The Ten Most Bitter Sporting Feuds – Part 3

In Uncategorized on August 3, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Kobe Bryant Vs Shaquille O’Neal

More teammates turned bitter rivals, the pairing of the then most skilful shooting guard and the burliest center to play the game won three titles together at the LA Lakers before something had to give.

O’Neal had always told the Lakers management that the player he referred to as “Showboat” was too selfish for them to win anything with him in the team. Bryant did little to endear himself to people when he insisted that the way the team played was too simplistic for his talents to be showcased and resented the system being designed to put everything through Shaq. When Bryant called out the big forwards defensive commitment he retaliated with the line “if the big dog ain’t me, then the house won’t get guarded – period.”

It became even more personal in their final season together, Kobe telling the press that Shaq came into the season “fat and out of shape” and insinuated that the player would feign injury to hide the fact he was just unfit. When Kobe was falsely accused of rape, O’Neal offered no support publicly or privately, After winning another title together and making noise through the press that they would put the feud behind them, O’Neal requested to be traded away from the team and wound up at Miami Heat.

In recent years the feud seems to have cooled down and O’Neal has offered words of praise for his former team-mates. It’s a shame these didn’t occur in time for them both to have won more titles for both themselves and the Lakers.

Kris Draper vs Claude Lemieux

It takes a special kind of player to be labelled “dirty” in what is effectively a brawl on ice but that was the reputation of one Claude Lemieux. Ranked second in ESPN’s “the Top Ten Most Hated NHL Players Of All Time” and he even bit the finger off one player during a scuffle. It’s safe to say that he had made few friends amongst his colleagues and the fans alike despite his many fine points as a player.

Playing for the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 he put in a huge check from behind on Draper of the Detroit Red Wings, one that saw him left with a broken jaw, broken cheekbone, a shattered orbital bone and a gash that required thirty stitches. After a spell in hospital Draper had to undergo reconstructive surgery and was released with his jaw wired shut.

When the two teams met next season Lemieux, making his first appearance of the season, was a targeted man and although Draper couldn’t exact any retribution himself it was clearly on the mind of his friend and linemate Darren McCarty when eighteen minutes into the game he proceeded to batter Lemieux with a series of blows to the face and head that left the player curled up on the ice. This sparked a huge brawl.

The incident gave an extra element of spice whenever the two teams met and none have forgot what the fans favourite Draper endured at the hands of Lemieux. Several of the matches between the two have resulted in violence even though the two players themselves have never laid hands on each other again.

Tonya Harding v Nancy Kerrigan

Female figure ice-skating is probably the most unlikely sport to produce a bitter feud but this proved the old adage about the female of the species with a sporting rivalry that spilled over into off the rink violence.

Kerrigan was the all-American poster-girl, a well spoken success who cared for her blind father and excelled at school. Harding was from the wrong side of the tracks and had battled against an alcoholic mother and absentee father to achieve her success in spite of her upbringing. Yet the rivalry on the ice was so intense between the two that Harding cracked and came up with a plan to be rid of her rival just prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics.

A plot that involved her husband, Jeff Gillooly, and three other accomplices saw a masked man attack Kerrigan with a lead pipe, specifically targeting her knees, with only weeks to go before the showpiece event in Lillehammer, Norway. Harding denied having anything to do with the attack and while the injuries were serious enough to keep Kerrigan out of the national championships both skaters were selected for the Olympic squad.

When Harding was found to have been involved with the plot her career was over and she was banned for life. Justice was done at the Olympics as well. Kerrigan achieved second, far ahead of Harding who only managed eighth.

Benny ‘Kid’ Paret v Emile Griffith

This feud is shocking mostly for the fact that it was finished in the most decisive of fashions, with one dying at the hands of the other. Rarely does boxing get this brutal.

This bloodiest of feuds got started in 1961 when Paret lost his welterweight title to Griffith after a knock out in the thirteenth round. The rematch was set-up fairly swiftly and was scheduled for six months later. That bout went the way of Paret, the fighter regaining his title, although in what was seen as a controversial decision. A split decision, many who watched the fight were convinced that it was a fix and Griffith certainly felt he had done more than enough to retain the belt.

The third fight was set up to be a classic, the rivalry between the two fighters being stoked from all angles. This spilled over during the weigh in when the Cuban fighter Paret called Griffith a “maricón” the derogatory Spanish term for homosexual. He also threatened to not only beat him up but his “husband”. Although the press ignored the accusation and tried to gloss over it as a mistranslation, the slur had clearly hurt the feelings of Griffith and this led to what is considered one of the most savage beatings in the history of the sport.

In the twelfth round Griffith got his opponent on the ropes and unleashed a barrage of twenty-nine unanswered blows, eighteen of which landed in six seconds. The ref called a stoppage, perhaps too late, and eventually Paret lapsed into a coma. While he was being tended Griffith, unknowing the severity of the beating, goaded “I’m very proud to be the welterweight champion again…and I hope Paret is feeling very good.” The Cuban died ten days later having never woke up.

Griffith was wracked with guilt over what he had done and sought forgiveness from the widow of Paret. She refused to meet with him until her dying day in 2004. Their son was more forgiving and met with the elderly fighter for the final scene of a 2005 documentary about the fight called “Ring of Fire” where they embraced.


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