It was one colossal train wreck from start to finish, and for the controversy-hungry sports media, it was pure gold. Every thing from Van Gundy’s casual admittance about knowing Howard had tried to have him fired to the cringe-inducing moment when Howard places an arm around his coach’s shoulder was excruciatingly painful to watch.
And yet, superstars falling out with their coaches is nothing new in the NBA. The implosion of the Van Gundy-Howard relationship may have played out in its own tragicomic way, but it wasn’t the first time in history that a player and coach have failed to see eye-to-eye. Previous instances may not have involved quite so much Pepsi sipping, but they were equally dramatic,. Here, in ascending order of craziness, are 7 classic Player vs. Coach clashes.
7. Shaq vs. Stan Van Gundy
Yes, it’s poor old Stan Van Gundy having problems with another dominant franchise centre.
Van Gundy coached Shaq in Miami, but was fired a few games into the 2005-06 season. In this instance, the details of their troubled relationship didn’t fully emerge until Shaq was playing in Phoenix. In 2009, Van Gundy accused Shaq of flopping during a game against the Magic. Shaq took exception to those complaints, calling Van Gundy a “Master of panic”, further stating, “When it gets time for his team to go in the postseason and do certain things, he will let them down because of his panic.
I’ve been there before. I’ve played for him”. Ouch.
In light of those stinging comments it became obvious that Shaq had been instrumental in having Van Gundy fired in Miami. Unfortunately for Stan, it’s tough to see the Howard situation unfolding any differently.
6. Deron Williams vs. Jerry Sloan
On February 10th, 2011, Jerry Sloan resigned as Jazz head coach, to the shock of the basketball world. Making the news even more confounding was the fact that Sloan had recently signed a one-year contract extension. Obviously something had taken place that had quickly soured Sloan’s relationship with the organization.
Almost as soon as Sloan exited, reports came out that he had repeatedly clashed with star point guard Deron Williams. Reportedly, the two had nearly come to blows during half time in a game they lost to the Bulls, the night of his resignation. Later, Sloan would say that he felt he had lost the support of the board, but the clashes with Williams appear to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Williams would also leave Utah in a trade with the Nets, not too long after.
5. Allen Iverson vs. Larry Brown
This is the bust-up that brought us the single greatest sports press conference of all time. I am, of course, referring to that infamous ‘Practice Rant’ in 2002, when Iverson mentions the word practice over 20 times, and states, “We’re sitting here, I’m suppose to be the franchise player, and we’re in here talking about practice”. Great stuff.
Iverson was defending himself against Brown’s assertions that he had missed practice on one too many occasions. The 76ers, after reaching the finals the season before, had just suffered a disappointing first round playoff exit, and Iverson may have felt he was being scapegoated.
Either way, the press conference marked a low point in a tumultuous love-hate relationship between player and coach. Brown would go on to leave Philadelphia in 2003.
4. Wilt Chamberlain vs. Butch van Breda Kolff
The Big Dipper referred to van Breda Kolff as the “Dumbest and worst coach ever”, while Butch not so affectionately labeled Chamberlain “The Load”. No love lost there.
Indeed, the relationship was doomed from the start. Wilt had come to Los Angeles in the summer of 1968, but endured a controversy-filled first season, in which he feuded with his coach constantly. Van Breda Kolff had trouble meshing Wilt with the Lakers’ other stars, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, and felt that the centre was lazy, egotistical, and obsessed with stats. That was probably all true, to be honest.
It all reached a boiling point in game 7 of the 1969 finals, when van Breda Kolff benched Chamberlain in the final minutes of the game which the Lakers would lose. The coach was widely chastised for the decision and would resign soon after.
3. Stephon Marbury vs. Isiah Thomas
Before Stephon Marbury was having statues of himself built in China, he was an overpaid, coach-killing, prima donna. Isiah Thomas, of course, was a transcendent Hall-of-Fame point guard turned awful coach and general manager, who did his best to destroy the New York Knicks.
Actually, it’s hard to say which man is less popular in the Big Apple.
This particular feud was an ugly affair, arising when Marbury learned that Thomas was planning to remove him from the starting line-up. The two allegedly came to blows on the team plane, and Marbury reportedly threatened to blackmail his coach, likely using Thomas’ 2006 sexual harassment lawsuit as his ammunition. At the end of the disastrous 2007-08 season, Thomas was fired by the Knicks’ ownership, while Starbury stayed on to feud with the next coach, Mike D’Antoni.
2. Spencer Haywood vs. Paul Westhead
Dwight Howard may have gone to the Magic ownership and tried to get Van Gundy fired, but he definitely didn’t try and have his coach killed. Spencer Haywood did.
During a team practice before game 3 of the 1980 finals, an over-cooked Haywood fell asleep. This was the NBA era of hard partying, and copious amounts of cocaine use. Haywood fell victim to both. He was suspended by Westhead after game 3, and was infuriated with his coach’s decision, later stating that “I left the Forum and drove off in my Rolls thinking one thought—that Westhead must die”. Yikes.
Haywood contacted a Detroit hitman and made arrangements to have Westhead killed, before thankfully changing his mind. Westhead lived, and the Lakers went on to win the 1980 championship, before he was fired the next season after falling out with another star player: Magic Johnson.
1.Latrell Sprewell vs. P.J. Carlesimo
This bizarre incident tops Haywood and Westhead’s clash, as the craziest coach-player feud of all time, because although Haywood arranged for someone to kill his coach, Sprewell almost did the deed himself.
During a Golden State Warriors’ practice back in 1997, Carlesimo reportedly told Sprewell to put a little more effort into his passes. Sprewell didn’t take his coach’s criticism too well and told Carlesimo to leave him alone (I’m paraphrasing, of course).
Carlesimo then unwisely approached Sprewell before being choked for a solid 15 seconds and slammed to the ground. The other Warriors’ players managed to pull a raging Sprewell away from his gasping coach, but Latrell returned 20 minutes later to land a punch on poor Carlesimo. Sprewell was suspended by commissioner David Stern for 82 games, and unsurprisingly never played for the Warriors again