National Basketball Association

There's Nothing Like A Good Sports Beef

BY Charlotte Wilder • August 11, 2020

By Charlotte Wilder

Four stories across three different sports unfolded over the weekend that, at first glance, didn’t seem to have much in common.

But a throughline prevailed: years of sports beef. Deep grudges reared their heads in basketball, baseball, and golf, and each one proved that petty arguments and public spats are very important right now. 

Let’s start with the NBA: During the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers on Saturday, Damian Lilliard — who, for what it’s worth, has been carrying Portland up a steep mountain to the playoffs — missed a pair of free throws. LA’s Paul George and Patrick Beverley (who wasn’t playing) were absolutely delighted on the bench. Beverley stood up, clapped his hands, yelled "Dame time!" to troll Lillard, and then laughed so hard he appeared to fall down. 

Afterwards, at the post-game press conference, Lillard said he found Beverley’s joy funny, considering that Lillard hit series-winning shots against Beverley and the Rockets in 2014. Dame also mentioned how he shut down George last year. 

The chirping spilled over onto Instagram, as any good public fight does. PG and Pat Bev chimed in on the comments of a Bleacher Report post highlighting Dame’s presser, saying that Lillard wouldn’t make the playoffs this year.

Dame responded, telling George to "keep switching teams, running from the grind. You boys is chumps." 

Another beef (a sizzling steak of a beef, in fact) occurred during an Astros-Athletics game. Houston’s Humberto Castellanos drilled Oakland’s Ramon Laureano with a pitch — the third one Laureano had been hit with in as many games — and the two started mouthing off at each other. Houston’s pitching coach Alex Cintron started trash-talking Laureano from the dugout, and the fists started to fly. 

This all took place, mind you, after Astros manager Dusty Baker was thrown out of the game in the top of the seventh for arguing with umps. He missed the fight, but said this:

"Who chirped first? Did Alex say something to him first or did Laureano say something? I don't know what happened. I've chirped at players before myself. Guys always say, well, is it inappropriate for a coach to chirp at a guy, but are you supposed to just sit there and take it?" 

"It's in the heat in the moment," Baker continued. "We're all men out there, with high pride and anxiety and everything else. These things happen when you're on the baseball field."

Baker wasn’t the only manager to get tossed this weekend: The Yankees’ Aaron Boone was ejected after a heated exchange during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

If you recall, last season we saw a huge fight between the two teams, and the tension goes back a few years to when Rays right-hander Andrew Kittredge threw at the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela:

The fourth and final beef I must address was a golf beef — arguably the funniest kind, because whenever guys in polo shirts and khakis trade stinging barbs, I feel like I’m watching corporate executives trash each other’s deals. 

In this case, our chirper (as Baker put it) was Brooks Koepka, who took a shot at Dustin Johnson.

"I like my chances and particularly when you look at how others have done when in contention to win majors," Koepka said. "I mean, DJ’s only won one."

Rory McIlroy didn’t love this. 

"I was sort of taken aback when I heard it," McIlroy said. "I try to respect the fact that everyone out here is a great player and I think if you’ve won a major championship, you’re a hell of a player. It’s very hard to knock someone who’s won 21 times out here like DJ, which is three times as many victories as Brooks."

Imagine telling someone not to knock someone else while you knock them. Brilliant stuff.

What makes this even better is that DJ and Koepka have an on-again-off-again friendship. They reportedly almost got into a fist fight at the 2018 Ryder Cup, but then they denied it? And have vacationed together since? And then Koepka says this? Was he joking? Clearly not, if McIlroy got mad about it, unless McIlroy just didn’t get the joke? So many questions. 

I couldn’t have been more delighted when I heard about all of these instances. It’s not that I particularly enjoy watching egos get bruised or managers get ejected. It’s just that I love how petty sports feuds are so deeply human. 

It’s easy to forget that athletes are people. They obviously have torsos, heads, organs, moods — everything that makes a person a person. But their physical ability is so far beyond mere mortals’ that I sometimes find myself assuming their mental or emotional thresholds might be higher than the general population's as well. 

They are not. And it’s the moments when emotion shines through polished veneers (like when Justin Thomas swore on the 16th hole of the PGA Championship after he missed a putt) that remind me. 

I have always said that sports are the original reality show (The Bachelor, for what it’s worth, is 100% sports), and not just because there’s no way of predicting for sure what will happen. It’s also because these silly, petty, totally inconsequential sports fights are little bits of drama, side narratives that provide context to the on-field, -court, or -course play. They’re good stories filled with tension and suspense. 

The voyeuristic narratives make it that much more exciting every time these players and teams have to face each other in person. 

Because it’s the individual relationships and rivalries that players and teams develop over the years, sometimes even decades, that build the emotional world surrounding the physicality of sports. The Dame-Pat Bev-PG drama is so much fun because Dame used something that happened in 2014 as a rebuttal to getting chirped in 2020. In a few years, I’m sure one of them will talk some trash that calls back to this iteration of the beef. 

The Yankees-Rays and Astros-Athletics fights also both happened because of history. Sure, no manager wants to see a baseball come within inches of their players’ heads, but that’s not enough to lead to bench clearing brawls. No, it was the Astros cheating in the 2017 World Series and the repeated offenses the Yankees felt like the Rays had committed that made emotions run so high and people snap. 

I also find it fun — and I’m not proud of this — to watch people deal with dumb drama that doesn’t involve me at all. Which brings me to my final point about why there is something oddly, dare I say ... comforting about these clashes. 

And that’s the fact that many, many people feel the intense emotional strain of this moment. Lots of us are one metaphorical pitch away from leaping off the metaphorical bench — I burned some vegetables the other day and felt a primal urge to throw the pan out the window in a blind rage, which is not my usual response to culinary disasters. 

Maybe, to quote Dusty Baker, "we're all men out there, with high pride and anxiety and everything else." 

This is a hard national moment, and a lot of sports news mirrors the country’s mood. Watching familiar pettiness and tiffs unfold within leagues feels like a refreshing, silly, inconsequential form of normalcy. They’re a tenuous thread to a time when the biggest story in sports wasn’t about how the 2020 college football season will probably be called off. 

There is simply nothing quite so satisfying as heightened stakes that don’t actually matter. A beautiful — if fleeting and silly — way to momentarily dip back into a world we once knew. 


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