With that in mind, ESPN.com assembles a list of the top 25 current adversarial relationships in American sports. It doesn’t matter whether you call them villains, nemeses, tormentors or heels — these are the guys fans love to hate the most:
25. LeBron James vs. Miami Heat
A couple of years ago, LeBron easily would have headlined this list. He infamously cut ties with the Cleveland Cavaliers in a nationally televised “Decision,” leaving a championship-starved city in his wake. Upon joining the Heat, he made four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning twice. To say James was persona non grata in his native Ohio at the time is an epic understatement. There wasn’t nearly the same outrage in South Florida when he returned to the Cavs in 2014. Still, although most Heat fans cheered LeBron in his return to Miami last season, there is a vocal minority that views LeBron as a turncoat.
24. Kansas City Royals vs. multiple teams
After struggling mightily for the better part of three decades, the Royals emerged in a big way last season, coming within an eyelash of winning the World Series in their first postseason appearance since 1985. The team seemed to carry a chip on its shoulder into 2015, as if to prove to the baseball world that last year was no fluke. This season alone, Kansas City has been involved in bench-clearing incidents with the Angels, A’s, White Sox and Blue Jays. In fact, the Royals and A’s cleared the benches in three consecutive games in April.
23. Henrik Lundqvist vs. New Jersey Devils
Given their proximity — only about 10 miles separate the Prudential Center and Madison Square Garden — the Devils and New York Rangers have never liked each other. Lundqvist’s dominance for the Rangers has further fanned the flames. The star netminder is 33-14-6 against New Jersey over the course of his career, with a 1.86 goals-against average and eight shutouts — including 3-0 with a 1.64 GAA last season.
22. Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks vs. Houston Texans
The Texans are 4-22 in franchise history against their AFC South foes from the Hoosier State. All but one of those losses came at the hands of Peyton Manningor Andrew Luck. As a member of the Colts, Manning was 16-2 with 5,122 yards, 42 touchdowns and eight picks against the Texans. Luck, who attended high school in Houston, is 5-1 with 1,385 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes and three interceptions against the Texans. As legendary Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips once said, “The harder we played, the behinder we got.” That often applies when the Texans face the Colts.
21. Rajon Rondo vs. Dallas Mavericks
In the aftermath of the Jordan saga, Rondo probably won’t face as much heat when he returns to Dallas as a member of the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 5. Still, Rondo, whom the Mavs acquired from theBoston Celtics in December 2014, left Dallas on horrible terms. He clashed repeatedly with coach Rick Carlisle, and the situation boiled over during Game 2 of the team’s first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets. Rondo was benched in the second half after displaying questionable effort, and many observers opined that he quit on his team. Rondo signed a one-year, $10 million pact with the Kings as a free agent in July.
20. Roger Goodell and Gary Bettman vs. NFL and NHL fans
Whether presiding over the NFL and NHL drafts orpresenting championship trophies, these commissioners are routinely heckled by their paying customers. Goodell has run especially afoul of the folks in New Orleans and New England, whose teams have been severely punished on his watch. Former Saints wide receiver Joe Horn went so far as to call Goodell “the devil.” Bettman is still considered an outsider by many NHL fans, even more than two decades after arriving from the NBA league office, and he has presided over three labor stoppages during his tenure as commish.
19. Matthew Dellavedova vs. Chicago Bulls
It’s said familiarity breeds contempt, and that’s certainly the case for Dellavedova’s Cavaliers and the Bulls, who meet four times each regular season in the NBA’s Central Division and clashed in the playoffs this year. No doubt, the Bulls are in no hurry to renew acquaintances with the feisty Australian guard who has quickly become one of the NBA’s biggest pests. In the teams’ second-round playoff series in May, he played agitating defense and induced Taj Gibson‘s ejection in Game 5. Tellingly, the Cavs were a combined plus-32 points with Dellavedova on the floor in Games 5 and 6 of their 4-2 series victory. Stay tuned for more from the Cavs-Bulls rivalry later on this list.
18. A.J. Pierzynski vs. MLB
Pierzynski, 38, has been cited as the most vilified player in baseball for years. Men’s Journal made it official in 2012, when its survey of 100 major leaguers named him a landslide winner as the game’s most hated player. For years, he has drawn lusty boos in ballparks across MLB and been roundly ripped for his temperament and work ethic by teammates and opponents alike. Last season, former Boston Red Soxteammates ripped him after he was designated for assignment, and he was loudly jeered in San Francisco when he appeared there as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs — a decade after leaving the Giants on bad terms. Pierzynski is especially despised by Chicago Cubs fans, who remember his role ina 2006 fight as a member of the White Sox.
17. Carmelo Anthony vs. Denver Nuggets
Melo made a huge impact as a member of the Nuggets, scoring more than 20 points per game and helping Denver reach the playoffs in each of his eight seasons with the team. But by 2010, he was ready for a change of scenery, and his mind was fixed on the New York Knicks. The Nuggets offered Anthony a three-year, $65 million extension, but he wasn’t hearing any of it. Denver finally acquiesced to a blockbuster trade in February 2011. After snubbing the Nuggets, Anthony was greeted with hearty boos during his first two games back in Colorado. If Nuggets fans upset Melo in either of those games, however, he won’t admit it. “Hell no, that don’t concern me,” he said after Denver narrowly beat the Knicks in 2013. “I’m past those stages.”
16. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Cleveland Browns
Here’s another case of unbridled dominance. Roethlisberger is 18-2 against the Browns over the course of his career, compiling a passer rating of 95.2 in those games. How much do Cleveland fans dislike Big Ben? The Cavaliers used a photo of Roethlisberger to elicit boos when opponents shot free throws last postseason.
15. Steve Spurrier and Lane Kiffin vs. Tennessee Volunteers
The esteemed Head Ball Coach at South Carolina is one of the most quotable and colorful personalities in college football. Given his long-standing presence in the SEC — he won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as a player at Florida and coached the Gators to the 1996 national championship prior to his decade-long tenure with the Gamecocks — it’s no surprise Spurrier tweaks the Vols whenever he gets a chance. During his time as Florida coach, he famously quipped, “You can’t spell Citrus without UT.” Just this past March, Spurrier cracked, “In Knoxville, they’re still doing cartwheels because they went 7-6 and won a bowl game.”
After a single season as the Vols’ head coach, Kiffin bolted for the same job at USC, where he had been an assistant under Pete Carroll for six seasons. When news broke that Kiffin was returning to Los Angeles, police responded to a mob scene at the Tennessee football complex. Students set fires and chanted obscenities. If that abandonment wasn’t bitter enough, Kiffin returned to the SEC last year after being dismissed at USC. This video shows Kiffin’s reception when he returned to Knoxville last year as an Alabama assistant under Nick Saban.
14. Joakim Noah vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
If Dellavedova added a chapter to the Cavs’ rivalry with the Chicago Bulls, it could be said that Noah wrote the book years earlier. The candid veteran center earned Cleveland’s undying resentment during a bitter playoff series in 2010 and has played the heel to Cavs’ fans ever since. A sampling of Noah’s opinions on Cleveland over the years:
“You think Cleveland’s cool? I never heard anybody say, ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.”
“It’s pretty depressing out here, man. It’s bad. … It’s all factories.”
“Cleveland is a tough place to spend time … but at least they have the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
13. Dwight Howard vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Howard joined the Lakers in a four-team blockbuster trade in 2012, but one season of conflict with superstar Kobe Bryant and the coaching staff was enough for the former No. 1 overall pick. A year after arriving in Los Angeles, Howard settled for less money to join the Houston Rockets in free agency. The Lakers had expected Howard to become the next great center in a franchise pantheon that includes Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. When Howard returned to Los Angeles to play against the Lakers in February 2014, fans booed him every time he touched the ball.
12. Aaron Rodgers vs. NFC North
Since becoming the Green Bay Packers‘ starting quarterback in 2008, Rodgers has dissected division rivals with alarming precision. He’s 11-3 against the Chicago Bears, 10-2 against the Detroit Lionsand 10-4 against the Minnesota Vikings. In those 40 games, he has thrown 84 touchdown passes against 17 interceptions. But it’s not a perfect arrangement for Rodgers, who said he experienced lower back pain last season from standing on the sideline too long after checking out of a blowout win over the Bears.
11. Sidney Crosby vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Even though he just turned 28, the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar is already a decade into his NHL career — during which he has regularly antagonized the Flyers. He has 31 goals and 45 assists in 52 career games against the Pens’ intrastate rivals and has long inspired creative chants and signage from Philly fans. After a chippy playoff game against the Flyers in 2012, Crosby flatly said, “I don’t like any guy on their team,” and the feeling is obviously mutual.
10. Terrell Suggs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
No opponent ruffles the feathers of Steelers fans more than Suggs, who clearly relishes playing the heel at Heinz Field. He once said this of a playoff matchup against the Steelers: “This is World War III to us. This is definitely Armageddon.” Suggs has 14½ sacks and two interceptions in 23 career games against Pittsburgh, drawing an indefinite number of obscene gestures in the process.
9. Gene Steratore vs. Dallas Cowboys
Steratore was the referee who overturned Dez Bryant‘s apparent 31-yard catch deep in Green Bay Packers territory in the divisional round of last season’s playoffs. The veteran official correctly interpreted the “process rule” as it pertained to the challenge by Packers coach Mike McCarthy. Whether the rule is a good one is up for debate, however, depending on your rooting interests. Steratore also headed the officiating crew that memorably made a similar call against Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson in 2010.
8. Nick Saban vs. LSU Tigers
Once upon a time, LSU fans loved Nick Saban. He went 48-16 in five seasons as coach of the Tigers and delivered them a BCS championship in the 2003 season. But he seemingly jilted an entire state when he left to coach the Miami Dolphins one year later. After going 15-17 in two seasons with the Dolphins, Saban couldn’t resist a hefty contract offer to resurrect the once-proud Alabama program. The decision was met with predictable disdain in Baton Rouge. Although Saban’s successor at LSU, Les Miles, guided the Tigers to the BCS championship in the 2007 season, Saban has given LSU fits since returning to the SEC, going 6-3 against the Tigers and winning three BCS championships. Indeed, contempt for Saban is alive and well in Death Valley.
7. Josh Hamilton vs. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels signed Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract in 2012, despite the star outfielder’s prior battles with substance abuse. When Hamilton reported he had relapsed this past offseason, the Angels were furious and explored avenues to walk away from the contract. Ultimately, the Halos traded him back to his previous team, the Texas Rangers, and agreed to pay all but about $7 million of the $80.2 million remaining on the pact. Hamilton said he expected to be booed when he returned to Anaheim for the first time on July 25, and Angels fans were happy to oblige.
6. Bill Belichick vs. New York Jets
From Belichick’s tenure as head coach of the Jets — all 24 hours of it — to the many awkward postgame handshakes with Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan, the iconic Patriots coach has provided abundant kindling for New England’s rivalry with Gang Green. Belichick is 22-10 against the Jets since taking over the Pats in 2000. Six of those wins have come by more than 20 points, including a 49-19 thrashing in the infamous “Butt Fumble” game in 2012. The Jets have landed a few key punches in this rivalry, though. Most notably, they were the team that blew the whistle in the 2007 Spygate case. And more recently, Jets fans hired a plane to tow a banner reading “CHEATERS LOOK UP!” above Patriots training camp in July.
5. Alex Rodriguez vs. Boston Red Sox
A-Rod was this close to becoming a member of the Red Sox after the 2003 season. Boston had a trade in place with the Rangers to acquire the generational talent, but the deal died when the players union vetoed Rodriguez’s restructured contract that would’ve made the deal possible. Instead, the New York Yankees were able to acquire Rodriguez shortly thereafter — the story was recounted in a “30 for 30” short film — and the stage was set for an epic rivalry. They jeered him after a scuffle with Jason Varitek in 2004. They mocked him with blonde wigs and masks when tabloids linked him to a stripper in 2007. They booed him in May when he hit his 660th career homer to tie Willie Mays on the all-time list.
Not only is Sherman arguably the NFL’s best cornerback, the Seahawks star knows exactly how to get under opponents’ skin. Sherman has 24 interceptions since entering the league in 2011 — nine more than his closest challenger — and no team has been tormented more by him than the 49ers. Four of those picks have come at the expense of Colin Kaepernick, and it was Sherman who deftly defended the potential winning touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago. So you’ll have to forgive 49ers fans if they’re sick of watching Sherman feast on their team.
3. Clay Bennett, David Stern and Howard Schultz vs. Seattle
Bennett spearheaded the ownership group that moved the SuperSonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City. Stern is the commissioner who, in 1995, called Key Arena “a beautiful building” that “was very special” to him, only to firmly denounce its adequacy barely a decade later. Schultz is the Starbucks CEO who, in the eyes of many Seattle fans, willingly sold the franchise to a group that had no intention of keeping the team in the Pacific Northwest. How badly did Bennett, Stern and Schultz wound the NBA fans of Seattle? Enough to make people fly 3,000 miles and pay $3,500 per ticket to root against the Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals —while dressed as zombies. In an ironic twist, Bennett was later appointed chairman of the NBA’s relocation committee when the Sacramento Kings threatened to move.
2. DeAndre Jordan vs. Dallas Mavericks
This wound is fresh and painful. Not only did Jordan leave the Mavs waiting at the altar, but he also left the team hamstrung for options in free agency by the time he reversed his decision. To make matters worse, Mavs owner Mark Cuban said Jordan never gave him the professional courtesy of an explanation. When Jordan and the Clippers visit Dallas on Nov. 11, you can bet he’ll hear it from the locals — especially at the free throw line, where he shot 39.7 percent last season.
1. Tom Brady vs. the NFL
Super Bowl championships are four of the ways fans around the NFL have been tormented by Tom Brady. Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Whether or not you believe Brady is guilty of misconduct in the Deflategate case, the Patriots’ star currently ranks without peer among American sports villains. This is true for a number of reasons:
• Brady wins — a lot. He has the highest winning percentage (.773) of any quarterback in NFL history, and none of the other 31 teams has a winning record against him. The Buffalo Bills, in particular, have suffered greatly at Brady’s hands. He’s 23-3 against the Bills with 58 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions.
• Brady has four Super Bowl rings, a supermodel wife and has earned approximately $150 million in salary over the course of his career. Jealous?
• Brady is the premier player on a team perceived by many NFL observers to operate on the fringes of fair play — if not in outright defiance of the rulebook at times. He currently faces a four-game suspension over the Deflategate scandal.
However, Brady shouldn’t lose too much sleep over barbs and slights hurled by trolls. As LeBron can attest, even the most spiteful critics eventually get bored and look to other targets for their schadenfreude.
Source: ESPN <——— FUCK You, sincerely All of New England
Taylor Swift said it best, The Haters Gonna Hate (hate, hate, hate, hate) and god damn she was right… I love that we are hated, it’s us against the world. We play better that way I think, two Patriots icons in the top 6, beautiful… I just love how we went from the new “Americas Team” after beating The Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI post 9/11, because we were all Patriots to now the most hated team on Earth. The same characteristics that Brady was loved for early on in the 2000’s are the same reasons he is hated now, model wife, stud quarterback. This list is a total joke, how about Floyd Mayweather? Kobe? You suck ESPN. I have a #1 for you, how about ESPN vs. its audience or lack there of?