman and Beckham combined for five personal foul penalties throughout the game.

The pair continued to go at it in the media and on Twitter afterwards. Norman said Beckham has the “maturity of a little kid,” while Beckham responded that the only reason Norman gained any notoriety was because of their feud. Beckham later claimed he tried to patch things up but got no response from Norman, who claimed the beef meant nothing to him. Norman went to the Washington Redskins, but Beckham broke his leg in 2017 and missed both matchups between the two teams. When they met again in 2018, both were able to keep things civil when they faced off.

Source: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

19. Sean Avery vs. Martin Brodeur
> League: NHL

Sean Avery was once rated the most hated man in hockey, constantly fighting and pestering opponents, doing whatever it took to help his team win. He got under the skin of just about everyone he played against, but the person he irked the most was Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur. The two began their beef when Avery of the New York Rangers collided with Brodeur, of the New Jersey Devils, after a shot attempt. Some pushing and shoving ensued, leading to a brawl. Avery continued to needle Brodeur on the ice and in the press, with Brodeur shooting back each time. Avery would reportedly make fun of Brodeur’s personal life and really got under Brodeur’s skin.

Avery harangued Brodeur so much, the NHL even implemented a rule that made it a penalty for skaters to face goalies and block their vision or try to distract them — a tactic Avery was especially fond of. In 2008, Avery’s Rangers knocked the Devils out of the playoffs. The feud was so intense, Brodeur refused to shake hands with Avery. When asked about it, Avery responded, “Fatso there just forgot to shake my hand I guess.” Even after both retired, Avery was keeping the beef alive on social media. In 2014, Avery appeared on reality show “Dancing with the Stars.” When asked what he thought of the appearance, Brodeur told a reporter: “What more could he do to embarrass himself? There it is!” Avery tweeted that he heard “that #Fatso made a comment” — so it’s safe to say the hatchet has not been buried.

Source: Mike Powell / Getty Images

20. Michael Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas
> League: NBA

As arguably the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan drew outsized attention from every team he faced. Perhaps no team gave him more attention than the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons, led by Isiah Thomas, hassled and battered the Bulls, knocking Chicago out of the playoffs in 1989 and 1990 on their way to winning back-to-back titles. When the Bulls finally broke through in 1991, Detroit was none too happy, refusing to congratulate Chicago after the Bulls sent them home in the playoffs.

Jordan took notice of the snub and reportedly made sure that Thomas was left off the Dream Team — the legendary Olympic squad USA Basketball sent to the 1992 Olympics. This may have also been retaliation for a fabled “freeze-out” game in which, some fans think, Thomas and other older players conspired to keep a young Jordan out of All-Star game action because they didn’t like the attention Jordan was getting as a rookie. Thomas has denied any such plot. In 2003, Jordan admitted the two could be cordial with one another, though there are still memories of the bitterness.

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