There are two things that professional athletes care about. First, of course, they want to win. Anybody with a sense of pride cares about their legacy and is aware of the short length of their career. If they can’t win with their current team, they’ll play hardball and demand a trade. There is obviously another massive influence.
Money makes the world go round and athletes want to make as much as possible. If a franchise or promotion refuses to meet their value, they often fight back. This could involve holding out or other ways to get what they want. So today we’ll look at 25 elite athletes who played hardball with their franchises via Fox Sports and FadeAwayWorld.
25. James Harden (2020):
Harden became a bonafide superstar with the Houston Rockets. The bearded star is one of the NBA’s best shooting guards and his franchise revolved around him. In 2018, he won the MVP award following a season of stunning consistency. But Harden became tired of the Rockets and wanted to move on so he had a better chance of winning a ring.
Needless to say, the Rockets didn’t want to lose their star. But Harden didn’t allow sentiment to soften his stance. He played hardball and revealed a four-team list of where he wanted to go. Finally, he got his wish and moved to his first choice, the Brooklyn Nets. He made another All-Star team, but the Nets flopped in the playoffs after he and Kyrie Irving were injured.
Russell’s name still causes sends shudders down the spines of Raiders fans. After a single stunning college season, he became the hottest commodity in the draft. Oakland was desperate to sign him and Russell knew it. As a result, he demanded the most lucrative rookie contract in history. It was an outrageous $68 million over six years. But eventually, they bowed to his wishes.
In short, this was a massive mistake. Russell changed the game but only because the NFL changed the rules about rookie contracts. He was one of the worst busts in history and barely lasted. His college form didn’t translate to the pro game and his attitude stank like an old baloney sandwich. Quarterbacks dazzle franchises but sometimes they need to play hardball with them.
George was a big fish in a small pond when he played for Indiana. But the problem for the Pacers was that he knew it. His frustrations with the franchise increased over time because they weren’t competitive. It wasn’t that the team had bad luck in the playoffs, but rather a question of ambition. They had none. George vented about this and claimed all they cared about was making the playoffs.
As long as they achieved this, they weren’t bothered about going all the way. That’s why they never tried to bring another superstar to play alongside him. They offered him a new contract but he played hardball and forced a trade. Then, he ended up in Oklahoma alongside Russell Westbrook. To sum up, George and his management team know how to push for a big move.
Revis made a stunning amount of money throughout his NFL career. After three outstanding seasons with the New York Jets, he decided it was time to cash in. The cornerback demanded a new contract and refused to take no for an answer. Initially, the Jets thought that he was bluffing. But it slowly became clear that he was willing to sit out for the rest of time.
Infamously, he held out for 35 days and missed most of the Jets’ preseason. But they gave in and handed him a $45 million contract. It was an outstanding result after he played hardball with the franchise. A few years later, they traded him to Tampa Bay where he made another disgraceful amount of money. He was a great player and also an excellent banker.
Coutinho was Liverpool’s best player in 2017. The Brazilian star had an eye for goals and was clearly elite. As a result, he attracted the attention of Barcelona. This turned his head because it was a dream to play in Spain alongside the best player in the world. However, Liverpool felt reluctant to sell because of his importance to the team. They refused to let him go unless he forced an exit and Barcelona met their price.
Finally, Coutinho issued a transfer request and also faked an injury. This infuriated many Liverpool fans because they had supported him for so long. However, many others understood his position. Ultimately he played hardball with mixed results. His transfer was successful and he won numerous trophies when he moved. But his status as a player fell and he didn’t play often for the team.
Vanzant joined the UFC as a fresh-faced 20-year-old. Instantly, they put their marketing machine behind her. She even secured an individual deal from the UFC’s official apparel supplier, Reebok. She received a lot of negativity about this because people thought that it was just because she was attractive. However, as a fighter, VanZant was distinctly average. When it came to her contract, the UFC was reluctant to pay her more money.
The Oregon native had no issue with this. Instead of accepting their contract offer, she opted to play hardball and decided to pursue free agency. Firstly, she signed a deal with the bare-knuckle boxing promotion BKFC. Then, she announced her own personal website with exclusive content and photographs. In the end, she placed financial security over fighting.
The San Diego Chargers were desperate to bring Manning to California with their number one draft pick. However, Peyton’s little brother had other ideas. He totally refused to play for the Chargers and vowed to complete another year of college football if they went ahead and drafted him anyway. Meanwhile, his father Archie vowed Eli would never play for the franchise.
Most college players wouldn’t play hardball with an NFL franchise, but the Mannings are football royalty. In the end, the Chargers admitted defeat and made a deal with the New York Giants. Questions remain about Eli’s ability. While he helped the Giants to Super Bowl glory on two occasions, he was never in the same class as Peyton, but he still got his way.
The lure of the Big Apple dazzled Anthony. After the Denver Nuggets drafted him he spent eight seasons with the franchise. But then he decided that he wanted to take advantage of his prime years and move to a bigger market. New York was an obvious choice because he had the possibility of being a star. Meanwhile, the Knicks, despite their many flaws, are still a massive franchise.
He forced a trade midway through the season after playing hardball with the franchise. But it left a bad taste because he could have left as a free agent at the end of the year. Many people think that the Nuggets were good enough to win a ring that same year. In the end, his time in New York was ultimately unsuccessful.
Osaka is one of the best active female tennis players in the world. However, she made waves for a different reason when she refused to attend press conferences at the French Open. She claimed that this stressful environment had a negative effect on her mental health. But Roland Garros organizers refused to accept this and said that they would fine her for failure to honor her commitments.
In the end, there was no winner here. Osaka withdrew from the competition because she wanted the attention to be on the players. Meanwhile, the organizers lost one of their most marketable and skilled athletes before the competition. Some people felt that Osaka deserved sympathy for her stance. Others felt that she should have done the press conferences because she was a pro.
The UFC is notorious for underpaying their fighters. Masvidal’s stock rose massively in 2019 after a pair of scorching knockouts. After that, he wanted the promotion to give him the money he felt he deserved. When they refused, Masvidal told the UFC to ‘let him go’ because he was sick of their contract shenanigans. Of course, they were never going to do this because he was a star.
In the end, Masvidal’s efforts at playing hardball paid off. After he lost a title fight against Kamaru Usman on short notice, he stayed inactive until the UFC booked a rematch. But the downside was that he suffered a brutal knockout. This meant that he lost half of his paycheck and his final opportunity to win the belt. He accepted the situation because of the financial gain.
The Toronto Raptors found an icon in Carter. He was their first bonafide superstar and the city fell in love with him. However, the franchise was always a means to an end for Carter. In short, the feelings weren’t reciprocated. Eventually, they served their purpose and he felt that it was time to move south of the border. Carter wanted to move to a bigger market but hurt a lot of Raptors fans in the process.
Finally, after a toxic fallout, Carter achieved his wish. The Raptors traded him to the New Jersey Nets and received Alonzo Mourning in the process. It was one of the worst trades in franchise history and sickened the Raptor fanbase. The next time he came to Toronto, his former fans burnt his jersey and showered him with abuse. After playing hardball, he got his way. But it came at a cost.
Irving had a good situation in Cleveland. He won a Championship in 2016 and was one of the team’s most important players. But there was a LeBron James-sized problem. In short, Irving wanted to be the main man and didn’t like playing second-fiddle to the King. He pushed for an exit and they duly traded him to the Boston Celtics. It’s difficult to say whether or not it worked out.
Irving only lasted for a couple of seasons in Boston and suffered several injuries. It’s fair to say that Celtic fans expected more from a player of his quality. Then, he moved to the Brooklyn Nets. The franchise attempted to assemble a superteam and teamed him up with Kevin Durant. James Harden also arrived a season later. But injuries affected him and his team’s hopes of winning when it counted most.
Dickerson was always visible on the football field for two reasons. First of all, he always wore prescription goggles. Then there was the fact that he was a cut above the rest. He was a brilliant running back and also a well-liked personality. However, he wasn’t afraid to play hardball when he needed to. Dickerson knew his worth and he refused to allow franchises to take advantage of him.
That’s why he missed a total of seven games throughout his career because of contract disputes. In 1984, held out for two games until the L.A. Rams backed down and agreed to pay him an extra four million dollars. Then, in 1990, he repeated the same trick. But he went even further and missed five games until the Colts gave in. It made him $10 million dollars richer, though.
McGregor is the UFC’s cash cow but that doesn’t always mean his relationship with the promotion is always smooth. The UFC booked him to fight Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC 200. It was supposed to be a showcase of their best talent but it didn’t work out that way. In short, McGregor refused to travel to Las Vegas for media duties. Instead, he trained in Iceland with his teammate Gunnar Nelson.
As a result, the UFC canceled the bout. Then, McGregor responded by announcing his retirement from the sport. It was all extremely petty but there was no clear winner in the end. UFC 200 was a mess of a card while McGregor also fought a month later. It’s worth mentioning that he traveled to Iceland after witnessing the death of an MMA fighter in Dublin.
Many NBA fans believe Paul defined the point guard position for a generation. He rose to fame with the New Orleans Hornets who were under NBA ownership at the time. The league wanted him to stay in the ‘Big Easy,’ but Paul was determined to break out. As a result, he pushed for a trade and the Hornets agreed. They made a three-way deal with the Lakers but the NBA shut it down.
However, Paul played hardball and continued to look for an exit. Finally, a deal with the Clippers was established. This started the ‘Lob City’ era and Paul lit up the league as part of an electric offense. But it still hurts that fans never got to see him play alongside Kobe Bryant. That had the potential to be something incredible. Finally, in 2021, Paul made his first NBA Finals appearance with the Suns.
Tevez is a passionate character and became a fan-favorite in England. The volatile striker joined Manchester United in a controversial transfer. He scored lots of goals for the teams but then burnt bridges when he joined their rivals, Man City. However, that didn’t change his personality and things became crazy when he refused to play under their coach, Roberto Mancini.
Then, the club placed him on gardening leave and he enjoyed the next few months. They continued to pay him and he spent time with his family playing golf in Argentina. But this story has a bizarre ending because he rekindled his relationship with Mancini. As a result, he continued to play for the team until an eventual transfer to Juventus. Things were never boring with Tevez.
In 2021, most people agreed that Watson was an elite quarterback. The Houston Texans star shone bright like a diamond in a sack of coal. This was because his franchise was dysfunctional and kept trading away their best players. Watson watched DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt leave Texas and this infuriated him. Then, he rocked the franchise by demanding a trade of his own.
Instantly, the likes of the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets perked up their ears. However, the Texans played hardball and refused to trade him. Then, things became messy because multiple women claimed that Watson sexually assaulted them. These allegations clung to him like glue and stained his reputation. It also affected his appeal to other franchises because of the risk potential.
People forget that Formula One is a team sport. Every team has two drivers competing in each race. However, on an individual level, drivers want to win themselves. In 2016, Nico Rosberg knew that a top-three finish in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would win him the Driver’s Championship. However, his Mercedes teammate Hamilton still had a chance to win too.
Hamilton took the lead but intentionally slowed down as he tried to push Rosberg out of the top three. Then, his team furiously ordered him to race as normal because the team was more important. They calculated that Ferrari had the chance to snatch the Championship if Hamilton made a mistake. However, Hamilton played hardball with Mercedes. In the end, it didn’t work. Hamilton won the race but Rosberg won the championship.
Eli Manning threatened the San Diego Chargers that he would play another year of college football if they drafted him. But Jackson took this a step further. He held a grudge against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after they allegedly tricked him into training on a non-NCAA-approved practice field. This meant that he missed the rest of the college baseball season. He knew that they wanted to pick him but he swore he would never play for them.
Jackson was a man of his word. After the Bucs chose him, he shook his head and agreed to a deal with the Kansas City Royals. In the end, it worked out amazingly for Jackson. Al Davis convinced him to continue being a two-sport athlete. Davis paid him incredible money to play for the Raiders. Jackson has a unique trophy room because he was a Pro Bowler and an MLB All-Star.
Everybody thought that Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs were a match made in heaven. But Darth Vader also believed that Luke Skywalker should rule the galaxy alongside him. In sum, neither of these cases worked out well. Leonard won a Finals MVP award after helping them to succeed in 2014. But things didn’t work out well and Leonard demanded a trade.
His agent deserves a lot of respect because he secured him a move to Toronto. Leonard immortalized himself during his single season with the franchise. The Raptors won their first championship and Leonard claimed another ring. They wanted him to stay but he refused because his eyes were on Los Angeles. That’s how he ended up playing for the Clippers alongside Paul George.
Bell is a complicated human being. At the time of writing, he had six baby mommas and had infuriated every franchise he played for. There is no doubt that the running back was electric in his day, but he makes life difficult for himself. Despite the fact that he missed games for the Steelers because of drug suspensions, he still made three Pro Bowl appearances during his time there.
However, it all ended in tears after he refused to accept the franchise tag. He played hardball and opted to sit out for the entire 2018 season, wasting a year of his career. Then, he moved to the New York Jets, one of the worst decisions he could make. Adam Gase’s team was a disaster and he didn’t enjoy his time with Gang Green. Finally, Bell moved to the Kansas City Chiefs and lost a Super Bowl.
Messi is one of the greatest soccer players of his generation. Furthermore, unlike his rival Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi stayed loyal to a single club for his entire career. He’s synonymous with F.C. Barcelona. But then he stunned the world when he demanded a transfer in 2020. The Argentine superstar was tired of the club’s squabbling board. He also felt like they had wasted some of the best years of his career.
Barcelona scrambled desperately to keep him. However, he stayed for multiple reasons. Firstly, nobody else had enough money to pay for his transfer. Then Barcelona held elections and replaced the entire board to appease him. It was enough to keep him satisfied for another season. Messi’s hardball negotiations were successful because he’s bigger than any soccer team.
Jones became the youngest champion in the history of the UFC when he won the light heavyweight championship at the age of 23. Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for the New York native. While he is one of their most successful fighters, he is also a very controversial figure. He stunned the sport when he vacated his title and moved up to heavyweight. Then, fans expected him to fight the champion, Francis Ngannou.
However, there was one major obstacle. The UFC refused to meet his financial demands because they didn’t think he was deserving. However, Jones played hardball and didn’t back down. He pointed to boxing equivalents like Deontay Wilder. It became a protracted mess, and in the end, Jones sat out. The fans were the real losers because they lost out on an amazing match-up.
One of the greatest NBA stars ever, Abdul-Jabbar is also a renowned civil rights activist. However, he doesn’t always play nice, especially when he wants something. The legendary athlete built his reputation with the Milwaukee Bucks. When he felt like he had outgrown the franchise, the Lakers became interested. Immediately, Abdul-Jabbar knew where he wanted to be.
The Bucks didn’t want to lose their main man but Abdul-Jabbar refused to back down. He played hardball and threatened to sit out for the entire season. He believed that the blue-collar city was too small for him to reach the next level. Finally, Milwaukee accepted that it was better to accept a trade instead of wasting his talent and losing him at the end of the year anyway.
The Green Bay Packers have always had great quarterbacks and Rodgers is one of their best ever. The Californian spent the best years of his career with the franchise and won a Super Bowl. However, he became frustrated because of their inability to maintain a top shelf roster. After an MVP season in 2020, he decided that he had enough of life in Wisconsin.
Rodgers demanded a trade played hardball. He escalated matters when he failed to report to their preseason minicamp. This became a serious concern for the franchise because of his status in the game. Many believed that he wanted to return to his home state while others believed that he betrayed the Packers. It became incredibly messy but both sides refused to back down. Money usually talks, but Rodgers knows what he wants.