Word on the web is that it’s finally official. Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin, are officially finalizing their divorce. Not surprising considering the entire history of this fiasco, but Tiger just punched his ticket into the Emancipated Athletes Club. Sooner or later, you’ll probably see a photo hit the web of Shaq, D-Wade and Tiger popping champagne and smoking Cuban cigars in a VIP section somewhere, celebrating their recent freedoms. Some divorces are relatively painless, some are messy, and they happen all the time. Here are the five most memorable NBA divorces:
5. Isaiah and Dolan
This may be the most on-and-off relationship the NBA has ever seen. It seems as if Isaiah can do no wrong in Dolan’s eyes. In 2003, Thomas was hired as the Knicks president of basketball operations. During his years as president, Thomas traded two future Lottery picks away to Chicago to acquire Eddy Curry along with his hefty contract (which doesn’t expire until next year). He drafted Renaldo Balkman one spot ahead of Rajon Rondo, and he signed Jerome James and Jared Jeffries, among others, to sizable contracts that were hard to defend.
In 2006, Dolan fired Larry Brown from his coaching duties and hired Thomas, demanding significant improvement. In the middle of the season, after the brawl, Thomas was re-signed by Dolan to a multi-year contract. After he was re-signed, the Knicks tumbled down the standings and fell far from playoff contention. Thomas was finally fired in 2008 by Dolan after severely damaging the organization. But then earlier this summer, Dolan tried to hire Thomas again, this time as a part-time consultant. The fell through when the NBA reminded the Knicks that Thomas couldn’t work for an NBA team while serving as coach of a college team (Florida International). But that hasn’t stopped speculation that Thomas will again someday have a position in New York’s front office.
It’s like a couple who didn’t really want to break up, but outside pressures from their families (media) and/or society (NY fans) forced them apart. Maybe these two are just meant to be together after all.
4. Vince Carter and Toronto
In his prime years, Vince Carter was the face of the Raptors. His high flying dunks and exciting play earned him nicknames like “Vinsanity” and “Half-Man, Half-Amazing.” He won Rookie of the Year for Toronto, turned in the greatest NBA dunk contest performance of all-time, and became a perennial All-Star in the years following, leading the franchise to playoff success and exposure to the mainstream audience.
For the most part, everything was great until the ’04 season, when Carter began to show frustrations with the front office’s ability to put together a winning team. Toronto was focusing on rebuilding, and Vince was opposed to their strategies. Amidst accusations of milking injuries, the infamous interview where he admitted he didn’t always play at 100 percent, and the idea to some that the Raptors were actually better without their best player, Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets.
Once the face of the franchise, today Vince is booed in Toronto whenever he returns as a visiting player, perhaps louder than any NBA player in any arena in the League. He seems to relish the boos, though, and on several occasions has put up big numbers against his former team with an obvious chip on his shoulder.
3. Kobe and Shaq
Kobe and Shaq, or Shaq and Kobe? That is the question. Or that was the question that the Lakers asked themselves during their dynasty of the 2000s. The Lakers were unstoppable at one point, dominating the league at ease. Their dynamic duo would become the faces of basketball, an unstoppable force that was simply unmatchable.
However, eventually with Shaq’s profound superstar status and Kobe’s newfound stardom, you could sense them both having a mindset similar to “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us, cowboy.” The two superstars would begin complaining about each other to the media more than actually answering questions concerning the team. Their public war of words turned into a huge dispute that the media adored. Shaq and Kobe, arguably the NBA’s two biggest stars, and teammates at that, were at the forefront of the League’s most entertaining feud.
During their final year as teammates, post three-peat, Kobe’s contract was expiring and Shaq claimed that his younger teammate should just opt out, “since I ain’t going nowhere.” The main focus and root of the dispute was that Bryant was a selfish player, which was causing Shaq to feel his role on the team diminishing, and Shaq felt that it was “his team.” This provoked Bryant to then retaliate in a public interview with ESPN, blaming Shaq for not putting forth his best effort — especially on the defensive end — since he wasn’t getting the ball as much as he thought he should. Kobe also accused Shaq of blaming others for team defeats.
Eventually the Lakers would go on to get dominated by the Pistons in the NBA Finals in an embarrassing 4-1 series. At the end of the season, coach Phil Jackson was not offered a new contract with the Lakers, which gave Shaq the idea that the Lakers were making moves to support Kobe, and he demanded a trade, eventually being sent to Miami.
After a series of much-hyped Christmas Day games, but never the NBA Finals matchup everyone wanted, the tensions between the two teammates-turned-rivals slowly died down and even became somewhat of a comical scenario after they were separated. Shaq and Kobe would go on to be co-MVP’s at the 2009 All-Star game. I’m curious to know whose home that award is on display in. This divorce may have been the NBA’s most bitter split up, but the two parties learned to be friendly (or at least civil) with each other.
2. Seattle and the Supersonics
This divorce is still fresh, especially for Seattle fans, while Oklahoma City plays the role of the “other woman.”
Just three years after making a run to the Western Conference semifinals, the Sonics found themselves in an arena that didn’t meet NBA standards, with dwindling attendance, new owners with OKC roots, and a seemingly inevitability that they would be relocated. Professional Basketball LLC, an investment group owned by Oklahoma City native and businessman Clay Bennett, had control of the team and were bent on bringing a pro team to their city.
The city of Seattle fought back with lawsuits, but because local government failed to approve renovations to KeyArena (or the funding of a brand-new arena), the deal was done in July 2008.
The split between Seattle and its NBA franchise was especially difficult because the Sonics were a young improving team with superstar-in-the-making Kevin Durant, that has become a rising contender in Oklahoma City.
1. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers
There’s no way that this divorce couldn’t be number one. Years before the 2010 free agent summit was even a thought, Cleveland natives were worried about a potential split with their beloved hometown hero. (Even though LeBron isn’t actually from Cleveland, but still.) LeBron was born and raised in Ohio and for seven seasons made the Cavs one of the NBA’s top teams. He had his own super-sized mural overlooking the city that basically screamed, “This is LeBron’s house.”
Multiple campaigns for LeBron to stay in Cleveland were launched as his 2010 free agency approached. Websites like Pleasedontleave23.com went up in order to show LeBron how much Cleveland fans loved having him and needed him. Austin Briggs, a student from Kent, even made a LeBron Witness Petition car and drove it around town to promote LeBron re-signing with the Cavs. He got thousands of signatures in an effort that would turn out to be all for nothing.
When LeBron announced on ESPN that he would be leaving Cleveland to join the Miami Heat, he broke the hearts of Ohio natives and Cleveland fans. The split turned even more sour when LeBron said that he had not informed the Cavaliers of his decision prior to his announcement. Then team owner Dan Gilbert went on an emotional tirade in print and interviews, bashing LeBron and referring to his actions as “cowardly betrayal.” Cleveland fans even went as far as burning his jersey and throwing rocks at the LeBron mural.
The media ripped LeBron for the way he went about announcing his decision. But quite frankly, the way Gilbert reacted shows me that the Cavaliers organization took LeBron for granted. So what does he owe them? They felt that LeBron was obligated to stay in Cleveland, but they were wrong. LeBron was a FREE agent. He had the freedom to play wherever he pleased, just like any other free agent. The Cleveland front office attempted to bring him the proper supporting cast to win a championship and failed, so he left to join the Heat, where help was awaiting him. A lot of NBA fans say they lost respect for LeBron because he couldn’t “do it himself,” but if you look back at all the past NBA champions, I don’t remember one of those teams having any one player on the roster do it themselves.
Depending on which side you’re on, this divorce was either a case of one spouse feeling unappreciated and deciding to upgrade their situation, or of a spouse being cruel by announcing the break-up by surprise on national TV and displaying a lack of loyalty to the one that held them down for years. We’ll see the frosty reunion when LeBron’s Miami Heat return to Cleveland.