Reliving the best sports feuds of 2016
What a year it was, and what a year it was for beef in sports. It felt like everywhere you turned, someone was in a spat with someone (or something) else. So, naturally, as 2016 comes to a close it only felt right to round them all up for your reading pleasure.
Below you’ll find the feuds and characters that kept us talking over the past 12 months. Happy New Year.
Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook
An NBA Cold War was waged this summer, as Kevin Durant split from Oklahoma City to join the rival Warriors, Westbrook defiantly remained and re-upped, and a series of what may or may not have been passive-aggressive shots flew across media coverage and sneaker marketing efforts. It was tinged with disdain, but never enough that we were sure exactly what was going on. When the former brodies finally met head to head for the first time, Golden State’s pasting of the Thunder—and 39 from Durant—rendered it slightly moot. There wasn’t much Westbrook could do, other than, you know, be averaging a triple-double through Christmas. Depending how the rest of this season goes, it might be the great, ambiguous beef of 2017, too. — Jeremy Woo
Rougned Odor vs. Jose Bautista
Baseball rivalries die hard. Bautista attempted a takeout slide on Rangers second baseman Odor in response to Matt Bush hitting him with the first pitch of the eighth inning of a May 15 game in Arlington. That beanball came as retaliation for Bautista's famous bat flip that came after his walk-off home run at the end of the 2015 ALDS, Odor was unhappy about the entire thing. Punches flew, and Bautista was clocked in the face in one of baseball's most memorable brawls in recent years. Shout-out to Adrian Beltre for stepping in quickly, possibly preventing Odor from ending Bautista's career. — Chris Chavez
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz
Not many weeks were more memorable than the seven days leading up to UFC 196. McGregor had won 15 straight decisions leading up to the fight, and Diaz was thrown in at the last minute after Rafael Dos Anjos dropped out with a foot injury. McGregor broke out some of his greatest insults, calling Diaz the “skinniest fat guy” he’d ever seen. Diaz said McGregor took steroids. McGregor said he’d “eat his carcass in front of his little gazelle friends.” The two threw water bottles at each other. The talk leading up was spectacular, and so was the fight. Diaz wound up pulling the upset by submission in the second round, and UFC president Dana White thought the world should see McGregor get a crack at revenge. Five months later, we got it. McGregor defeated Diaz at UFC 202 by majority decision, leaving fans clamoring for a third fight. Based on the verbal insults alone, this was one of the best feuds of the year. The in-ring showings might bump it to No. 1. — Kenny Ducey
Tom Brady vs. Appeals Court
I still have no idea when Deflategate officially ended, but basically, Tom Brady was cleared and then re-suspended through due legal process for allegedly deflating footballs against the Colts in a game that took place in the 2015 playoffs, blah blah blah. He then appealed the reinstatement of the suspension and failed. Can’t spell appeals court without an L, I guess. He was suspended four games, three of which the Patriots won anyway. — J.W.
Hope Solo vs. Sweden
Cowards, those Swedes. U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo said so, at least, beefing after being knocked out by Sweden in the Olympics. Sweden, coached by former U.S. boss Pia Sundhage, didn’t really have to say much back, until Sundhage pointed out, “I’m going to Rio, she’s going home.” That burn aside, Solo took the biggest loss as U.S. Soccer essentially used the insult as an excuse to exile her from the program, probably forever. — J.W.
Bengals vs. Steelers
In 2016, the Bengals and Steelers rose to the very top of the list of best rivalries in sports. It all started with one of the games of the year—a thrilling AFC Wild Card game that ended with a slew of penalties and an 18–16 Steelers win. Who could forget how that one ended? Vontaze Burfict hit a defenseless receiver (classic) and Pacman Jones was flagged for going at it with Pittsburgh coach Joey Porter, who was illegally on the field after the play took place. After the game, Pacman whipped out his phone and cursed out the referees in a legendary Instagram video which was so charged that he actually called Joey Porter “Terry.” After some off-season smack talk, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill scored a touchdown on Pittsburgh and tried to rip the Terrible Towel before throwing it to the ground, inciting more hysteria in Steeler nation. When these two sides meet, there are fireworks. —K.D.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Donald Trump
Kaepernick’s ongoing protest of police brutality and American racism dominated headlines for much of the early NFL season, which coincided with election season. That meant a natural platform for Trump to take a stand against Kaepernick's stance that a chunk of his target demographic, safe to say, was unhappy about. Kaepernick made clear many times that he was not protesting the military, but some people really like their America a certain way. After Kaepernick called Trump racist, Trump took shots at Kaepernick, saying he was driving down NFL TV ratings and saying “he should find a country that works better for him.” After all that, Kaepernick said he did not vote. Nevertheless, the respective ideologies here remain in opposition. It was that kind of year. — J.W.
Jim Harbaugh vs. everybody
James Joseph Harbaugh was ready to go with just about anyone in 2016. He took heat for his insane recruiting tactics at the beginning of the year, fought publicly with many coaches for satellite camps and threw countless memorable tirades on the sidelines. Most recently, he tore into officials for the ball spot they gave Ohio State J.T. Barrett that helped the Buckeyes defeat the Wolverines in overtime. Harbaugh is always looking to throw fists, it seems. He never actually did. — K.D.
Draymond Green vs. crotches
Steven Adams. Steven Adams again. LeBron James. The world. Perhaps the leading subversive NBA post-season storyline of 2016 was Draymond Green’s wayward feet, the nether regions they impacted, and also the Finals series they might have swung. His one-game suspension from the NBA directly effected the 3–1 lead Golden State held, and left the door open for LeBron and the Cavs to make a comeback. Since then, Green has stayed mostly clean, but don’t forget: a wayward Snapchat over the summer stood to prove that even Green’s own groin caused him a few problems this year. — J.W.
Yordano Ventura vs. Manny Machado
Ventura was basically asking to get beat up by Machado here. The Royals pitcher got shelled in their first-inning meeting and then got his message across by throwing at the Orioles' star in the second inning. Machado jawed back before charging the mound and getting Ventura on the ground fast. Machado not only won the fight (and ultimately served a suspension for it) but won free crab legs for life from a Baltimore restaurant. — C.C.
Russia vs. WADA
The ongoing fiasco that is Russian doping came to light with a damning report by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which uncovered evidence of systemic and state-run cheating in late 2015. Many more of Russia's deceitful ways were uncovered in the lead-up to the Summer Games in Rio, and more than 119 of the country’s athletes were told to watch the Olympics from home as a result. In the months following the games, evidence of cheating continues to be uncovered. No one is surprised. — C.C.
Odell Beckham Jr. vs. the kicking net
This was more of a love-hate relationship, really. — J.W.
Ryan Lochte vs. Rio police
Ryan Lochte went from an American punchline for his goofy personality to a global embarrassment very quickly. The 12-time Olympic medalist and three other U.S. Olympic swimmers claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint at a Rio gas station after a night of partying. Lochte later revealed that he embellished the details. At the same time, Rio authorities fudged their own accounts of what happened while investigating the account. It was a mess. Lochte later apologized and was suspended, but still apparently believes he did not lie to authorities. It was somehow the second most controversial story that involved former Today Show personality Billy Bush this year. — C.C.
Raptors fans vs. SI.com
It began in innocent fashion, as SI writers Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney ranked Raptors star DeMar DeRozan the 46th best player in the NBA, which is a compliment, relative to the rest of the field. However, Toronto fans took issue with the number. DeRozan was mad about it, and then Raptors fans got mad, and occasionally remain mad in this website’s social channels. Hey, at least we put Kyle Lowry at No. 14, guys. But then, DeRozan started the season on an absolute scoring tear, and is averaging 27.9 points per game as of this writing, with Toronto one of the league’s hottest teams. You’d have to ask DeMar, but maybe, just maybe, we did everyone a favor. — J.W.