The Biggest Off-Court Feuds in the NBA

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2012

The Biggest Off-Court Feuds in the NBA

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    Despite the good vibes from a holiday-timed resolution to the months old lockout, it's feuding season once again in the NBA, and it couldn't come soon enough.

    Didn't think a story could eclipse the perpetual intrigue surrounding Dwight Howard's career plans? You only needed to wait for the epic revelation that Stan Van Gundy was already aware that Howard was lobbying for him to be canned.

    Things are just getting started in a saga that makes "The Decision" look tame by comparison. 

    But it wouldn't be fair to lesser feuds if we let Dwight and Stan claim all the attention, so here are the nine rifts keeping life off the court as entertaining as ever.   

Stan vs. Superman

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    Dwight Howard has proved to be his own kryptonite, alienating his head coach and team in equal proportion to his tanking public image.

    When Stan Van Gundy admitted to the media that he was aware his superstar center wanted him ousted, no one really knew how to react. The Orlando Magic have become synonymous with awkwardness and dysfunction, and—however impolite Van Gundy's honesty may be—Howard had this coming.

    You just can't undermine your coach and team so consistently with the roundball equivalent of a military coup without expecting things to blow up in your face. After blaming the front office for coming up short in assembling the team of his choosing, now Howard has taken to blaming the coaching staff.

    Since when did Superman have so much difficulty accepting accountability?

    The worst part of it all is that Howard has acted (and been allowed to act) as if this is his team. We've heard of player-coaches, but player-GMs? It's as if Howard wants to be the next Jackie Moon—a player/owner/coach with a comically inflated self-opinion. Can you imagine class acts like Derrick Rose secretly plotting the Bulls' direction?

    For their parts, Van Gundy and Howard have opted to focus on basketball, to the extent that's possible anyway. The fracas couldn't have come at a worse time for Orlando, and it's hard to imagine this franchise doing anything other than collapsing and starting over.

    Count Orlando as the next casualty of a league increasingly held hostage by the egomaniacal "franchise player," a plot line more reminiscent of Lex Luther than the good guy.  

Lakers Fans vs. David Stern

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    It's a good thing David Stern's position as NBA commissioner isn't democratically elected or subject to any kind of public approval. He would have to overcome overwhelming unpopularity in at least half of Los Angeles.

    The other half thinks he's just fine, of course.

    After vetoing a deal that would bring Chris Paul to the Lakers, Stern turned around and sent the sought-after point guard to the Clippers instead. It doesn't get much more divisive than that.

    It's not like Lakers fans are the only ones who have a beef with Stern—the NBA Players Association and anyone who's been fined for having an opinion are equally entitled to their respective grievances. Stern has been an equal-opportunity offender, but Lakers fans felt the sting on this one.

    Some fans view David Stern as a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt, busting up the NBA's most monopolistic franchises. The question is: Where was he when Miami orchestrated an Avengers-like team of superheroes?

    Perhaps more to the point, who is he to make these kinds of decisions? Stern is the worst kind of authoritarian, the kind content to justify his decisions with the bureaucratic equivalent of "Because I said so."

    That won't be good enough for Lakers fans, and it won't be good enough for anyone expecting evenhanded decision making. 

Dan Gilbert vs. LeBron James

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    Sure, we're already well into LeBron James' second season away from Cleveland, but will it ever get any better than the letter Dan Gilbert released soon after The Decision?

    Some key excerpts from this "masterpiece" are worth revisiting:

    As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. 

    This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

    Better yet, Gilbert set an impossibly high bar for his young team to meet:

    "I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE" 

    You can take it to the bank. 

    If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our "motivation" to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.

    Unfortunately, anyone taking that to the bank would find themselves sorely disappointed. The Cavaliers have a bright future, but they're having a rough year. Gilbert can't be pleased and probably won't be for quite some time.

    LeBron may try to make amends with Cavs fans, but don't expect him to find a warm reception from the man who used to write his checks. 

DeMarcus Cousins vs. Blake Griffin

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    DeMarcus Cousins has a right to be upset about at least one thing—Blake Griffin's impressive season has gotten a lot more attention than his very comparable campaign. Griffin scores more (and more efficiently), but Cousins has played markedly better defense.

    The real difference is twofold: Blake Griffin cashes in as a regular on SportsCenter, and he does it in Los Angeles.

    Wouldn't you be bitter?

    Officially, Cousins' beef has more to do with Griffin's flair for performance in Sacramento's 93-85 loss to the Clippers. The Kings' outspoken center called Griffin "an actor" after the game and later told Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick that Blake was "babied."

    While the comments may be a tad inflammatory, there's certainly something to be said for their merits.

    But even if this is really about Cousins just wanting to share the limelight, he will get his due attention...one way or another. 

Kris Humphries vs. Kim Kardashian

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    Hell hath no greater fury than a spurned male model.

    And so it is that Kris Humphries expects to be paid for his troubles. Those of us coerced into watching all of this nonsense go down on one of the worst television shows ever made are also in line for a settlement. 

    Kim Kardashian has done us all wrong. Forget that she made a mockery of her vows with a 72-day excursion through boredom and superficiality. That's par for the course with her family.

    The saddest consequence of the world's fastest breakup is that Kris Humphries' reputation has taken a massive hit.

    Granted, Humphries found a way to be both opportunistic and naive at the same time, but do we really need to pile it on? It's hard to tell who was using whom here, but Kim's record on this front isn't exactly spotless.

    Don't look now, though—she is ushering an evil into this world of such proportions that we can only conclude the 2012 apocalypse is indeed upon us: the unholy alliance that is Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

    Humphries' reaction to the burgeoning business proposal/relationship couldn't be more apropos: "Good luck dude, you are going to need it."

    The only question is which one will need it more. 

Kevin Garnett vs. the World

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    The portrait of intensity and competitiveness Kevin Garnett has sold fans over the years has slowly given way to a far different image—namely, that of a good, old-fashioned jerk.

    The spectacle that is KG reached new levels in 2010 when the Pistons' Charlie Villanueva accused Garnett of calling him a "cancer patient."

    Garnett denied the utterance, clarifying that his "comment to Charlie Villanueva was in fact, ‘You are cancerous to your team and our league.’"

    Sounds like just the kind of eloquent character scrutiny Garnett dishes out while battling on the low block. 

    Of course, this wasn't the first or last time players have complained that Garnett's mouth now runs faster than he does. He got into it with DeMarcus Cousins in March, only to watch the second-year star convincingly outplay him. 

    At least Cousins can defend himself—KG's war on ball boys is another story altogether. After a certain point, this whole "intenser than thou" thing just comes off as a grouch without a cause. Garnett should either admit he's not a role model a la Sir Charles or just play nice.

    He can't have it both ways. 

"The Mailman" vs. the Utah Jazz

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    You might have learned the feud between Karl Malone and Utah Jazz CEO Greg Miller was already over before you even knew it had begun.

    The drama trickling out of Salt Lake City rarely makes for the best headlines.

    It all started with Malone going public with criticism of how the Jazz handled Jerry Sloan's exit. Many who had watched the events unfold around Sloan and a discontent Deron Williams might have cautiously shared in Malone's sentiment—it certainly appeared that the Jazz, like other small-market teams, had found themselves helpless to resist a superstar's charm.

    Who better to come to Sloan's belated defense than an all-timer who excelled under the coach for so many years?

    Miller didn't take kindly to the criticism, but he did take to Twitter to dispute Malone's claim that he once resorted to buying a Jazz ticket from scalpers.

    Pedantic as the back-and-forth eventually became, it sure was nice to hear Malone talk about something besides fishing. It was also nice to forget about how mediocre the Jazz have been this season.

Lamar Odom vs. Mitch Kupchak

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    Lamar Odom's painful saga with the Dallas Mavericks mercifully ended with the team inactivating him for the rest of the season—not that he had been especially "active" up to this point.

    But Odom's trials and tribulations in Dallas obscure the better story here: betrayal at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The disaster in Big D would never have happened if not for the Lakers' ill-fated pursuit of Chris Paul and Odom's subsequent departure. Odom just couldn't stomach how willing his team was to exchange him for an upgrade.

    It appeared that GM Mitch Kupchak cared little for Odom's contributions to Los Angeles and still less about the impact the move would have on a lucrative reality TV show.

    Instead of showing up his old team with a season resembling vindication, Odom pulled the "emo" card and left Dallas in a sad, pathetic manner. We will just have to wait another season to see how this episode ends.  

Donald Sterling vs. Dignity

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    It really doesn't get much worse than Donald Sterling, but Los Angeles Clippers' fans have managed to forgive their wayward owner in the wake of acquiring superstar point guard Chris Paul. 

    They shouldn't.

    Never mind that Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman were treated like second-class citizens when the organization moved them. This is a "business" after all, right?

    You can even forgive Sterling for refusing to spend money on this team and watching it remain among the league's worst for nearly 30 years. Again, a guy's got to make a buck.

    But even in a sea of nihilism, our patience with Sterling has worn thin. From disingenuous philanthropic efforts to allegations of systemic racism, this man appears to be at war with all that is good and holy in this world.

    Sterling's utter lack of class became inescapably public with his heckling of point guard Baron Davis in 2010. This was when Davis was playing for the Clippers, by the way.

    Chris Paul may have inherited a better opportunity to win with his new gig, but he also inherited an organization that has to have some of the worst karma in all of professional sports.