We live in an age where sports aren’t just fun and games. At least, they’re not at the highest level where they are literally billion-dollar industries. Nowhere is this truer than in the USA, where the teams in the biggest sports leagues are all run as franchises. Money often makes people do bad things and can result in betrayals.
We all want to get rich and that’s okay. However, some people just don’t care about the consequences of their actions. So today, we’re going to take a look at 30 of the biggest betrayals in the history of the NBA. Money and honor just don’t go together. Not every player on this list was a traitor. Many were actually the victims of betrayal themselves after serving their team for years with distinction. Either way, they resulted in some players’ careers being altered forever. Check out these entertaining and ludicrous stories below via Fadeaway Sport.
30. Jusuf Nurkic
It’s safe to say that Denver Nuggets fans won’t welcome Nurkic back anytime soon. The Bosnian spent three seasons in Colorado before he left for pastures new in Portland. It was mainly because Nikola Jokic emerged as a starter and Nurkic didn’t take kindly to this. In fact, he reacted like an overgrown baby and demanded a trade multiple times. Meanwhile, Jokic even asked the management to bench him for the good of the team.
This gave Nurkic opportunities to prove himself, but he didn’t take them. Finally, in February 2017, the Trail Blazers agreed on a deal with the Nuggets to take Nurkic to Portland. The worst part was that he instantly began to play better. Denver fans saw this as one of the pettiest betrayals in their history because he simply stopped putting in any effort. Then, when they played each other for the first time, Nurkic put on a clinic. But he unfortunately suffered a leg break days later.
Finally, the Chicago Bulls are free from the tyranny of GarPax. We’re talking of course about the gruesome twosome that was John Paxon and Gar Foreman. These two executives made horrendous decisions for one of the most celebrated franchises in U.S. sports. In fact, some were so bad, fans saw them as tantamount to betrayals. For example, the decision to trade franchise star Jimmy Butler was atrocious.
They made so many bad calls that it’s not even funny. One of the worst was to insert moles into the locker room so that the front office could spy on their players. Meanwhile, they made so many bad trades that they would be worthy of another list on their own. Nobody liked seeing Michael Jordan’s old franchise suffer so many blows because of the team’s glorious history. Hopefully, the future is brighter.
Formerly known as Metta World Peace, we’re going to go with his given name for simplicity’s sake. He was one of the most controversial of his era but was also successful. However, the reason he makes this list is because of the manner in which he departed Indiana. He was one of the driving forces in the infamous Malice at the Palace on-court brawl and received a massive ban for his actions.
However, despite this, his teammates stood by him and continued to support him. He spent over 80 games on the sidelines but the Pacers remained defiant. Then, he produced one of the worst betrayals on this list by demanding a trade when he was clear to play. His teammates couldn’t believe what he had just done and refused to train with him. In the end, he got a championship ring with the Lakers so it did work out for him.
The Boston Celtics were a superteam in 2008. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Allen led their attack on the way to championship glory. It appeared to be a match made in heaven, but the reality was that Allen wasn’t happy. Finally, in 2012, he pushed to leave. Boston offered him a $12 million, two-year contract but he rejected it and accepted a contract from the Miami Heat.
This was seen as one of the worst betrayals of the decade because the Heat were divisional rivals. Even worse, they only offered him nine million dollars to play. However, Florida tax laws may have influenced his decision to take the three-year deal. In 2018, the Celtics’ championship-winning team held a reunion. But they didn’t invite Allen because of the manner in which he left.
This is one of the most recent so-called ‘betrayals’ in NBA history. Harden spent nine seasons with the Houston Rockets after arriving from Oklahoma City. He then established himself as the league’s best shooting guard and Houston’s most important player. The franchise was built in his mold and he won the 2018 NBA MBP Award. However, he gradually fell out of love with the team and pushed for a move in 2020.
This became the most high-profile and toxic trade of the season. Harden infuriated the Rockets with his attitude as he demanded to leave. Finally, they agreed and accepted a deal with the Brooklyn Nets, where Harden became part of one the most exciting trios in the NBA. The idea of him playing with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is special but not heartwarming for Houston.
Griffin’s trade to the Detroit Pistons was ridiculous. He spent nine years with the LA Clippers, where he was a multiple-time All-Star and a five-time All-NBA selection. Naturally, he was massively popular in LA, where fans idolized him. So a new deal was a no-brainer, right?
In 2018, the Clippers signed him up to a five-year, $171 million contract. They even compared him to Martin Luther King and Gandhi, as well as holding a mock jersey retirement ceremony. But then, just five months later, they decided to trade him to the Pistons. Of course, they did because that’s how front office betrayals work.
There’s no room for sentiment in sport. Not even for a legend like Olajuwon. In 1993-94, he became the only player in NBA history to win the NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA Finals MVP awards in the same season. Olajuwon played for the Houston Rockets for a total of 17 years.
But then they ruthlessly discarded him. They traded him to the struggling Toronto Raptors for two future draft picks. In other words, thank you for your service but we don’t need you anymore. Olajuwon retired after just a single season in Canada. The Rockets did retire his jersey though. Some betrayals hurt at that moment but time is a healer.
Remember ‘Linsanity?’ That feels like a long time ago now. Lin was the first Asian-American to win an NBA title. He did so with the Toronto Raptors in 2019. But when he broke through at the New York Knicks years ago, the fervor around him was absolutely insane. However, the Knicks still weren’t sure when it came to the offseason.
Most people thought that he was going to get a massive deal from the Knicks. But instead, they chose not to match the Houston Rockets’ offer. This is a tough situation to gauge because his form afterward plummeted dramatically. But even though he saved the Knicks’ season in 2012, they showed no loyalty at all. The NBA constantly throws up betrayals like this because the money comes first.
Pippen was an intensely loyal servant to the Chicago Bulls. He quickly became the No. 2 option behind Michael Jordan and helped the Bulls to an era of unprecedented success. A perennial All-Star, Pippen became a six-time NBA champion playing small forward for the Bulls. He was a brilliant player.
But everybody gets older. Finally, the Bulls decided the time was right to cash in on one of their biggest stars. After 12 seasons with the Bulls, they moved him. They traded him for Roy Rodgers and Jake Voskuh. No, we don’t remember them either. Pippen played five more seasons in the NBA. He never forgave the Bulls for their constant betrayals of trust throughout his career.
Let’s be clear from the beginning: Jerry Sloan deserved better. The former Utah Jazz boss is one of only two head coaches to win 1000 games with one team. Sloan coached the Jazz to 15 consecutive playoff appearances from 1989 to 2003. The way he departed from the Jazz was an absolute shambles and a result of his player betrayals.
Williams hastened Sloan’s departure. He might not have led a coup against him, but he did complain about his coach. Sloan resigned soon after this. Although he said that Williams wasn’t directly responsible, it’s a case of the straw breaking the camel’s back. In short, it shouldn’t have happened in midseason.
This is one of the saddest stories on this list. Walton didn’t betray anybody. But his body let him down badly. He had everything from a physical standpoint including, height, athleticism, dynamism, and skill. Many believed that he was on track to become one of the greatest of all-time. But you can’t ever count injuries out.
He broke his nose, wrist, foot, and legs at various points. This led to a stop-start career where he was brilliant in the flashes where he was able to play. Walton was still a two-time NBA Champion despite his injury woes. However, his personal legacy could have been so much more than it is.
Sprewell was always a volatile figure. It’s part of what made him such a force on the basketball court. In a 1993 practice, Sprewell fought with Byron Houston, who was 50 pounds heavier than him. But it was his run-in with coach P.J Carlesimo that made him a figure of infamy.
Carlesimo asked Sprewell to try and make better passes in training. His player responded by threatening to kill him and physically choking him with his bare hands. Later he would punch him after showering. Unsurprisingly, the NBA banned him for 68 games. He betrayed his coach, his team, and the spirit of the sport.
Game of Thrones has nothing on this story. Hardaway was a brilliant player for the Orlando Magic. After Shaquille O’Neal’s injury, he showed All-Star form to make the difference. However, he was also an incredibly ruthless individual as his head coach Brian Hill would find out to his detriment.
In short, Hardaway led a coup to oust Hill from his position, despite being a stabilizing force after the departure of O’Neal. Eventually, Hill would make his way back to Orlando. But he missed out on the chance to create a dynasty and that was largely in part to Hardaway’s efforts to get rid of him. Head coaches are often powerless in the face of player betrayals.
Pierce gave so much to the Boston Celtics. For 15 seasons, he was the lone bright spark of a depressing outfit. Then the Celtics finally showed some ambition and traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. He helped lead them to their first NBA Championship in 21 years. Talk about an impact.
Furthermore, he was an All-Star for three years in a row. But then Danny Ainge decided to trade Pierce along with a number of other stars to the Brooklyn Nets. This was one of the most lopsided trades of all-time. Fans weren’t happy because Pierce was a legendary figure for the franchise. They thought that Ainge was responsible for one of the dumbest betrayals ever.
The real power of an NBA franchise lies in the hands of the men in suits. The reality is that basketball is a multi-billion dollar industry with some of the highest-paid athletes in the world. So you don’t want to get on the wrong side of a powerful executive. That’s where former Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause comes in.
He had a massive falling out with head coach Phil Jackson. This led to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Horace Grant choosing to walk away despite winning the NBA championship. Krause’s treatment of their coach left them disgusted. The Bulls would suffer the consequences of Krause’s actions.
When you come from a big city, it’s difficult to settle anywhere else. Anthony hails from Brooklyn, New York, but wound up playing for the Denver Nuggets. He actually performed well for six seasons. But then he got itchy feet. Obviously, that didn’t go down well in Denver who don’t like betrayals as we discussed earlier.
His initial request for a transfer was denied but it didn’t stop him pushing for it. Anthony effectively forced the Nuggets to trade him leading to a bad feeling between both sides. He joined the New York Knicks and would play for them for six seasons. How do you say no to a superstar?
Business is business, right? You think you have a good relationship with a player but then he shoots you in the back. That’s what happened in the case of Boozer and his relationship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After establishing a strong partnership with LeBron James, the Cavaliers were obviously eager to keep him.
So, in order to give him a pay rise, they let him opt out of his contract. But they didn’t count for the Utah Jazz swooping in, as Boozer was ready to sign a $39 million contract. Their $70 million offer blew the Cavaliers out of the water. The lack of principle infuriated the Cavs. However, Boozer shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
This man might not be the best to have in your dressing room. First of all, he played a massive role in ousting Stan Van Gundy from the Miami Heat. That’s still one of the most confusing decisions we’ve seen in the NBA. This definitely doesn’t look good for his character. But his betrayals didn’t stop here.
He also had a massive falling out with the LA Lakers after complaining that Kobe Bryant was shooting too much. You just can’t get on the wrong side of Bryant and Howard was instantly unpopular with fans. Furthermore, his coaches questioned his conditioning. But he still went on to be an eight-time All-Star.
Don’t mention Marbury’s name in Minnesota. As a youngster, he starred for the Timberwolves and looked like dragging them towards a genuine shot at contention. But it all ended in tears as he decided he wanted out. This led to a toxic atmosphere behind the scenes and terrible upheaval for the franchise.
There were two main contributing factors as to why Marbury pushed to leave. In short, he didn’t like Minnesota that much and wanted to move somewhere better. Also, there was the chance of commercial opportunities if he moved on. At the end of the day, money talks, but it took the Timberwolves a long time to recover.
Is Malone the best player never to win an NBA championship? He’s definitely up there. One of the division’s greatest power forwards, he put the Utah Jazz on the map. For 18 seasons, Malone was the Jazz’s biggest star. But then their relationship came to an abrupt ending when he decided to go chasing rings.
Malone played during an era where it was not common for players to leave their franchise. Nowadays, we know that our stars are like mercenaries. When Malone left Utah for the LA Lakers, there was genuine shock and a massive sense of betrayal. It didn’t even pay off because he never got that elusive ring.
Currently, the oldest player in the NBA, Carter is shining bright at the age of 42. The Florida native was arguably the first marquee player to star North of the Border. He played a crucial role in developing the Toronto Raptors. However, all good things come to an end and their relationship ended in tears.
Backroom disputes resulted in Carter becoming demotivated in his final season. This led to poorer performances and a sense that he didn’t want to be there. As a result, the fans got on his case. Unfortunately, broken promises had resulted in Carter feeling betrayed by the franchise. However, the fans saw his weaker displays as a betrayal too.
The Mavericks thought they had signed Jordan before he suddenly re-signed with the LA Clippers. After letting Tyson Chandler walk away, the Mavericks decided to pursue a big name. DeAndre Jordan fit the bill. He had great talks with Mark Cuban and both parties agreed on an $80 million contract.
But it still wasn’t over. The Clippers were desperate to keep their man and in the final hours, they offered him an $88 million contract. Even though he never played for them, Jordan managed to betray the Mavericks. Cuban bemoaned Jordan’s lack of integrity, but money did the talking in the end.
It’s safe to say that Kidd will not be on Mark Cuban’s Christmas card list anytime soon. This betrayal is one of the most blase on this list. In short, the Dallas Mavericks offered Kidd a new contract. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like he was about to sign up. But that’s when the drama happened.
Kidd decided to sign with the Knicks after verbally agreeing to continue with the Mavericks. It gets even worse. They literally just matched the Mavericks’ offer. Cuban was naturally apoplectic because the pair had shaken on the deal. It wasn’t like Kidd was even going to make any more money. In the end, this became notorious as one of the worst business betrayals in professional sports.
Maybe this isn’t exactly a betrayal, but it’s definitely a case of clear-cut revenge. After Jason Kidd abandoned the Mavericks to sign for the New York Knicks, Cuban was furious. His reaction was about as spiteful as you can get. Cuban blocked the retirement of Kidd’s jersey number. That’s quite the burn.
Was that really necessary? It is kind of hilarious and Kidd did backstab his franchise. Some accused Cuban of being petty and reactionary. The big question is whether his personal quarrel with the former Mavericks star should have been such an influence in the decision.
Thomas had a somewhat nomadic career before moving to the Boston Celtics for three seasons. However, the way he departed the east coast definitely left a bitter taste. He gave literally everything to the Celtics and even became an All-Star while playing for them. But business is business.
Currently playing for the Washington Wizards, Thomas played for the Celtics with broken teeth. Then he remarkably turned out for them the day after his sister’s funeral. Despite his passion, the Celtics traded Thomas for Kyrie Irving in 2017. After an All-Star season, it was a harsh way for his stay in Boston to end.
After the abrupt resignation of Pat Riley, Stan Van Gundy found himself as the coach of the Miami Heat. Things looked fantastic for him as Shaquille O’Neal was in the form of his life and the Heat was cruising towards a championship win. He even ended up coaching the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game because his record was so good.
But then dirty politics went down. Riley connived his way back in as head coach leaving Van Gundy out in the cold. The Heat would go on to win the NBA championship, cruelly denying Van Gundy his first ring. He would go on to coach the Orland Magic and the Detroit Pistons, but who knows what could have been? He didn’t deserve betrayals like that.
One of the biggest problems for NBA fans is that their teams are franchises. This means that business comes first. In many sports, local teams are a fixture in the community. But a franchise is fickle and will up sticks if the money isn’t coming in. A good example is that of the Seattle SuperSonics.
Technically they rebranded by moving state and becoming the Oklahoma City Thunders, but fans suffered. In short, the franchise was denied permission to build a new stadium. So they transplanted to the Sooner state. Then, to rub salt into their wounds, Kevin Durant decided to leave.
Durant is one of the best basketball players in the NBA today. Considered one of the sport’s good guys, Durant has given millions to charity over the years. But one place that he’s not popular in is Oklahoma. He decided to abandon the Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors. It did not go down well.
This move saw him branded a coward by commentators and fans across the US who love to pounce on player betrayals. However, he wanted to win NBA rings and he achieved this goal, winning back-to-back championships. Furthermore, he was the MVP in both Finals, which just goes to show that he wasn’t there to make up the numbers.
O’Neal is one of the NBA’s most iconic faces. Arguably the most dominant center in the history of basketball, he was a four-time NBA champion and a 13-time All-Star. He first came through the ranks of the Orlando Magic where it quickly became apparent that he was a special talent. But things got toxic behind the scenes.
The Magic were not willing to match O’Neal’s wage demands. After four seasons in Florida, O’Neal saw this as a betrayal. He was never going to win a championship with the Magic anyway, so he decided to move on. O’Neal joined the LA Lakers and would go on to win his first NBA rings.
This is one of the most infamous betrayals in modern NBA history. James had almost deity-like status in Cleveland. But the truth of the matter was that he was never going to win a championship with the Cavaliers. So after seven seasons with the Cavaliers, he decided to join the Miami Heat. ‘The Decision’ made him one of the most hated athletes in America.
It turned out pretty well for him though. Although it took a couple of seasons, he would go on to win back-to-back championships with the Florida franchise and establish himself as the biggest star in the NBA. However, he would rejoin the Cavaliers in 2014 and even helped them to their first championship in 52 years. Relationship repaired.