12 of the Pettiest Things to Happen in Sports History


For the full all-star petty list, go here.

Tennis runs on unwritten rules about good behavior: you must shake hands with your opponent, watch your mouth, and apologize for cheaply earned points.

A BUMP IN THE NIGHT. “There’s this veneer of extreme sportsmanship,” explains Chloé Cooper Jones, GQ’s tennis correspondent. “It’s supposed to be seen as this gentlemanly or -womanly game of being very gracious and based in respect.” When changing sides between games, players are supposed to wait for their opponent at the net, then move past each other smoothly and in tandem. But while changing sides at the 1997 US Open, Romanian player Irina Spîrlea rammed into Venus Williams as they passed one another. (Spîrlea would later claim it was because Williams was too “arrogant” to get out of her way. Williams went on to win the match.)

“In tennis, this is actually phenomenally aggressive,” says Cooper Jones, who adds that the collision, and Spîrlea’s comments, were also seen as being racially charged. This incident is so infamous, it’s known in tennis as “the bump.”

Four years after Taiwan was awarded the chance to host the 2019 East Asian Youth Games—an event with competitions in summer sports such as swimming and tennis—China suddenly decided it didn’t want to play ball.


WHAT CHINA WANTS, CHINA GETS. Instead, it pressured the voting committee to strip Taiwan of the right to host the international sporting event, and the Games had to be canceled. (Meanwhile, the host city of Taichung had already spent about $21.8 million on preparations.) China, which officially considers Taiwan to be a rebellious breakaway province rather than an independent nation, was apparently punishing Taiwan for considering a referendum on competing under its own name at the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Right now it competes as “Chinese Taipei.”)

TIMING IS EVERYTHING IN PETTY. “It was theoretically quite a benign, regional event, and Taiwan had invested so much money in building the infrastructure,” says Dr. Winnie King, a specialist in Chinese international relations and economic reform at the University of Bristol. “For Taiwan, China’s timing was far from ideal, as construction on venues and infrastructure had pretty much been completed when this happened—and no one was in the position to challenge them.”

Over the past few NBA seasons, the Golden State Warriors morphed from heroes to villains, as their dominance became downright boring. Draymond Green, though, always kept things interesting.

GETTING FOOTSY. Draymond Green, a player for the Golden State Warriors, is notorious for kicking his opponents—mid-jump, post-jump, in the butt, in the head, in the groin, wherever. In 2016, when the NBA tried to come down on him for all the kicking, Green claimed it was out of his hands.

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MONEY QUOTE. What’s a guy to do when he’s just really, really flexible? “I didn’t know the people in the league office were that smart when it came to your body movement,” he told reporters. “I’m not sure if they took kinesiology and all this stuff for their positions to kind of tell you how your body is going to react when you get hit at certain positions.”

Who could object to a good, old-fashioned baseball game? One extremely moody pitcher.

RETRO REVENGE. Major League Baseball teams sometimes wear throwback uniforms—meaning replicas of past uniform designs—when they play special games. In the summer of 2016, Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale had a few feelings about being told to wear one of these vintage uniforms. So many feelings, in fact, that Sale used a knife to slice up not only his own jersey but also his teammates’ jerseys, so no one would be able to wear them. The team stated at the time that Sale had been sent home because of a “clubhouse incident,” but journalists later reported his jerseycide.

WHY ALL THE FUSS? Apparently Sale thought the throwback uniforms were uncomfortable. He was suspended for five games for the outburst.

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The world of business is often petty, but few multinational corporations are built on a throwaway comment from a family member.

FALLOUT FROM A SHELTER. Adi and Rudi Dassler were German brothers who cofounded the company that would become Adidas in the 1920s. The two are said to have fallen out over, of all things, a misheard remark made while they were climbing into a bomb shelter during World War II. (While entering the shelter, Adi is said to have exclaimed, “The dirty bastards are back again,” referring to the Allies. But Rudi thought he was talking about him and his family.) After a series of other wartime spats, Rudi left their joint company in 1948 and founded his own, which he would later call Puma, while Adi named the original company Adidas.

The family schism became the stuff of business-school legend: the brothers’ factories were on opposite sides of a river that ran through their hometown of Herzogenaurach, and their employees and associates were reportedly discouraged from fraternizing with each other.

STILL, THEY NEVER GOT THAT FAR AWAY. Even in death, the brothers remained rivals, having elected to be buried on opposite ends of the same cemetery.

It really undermines the spirit of healthy competition when every athlete is thrown out of the race for small infractions.

NO PARTICIPATION MEDALS HERE. It’s not hard to get disqualified in competitive track-and-field events; step on the wrong line once and you’re out. But it shouldn’t be as easy as it was for competitors in one heat at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England, this year, where, after finishing a 400-meter race, all five runners found out they had been disqualified for petty violations such as a false start and stepping on lines. MAKING HISTORY. It was the first time in history that every single athlete in a race had been eliminated.

Athletes are notoriously superstitious about game-day rituals and sensitive to the conditions of play. Throwing a fit about the sound of coins, though, is unusual.

ONE HAND IN YOUR POCKET. At this year’s Porsche European Open golf tournament, player Patrick Reed refused to take a shot until a camera crew moved to the other side of the green, claiming that the cameraman was “rattling change” in his pocket.

Screaming obscenities at a sports rival—normal. Killing living things, including trees, is a crime.

ROLL FOLIAGE. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn University Tigers, also from Alabama, have a long-standing football rivalry. Every year, they match up in a game called the Iron Bowl, and the Crimson Tide usually wins. But in late 2010, Auburn won the Bowl, and an aggrieved 62-year-old Crimson Tide fan decided to get back at Auburn for beating his beloved team by pouring pesticide around the roots of a pair of iconic oak trees on the college’s campus. (The trees were planted at a corner where Auburn fans gather to celebrate football victories.)

THE MILLION-DOLLAR TREE. The oak killer was caught after calling a local radio station to brag about his deed, and he has been billed almost a million dollars in damage. The trees never recovered.

Before Hulk Hogan was busy putting Gawker out of business, he was competing in superstar WWF matches. But perhaps his strangest, and most petty fight was a 2005 SummerSlam competition with Shawn Michaels, another wrestler who had a following in the ’80s.

HEELS DUG IN. From the beginning, there were disagreements about how the fight would be framed. Michaels was hoping for a kind of “legend versus legend” match, while Hogan wanted a “heel versus babyface”—industry terms for the personas they would take on during the fight. In essence, Hogan wanted to be the hero, and he wanted Michaels to be the villain. Without a firm agreement on how they would work together in one of the stage-managed bouts that constitute WWF wrestling, Michaels and Hogan were headed for a collision course.

THE PROVERBIAL MASK DROPS. Michaels bounced into the ring and proceeded to “oversell” his act, to the point that the audience could tell that it was all essentially fake. While this seems like an obvious conclusion for onlookers to draw, Michaels’s actions were radical in the context of the sport. As an Uproxx analysis described it:

“The ending was the money shot, though. Hogan gave Michaels his infamous big boot. Michaels responded by hitting the deck, getting up and doing a front flip onto the mat. It’s one of the most insane moves I’ve ever seen. Diehards complained that the move was unprofessional and exposed the business. Hogan responded by milking the crowd and taking his time to leg drop Michaels for the win.”

It’s hard to upset King James, but who wouldn’t hate this?

A LOT ... of hot air.

IS THERE A MORE MEAN-SPIRITED FRONT OFFICE BOSS IN THE GAME? In 2018, James Dolan, CEO of the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers, and the Madison Square Garden Company, blacklisted sports radio station WFAN and its parent company, Entercom, after WFAN host Maggie Gray criticized Dolan for a woeful ballad he performed with his band, JD & the Straight Shot. Called “I Should’ve Known,” the song was widely understood to be an ode to Dolan’s disgraced pal Harvey Weinstein. (Gray called out Dolan for having been involved in a prior workplace sexual-harassment scandal himself and branded him a “vile piece of trash,” among other things.) Dolan responded by prohibiting all his companies from working with Entercom and all Knicks and Rangers players from talking to WFAN.

BONUS MINUTES. Dolan hasn’t just made enemies out of local media. In 2017, he managed to offend former Knicks star Charles Oakley by having him arrested at a Knicks game for, according to the Knicks, behaving “in a highly inappropriate and abusive manner.” Oakley responded by pursuing criminal charges (to no avail) and a civil suit (pending) against the executive. On the night the incident happened, according to ESPN, Oakley yelled, “Dolan did this! Dolan did this!”

When hypebeasts meet petty.

DURANT’S REVENGE. When Nike designed special-edition sneakers in honor of Golden State Warriors player Kevin Durant and his team’s 2017 NBA championship win, it didn’t just deck them out in signature Warriors blue-and-gold; it made the insides of the shoes a masterpiece of petty vengeance. Durant, who assisted in the design, had Nike list every mean name he’s been called in the past (from “soft” to “snake”) on the insoles of the shoes, with his accomplishments printed on top in gold (including stats from games won against rivals the Cleveland Cavaliers).

Now, for around $300, you too can walk the walk of the truly petty.

Keep the feuds coming! See the full list.

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