2012's 20 Biggest Breakups in Sports
Breakups are a part of life. That doesn’t mean they’re easy to deal with.
Watching your favorite player walk away from the team you love can be heartbreaking. Watching that player don a new uniform, new colors, bond with new teammates, new fans…no sports lover ever wants to encounter such disappointment. But alas, it is a part of life.
2012 was a big year for sports breakups. There were coaching firings and hirings, there were quarterbacks hopping on and off the carousel as they bid farewell to old teams and greeted new ones. Fans have had to support teams that look drastically different from the way they looked just one year ago.
Breakups are hard, but life goes on. Here’s a look at the biggest sports splits of the year.
20. Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns
Steve Nash represents the noble version of whatever nonsense Ray Allen was trying to pull off this offseason.
There isn’t any bad blood between Nash and the Phoenix Suns, of which he was a member for 10 years. Nash, at 38, has long been one of the best point guards in the NBA, and yet he still doesn’t have a ring to show for it. So the two-time league MVP was sent to the Lakers in a sign-and-trade in June, and most likely, he’ll be there until the end of his career.
This divorce wasn’t a bitter one. Nash had several reasons—most of them good—for skipping out on the Suns. And despite the fact that some non-Lakers fans have a hard time seeing anyone wearing purple and gold as noble, Nash remains one of the most well-liked guys in the NBA because he works hard, plays hard and just wants to win a championship before he calls it a career.
19. Brandon Jacobs and the Giants
Winning a championship doesn’t always mean a player and his team are in love forever. Just look at Brandon Jacobs and the New York Giants for evidence.
Granted, the relationship between Jacobs and New York started decaying long before Super Bowl XLVI. For too long, he’d been complaining about sharing the workload with, and oftentimes being forced to cede the workload to, Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs wasn’t happy in New York until he received his second Super Bowl ring in 2012, and even then, the good feelings didn’t last long.
Jacobs’ animosity toward New York was confirmed in March, when he ditched the Giants to sign with San Francisco, hoping that his offense would provide the 49ers with a much-needed upgrade. A heartbroken six-year-old fan couldn’t even compel him to stick around.
But alas, Jacobs still can’t get no satisfaction: He has been permanently benched by the 49ers for publicly airing his grievances about his lack of playing time there, too. And like so many others who leave one love for a newer model, Jacobs has only realized what he had after it was gone.
18. Tommy Tuberville and Texas Tech
This marks one of the strangest—and now, one of the most bitter—divorces of the year. Tommy Tuberville was head coach at Texas Tech from 2009 until a few days ago, going 20-17 overall. And while his name was thrown around a few times as the college football head coaching carousel turned over the last few weeks, nobody expected him to leave Texas Tech quite the way he did.
According to USA Today, Tuberville was in the middle of dinner with potential Texas Tech recruits, who were in town on an official visit, when he took a call—a call in which he was offered the position of head coach at Cincinnati. Tuberville accepted the job and never returned to dinner, leaving his recruits and assistant coaches at the table.
Junior college offensive lineman Devonte Danzey said (via the article):
The waitress brought our food out, and we thought [Tuberville] went to the bathroom, but he never came back to dinner. Then next thing I know, the next day, he made an announcement that he's going to Cincinnati.
17. Tim Tebow and the Broncos
Would Tim Tebow have continued to be the Denver Broncos’ savior if he had remained there post-2011? Perhaps. But his impact on the team during the second half of the regular season—and in the playoffs—cannot be understated.
Particularly after Broncos legend and vice president John Elway voiced his support for the young quarterback, it came as a bit of a shock when, a few months later, he and the Broncos announced they had traded Tebow to the Jets to make room for Peyton Manning’s imminent arrival.
During his short time under center in Denver, Tebow completely re-energized the team. Regardless of what his former teammates say about him now, he was responsible for the Broncos’ resurgence, helping them rebound from a 2-5 start to reel off six straight wins and make the playoffs.
Obviously, when the opportunity presents itself to obtain one of the best QBs in NFL history, no team is going to pass it up—but there were still plenty in Denver who weren’t prepared for Tebow Time to end just yet.
16. Mike Brown and the Lakers
We are all expecting a lot from the Los Angeles Lakers this season, in light of the arrivals of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. But perhaps greatness requires a little bit of patience—patience Lakers management clearly does not possess.
That’s how head coach Mike Brown ended up getting fired a mere five games into the 2012-13 season. Sure, the Lakers started off slow at 1-4—but five games is really all you get to prove you can commandeer a team these days?
Brown took over when Phil Jackson retired at the end of LA’s championship season in 2010-11, and after last year’s strike-shortened season, he clearly didn’t have much time to show Mitch Kupchak what he was made of.
After firing the coach, Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne that “the team is not winning at the pace that we expected this team to win and we didn't see improvement.”
Bet he wishes he’d waited on that decision now, given the fact that the Lakers are still awful.
Plus, the Heat stuck with Erik Spoelstra, and by some act of God, he managed to lead the Heat to a championship. Maybe the Lakers should have taken a page out of Miami's book.
15. Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and the Red Sox
Over the summer, when it became excruciatingly clear the 2012 iteration of the Red Sox was going absolutely nowhere, a mass exodus from Boston began.
The first to go was beloved first/third baseman and infamous Greek God of Walks (c/o Billy Beane) Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis was in the midst of his ninth season in Boston; he was a part of each of the Red Sox’s championships in 2004 and 2007. He had long been a fan favorite, but that didn’t matter when the Red Sox were intent on running themselves into the ground and guys needed to go. Thus, Youkilis was dispatched to Chicago in June.
A couple of months later, nearly the entire Red Sox payroll followed.
This time, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were sent to Los Angeles, leaving the Red Sox with a collection of minor leaguers, utility players and Dustin Pedroia.
Beckett’s departure was tough to swallow; he, after all, was the most instrumental component of the Red Sox’s 2007 championship campaign. Gonzalez’s and Crawford’s departures—and the millions and millions of dollars they were owed—just confirmed what most of us already knew: that money doesn’t always buy championships, and that Theo Epstein was really, really bad at his job.
14. Lance Armstrong and Livestrong
This was maybe one of the most unexpected breakups of the year, if only because many of us never expected to see Lance Armstrong back down from his insistence that he did not use performance-enhancing drugs during the course of his cycling career.
Unfortunately for him, whatever damning evidence the USADA had on him was apparently too much to fight, because after he was formally charged with PED abuse in June, he did as much as a person could do without pleading guilty outright. And one of those things was removing himself from the board of his own foundation, Livestrong.
Lance Armstrong has been synonymous with Livestrong for as long as we can remember. Most of us had the yellow rubber bracelets back in the day.
Though some of us may have expected to see the day when Armstrong stopped trying to pretend he never used steroids, few of us expected to see the day when he was essentially forced to give up on one of the most well-known charities in sports.
13. Silas Redd and Penn State
Perhaps this is one breakup the initiator regrets because somehow—despite everything that happened to Penn State football in the past year—the Nittany Lions ended up on just about the same plane as USC when all was said and done in 2012.
Except for, you know, the whole bowl thing. That was probably important to one of the best running backs in college football.
In the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Silas Redd was the most high-profile member of the Nittany Lions to defect to another program after the NCAA decreed that all Penn State players would be permitted to transfer without sitting out for a year.
Prior to transferring, Redd was heralded as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate but opted to take his talents to Southern Cal. Unfortunately, the move didn’t really pay off.
By their standards, the Trojans crumbled in 2012, losing critical games to Oregon, Stanford and Notre Dame to wind up in the Sun Bowl.
Probably not what Redd expected upon transferring.
12. Andrew Bynum and the Lakers
Dwight Howard’s arrival in Los Angeles necessitated Andrew Bynum’s prompt departure. The Magic star was traded to the Lakers in August, taking the spot of Bynum, who was sent off to the Philadelphia 76ers, fulfilling the promise of trade rumors that have circulated for years.
Bynum’s tenure in L.A. wasn’t all bad. He was, after all, an instrumental part of two championships with the Lakers, and it probably could have been three if he hadn’t gotten injured in 2008. But alas, injuries—and a perceived lack of effort, in the eyes of some—got in the way of success for Bynum in L.A.
He has everything it takes to be one of the best centers in the NBA—to be a Howard—but he hasn’t quite been able to get there.
Which is how, after seven years and two championships in L.A., he ended up being shipped out of town.
11. Erin Andrews and ESPN
The most famous female face of ESPN is now the most famous female face of Fox Sports.
We never thought we’d see the day when Erin Andrews was no longer ESPN’s It Girl, but that day arrived this summer, when her contract with the worldwide leader expired and she was promptly hired by Fox.
For eight years, we watched Andrews cover college football, the MLB, the College World Series and college basketball on ESPN, but starting in September, she started a new role as the host of Fox’s prime-time college football studio show, as well as a member of the network’s NFL and MLB coverage team, according to SI.com.
Andrews seemed to love ESPN. We know ESPN loved her. Alas, sometimes, relationships grow tired and it is time to move on to better, though not necessarily bigger, things.
10. Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox
Surprising breakup? Not at all. But big breakup? Oh, yes. This one is definitely Selena/Justin-level.
Bobby Valentine was hired by the Red Sox in 2011, after Boston embarked on the worst September collapse in the history of baseball. Red Sox management doubtlessly hoped that Valentine’s infamous spark would inspire their crew of underachieving, chicken-and-beer-consuming slackers. But their hopes fell far short: The 2012 Red Sox finished an appalling 69-93, their lowest win total since 1965.
Needless to say, Valentine was fired about 14 hours after the official conclusion of the season.
Was it Valentine’s fault that the Red Sox flopped so miserably this season? Probably not. Given the fact that essentially the same cast of characters missed the playoffs with much fanfare one year earlier, it was going to take a lot more than a fiery manager with a lot to say to fix whatever problem was brewing in Beantown.
But Boston sure didn’t waste any time sending him on his merry way.
9. Jeremy Lin and the Knicks
Jeremy Lin was the Tim Tebow of the NBA in 2012. He was the guy who stepped in out of nowhere on a middling team and somehow turned that team into a contender in record time.
And like Tebow, Lin’s stint with the New York Knicks was remarkably short.
Lin was a mere benchwarmer on the Knicks before stepping in on Feb. 4, 2012, and reeling off a game-high 25 points in a 99-92 win over the Nets. Soon thereafter, he was promoted to starter and led New York to a seven-game winning streak, inflicting Linsanity upon New York and establishing himself as one of the breakout stars of season.
Though his year was cut short by injury, the Knicks seemed intent on re-signing the restricted free agent—until, in a whirlwind, he signed an offer sheet with the Houston Rockets and the Knicks declined to match it.
Whether the Knicks truly couldn’t afford Lin’s price tag or whether they were miffed by his actions, we’ll likely never know. All we know is that in record time, the Knicks gained and lost one of the best things to happen to them in the last several years.
8. Bobby Petrino and the Arkansas Razorbacks
The Bobby Petrino scandal unfolded slowly in the weeks leading up to the 2012 college football season. First, it was reported that the Arkansas Razorbacks head coach had been in a motorcycle accident. Then, it got grisly.
Turns out, Petrino told authorities and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long that he’d been alone on that motorcycle, but he wasn’t: He was accompanied by Jessica Dorrell, a 25-year-old former volleyball player at Arkansas who had recently been hired as a football assistant. As the story unraveled further, it became painfully apparent that Petrino—a married father—had an inappropriate personal relationship with Dorrell.
In the end, he wasn’t fired by Arkansas because he had an affair. He was fired because he lied about it to his superiors and to authorities, and because he ostensibly let a personal relationship dictate a hiring within the football department.
Petrino led the Razorbacks to a 21-5 record from 2010-11, but even that couldn’t save him in this situation. This was one instance when even the best coach couldn’t be saved.
7. Phil Jackson and the Lakers
Apparently, you don’t have to be with a team in any official capacity to break up with them.
Phil Jackson and the Lakers proved as much in an incredibly strange, incredibly unexpected turn of events this year. After L.A. fired Mike Brown just five games into the 2012-13 season, there were two names circulating as possible replacements: Jackson and Mike D’Antoni. You would have thought Jackson would be the favorite, given the fact that he led the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
Jackson, apparently, thought so, too. But you would both be wrong.
After interviewing for the position, Jackson thought the ball was in his court. He thought Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers were waiting for him to decide whether he wanted to emerge from retirement. That’s why he was so surprised to receive a midnight phone call—before his perceived deadline—from Lakers brass informing him that the position had been awarded to someone else.
It’s safe to say that Jackson, who called the Lakers’ actions “slimy,” now has different feelings toward his beloved team than he did a couple of months ago.
6. Ray Allen and the Celtics
It’s understandable, sometimes. Older players know they have only a limited number of years remaining in the league, and they want to spend those years with a team that is going to afford them the best possible chance of winning a title. Lots of guys do it.
It’s just that nobody really expected one of the members of Boston’s Big Three to do it if it meant jumping ship for the Miami Heat.
The Celtics and the Heat have become serious Eastern Conference rivals ever since LeBron James showed up in South Beach, but never was that more evident than this season, when the two embarked upon a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals battle that left Boston heartbroken and Miami elated. A couple of months after that, Allen—a free agent—spurned his Celtics and a two-year, $12 million offer to accept a three-year, $10 million deal with Miami.
Boston fans still aren’t over the perceived betrayal. Apparently, neither is Kevin Garnett.
5. Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic
In 2012, we finally saw what we’ve been expecting to see for many, many years: the dissolution of the Orlando Magic.
Nothing became official until May, but the beginning of the end came long before then, when star center Dwight Howard allegedly asked team management to fire head coach Stan Van Gundy.
We’ll probably never get to the bottom of the he-said, she-said nonsense.
Howard steadfastly denies that he ever asked for Van Gundy’s head on a platter, while Van Gundy insists a team source confirmed the rumors—but in any case, Van Gundy was fired after Orlando was bounced from the playoffs.
A couple of months thereafter, Howard, too, was bounced from Orlando, though on his own terms. All of his dreams came true in August, when he was traded to Los Angeles in the biggest blockbuster of the offseason, and the Magic officially entered rebuilding mode.
Sadly for Howard, his dream is looking much more like a nightmare right about now.
4. Robin Van Persie and Arsenal
For eight years, Robin Van Persie was Arsenal’s pride and joy. He was one of the most electrifying and envied players in football, accumulating 96 goals throughout his tenure with the Gunners, establishing himself as one of the sport’s present-day legends.
But it all came to a halt this summer, when he ditched Arsenal for the greener pastures of Manchester United—and £24 million. Upon signing a four-year contract with the Red Devils, Van Persie told the Daily Mail:
Everyone knows me by now. I love football. I am quite principled in that perspective. It is always difficult to find the perfect match but I do feel this is the perfect match for me.
Thus far, it would certainly seem that way: Manchester United is 14-3 and on top of the Premier League standings, six points ahead of second-place Manchester City. Arsenal, meanwhile, is far behind in fifth place at 7-6-4 while it watches its star dominate atop the table.
3. Josh Hamilton and the Rangers
In an offseason that boded to be pretty weak in terms of high-quality free agents, Hamilton was expected to be the cream of the crop, and he would be paid outrageously and accordingly. The Rangers didn’t have the money to keep him around.
But still, it hurt when the Los Angeles Angels officially introduced him last week.
Hamilton’s tenure with Texas was equal parts tumultuous and epic. He suffered more than his fair share of off-the-field troubles, but on the field, he was electric. He won an MVP, a batting title and three Silver Slugger awards while reconfiguring the Rangers into a contender in the American League and leading them to two consecutive World Series appearances in 2010-11 (both of which they lost).
It’s going to be a while before the Rangers see another player like him.
2. Peyton Manning and the Colts
We saw it coming from miles and miles away, but when it actually happened, it wasn’t any less shocking.
When Peyton Manning underwent surgery on his neck, therefore missing the entirety of the 2012 season, the Indianapolis Colts’ motive from then on was clear: Suffer through a brutal 2011 season and be rewarded with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, which they’d use to select Andrew Luck. That meant there was no more room in Indy for Peyton.
The Colts officially set their QB loose in March after spending 14 seasons together, and Manning—to his credit—took it well. He had months to prepare for the inevitable, and upon being released, he told ESPN.com, “We all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that's the reality of playing in the NFL."
But the first time we saw anyone other than No. 18 taking the snaps for Indy—and the first time we saw Manning wearing the Broncos’ orange and blue—was a major shock.
1. The NHL and the NHLPA
Much like many of us spent years hoping that Britney and Justin would rekindle their ill-fated romance, many of us go to bed each night praying that the NHL and NHLPA will get back together so that hockey can thrive in America once again.
But with each day that goes by, our hope continues to dwindle slowly, but steadily.
Sept. 15, 2012, was yet another dark day in a series of far too many dark days for hockey. That was the day the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement expired and it proceeded to lock out the members of the NHL Players’ Association, thereby putting a hold on the 2012-13 season—a hold that has not yet been lifted.
Over the last three months, fans, players and owners (maybe) have found themselves demoralized and devastated by the lack of progress in negotiations between the two sides. Every couple of weeks, another slate of games is cancelled. We’ve been robbed of the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game as our favorite players have defected to other countries to play the game they love.
Will the worst and biggest breakup of the year ever reverse itself? Probably not. Now, it’s looking like the NHLPA could be breaking up with itself, too.