Decade Debate: 10 Biggest Betrayals

To betray is to “be disloyal to one’s country, organization, or ideology by acting in the interests of an enemy.” In the world of sports, a betrayal can refer to any number of things: a beloved star choosing to play for a bitter rival, someone who breaks the public’s trust or even a head coach who lies to his boss about where his loyalties lie. As part of our ongoing Decade Debate series, we chose the ten biggest betrayals of the last ten years. (By the way, we’re focused on sports business related betrayals only, so Tiger Woods, Mike Vick and Roger Clemens are safe. For now.)

10. NHL cancels the 2004-05 season.

After failing for months to come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, the NHL finally canceled the 2004-05 season in February of ’05. The dispute between the owners and the NHLPA covered a number of issues, but the biggest was the owners’ proposal of a salary cap that was tied to league revenues, similar to the NBA salary cap. The NHLPA rejected every offer that included a salary cap and the season had to be canceled. A majority of fans blamed the players due to their out-of-control salaries and unwillingness to accept a cap, which is something that both the NBA and NFL – two very successful leagues — have in different forms. Finally, in the summer of 2005, the players association ratified an agreement (which – surprise, surprise — included a salary cap tied to league revenue) and the lockout ended after 310 days. It marks the only time that a North American professional sports league ever canceled and entire season over a labor dispute. In the end, the NHLPA’s stubbornness was fruitless; the owners got their salary cap and the fans got screwed out of year of hockey. Way to go, guys. – John Paulsen

9. Damon skips Bean Town for the Big Apple.

There are some things in life that are just wrong. One is watching any of the “Twilight” movies alone as a single man. Another is flossing in public. Wearing sandals with a nice pair of slacks is also a terrible idea. Regardless of your opinion of these faux pas, we can all agree that a player jumping ship from the Red Sox to the Yankees (or vice versa) is a huge no-no. Babe Ruth never wanted to leave – he was sold. But guys like former Red Sox manger Ed Barrow (took over as Yankees GM), Wade Boggs, and Johnny Damon – they had a choice. Only one season removed from helping the BoSox capture their first World Series since 1918, Damon signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Bronx Bombers. The Red Sox Nation cried “foul,” but Damon claimed his former team didn’t push further than their initial four-year, $40 million offer. Nevertheless, the fans felt slighted. Damon had flourished in Boston, racking up career numbers and gaining celebrity status. He hit the memorable leadoff homerun in Game 4 of the 2004 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The blast was all the Red Sox needed to extinguish the curse. (They would go on to win the game 3-0 and the World Series in a sweep.) But he was gone, ready to face the chorus of boos from former fans, and prepped to win a championship in pinstripes four years later. In the end, a t-shirt I saw at a Fenway Park merchant’s booth said it all. A crude picture of Damon adorned the front: “Looks like Jesus, throws like Mary.” – Christopher Glotfelty

8. Elton Brand woos Baron Davis to L.A., then signs with the Sixers.

Poor Baron Davis. In the summer of 2008, Brand recruited Davis to play for the Clippers, but once Davis signed, Brand decided to bolt to Philadelphia. Brand definitely got his in the end. His first year in Philly ended abruptly with a season-ending injury, and at the time of this writing, the Sixers are 5-18 and are riding a 12-game losing streak. Karma is a bitch. Meanwhile, the Clippers lucked into Blake Griffin in the draft, and although the rookie is sidelined with an injury, it looks like Davis will eventually get his power forward running mate after all. – John Paulsen

7. Manny sandbags the Red Sox, forces trade.

After forcing a trade from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Ramirez’s image quickly went from “lovable goofball” to “selfish buffoon.” In 2001, Ramirez signed an eight-year deal with the Red Sox worth $160 million. It seemed like Manny and the BoSox were a match made in heaven. In the grand scheme of things, it was. Despite Boston’s current scorn, the Red Sox don’t capture the World Series in ’04 and ’07 without the Dreadlocked One — they don’t the break the Curse of the Great Bambino and the Red Sox Nation is just a pipe dream. Still, that scorn is understandable. In the weeks leading up to the 2008 trading deadline, Ramirez told manager Terry Francona he couldn’t play because of knee problems. The MRI revealed no damage, arousing suspicion. Was Manny trying to coax his way out of Boston? His teammates and the press seemed to think so. The signs were there. Earlier in the season, Ramirez refused to board a charter flight from Anaheim to Seattle, citing sore knees that should keep him out for three weeks. Later, he would shove 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick for failing to accommodate a 16-ticket request. On June 5, with tensions building, Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis got into a scuffle. For all his whining and duplicity, Manny finally got his wish. The Red Sox traded him to Dodgers in a three-way deal that landed them Jason Bay of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But can we really blame Man Ram? The guy just wanted more than $20 million per year, which is a pittance, really. (Sarcasm.) – Christopher Glotfelty

6. Carlos Boozer reneges on “verbal agreement” to re-sign with the Cavs.

What is it with power forwards from Duke? First Boozer, then Brand. We’re still not 100% sure what happened here. For his part, Boozer has steadfastly denied that there was ever any “handshake deal” in place with the Cavs, though it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t exercise the option on his rookie contract without knowing they could re-sign him. You see, the Cavs made the (horrible) decision to let Boozer become a free agent thinking that they’d be able to re-sign him on the cheap. They say that they had his word that he’d re-up for the team’s mid-level exception, but when he did become a free agent, the Jazz offered him a contract worth an additional $27 million. The Cavs couldn’t/wouldn’t match, so Boozer bolted. Common sense tells us that there was probably a verbal agreement in place with someone in Boozer’s camp (Rob Pelinka?), but since such a deal would be illegal under current NBA rules, neither side is eager to talk about it. Former Cavs owner Gordon Gund simply said this: “In the final analysis, I decided to trust Carlos and show him the respect he asked for. He did not show that trust and respect in return.” The whole thing is a shame, really. Boozer would have been a great sidekick for an up-and-coming LeBron James. – John Paulsen

5. Nick Saban lies to the Dolphins.

Following the 2004 season, Saban left LSU to become the coach of the Dolphins. In November of 2006, Alabama announced the firing of head coach Mike Shula and Saban’s name was immediately linked to the job opening. For over a month, Saban vehemently denied that he was leaving the Dolphins to coach at Alabama, but following Miami’s season ending loss to the Indianapolis Colts, he met with Crimson Tide officials and soon accepted a job as their head coach. But why is Saban ranked lower than the next guy on our list? Perhaps the only difference between Saban and one Bobby Petrino is that Saban was able to finish a full season before he betrayed his team. That’s not saying a whole hell of a lot. – Anthony Stalter

4. Bobby Petrino lies to Louisville and Arthur Blank.

If you looked up the word “snake” in the dictionary, you might find a picture of Bobby Petrino. When he was the head coach at Louisville from 2003 to 2006, he constantly talked out of both sides of his mouth. He’d tell the media that he wanted to coach at Louisville forever, and then he’d hold secret meetings with Auburn, LSU and the Oakland Raiders about their head coaching positions. In July of 2006, he signed a 10-year contract extension at Louisville. Just six months later in January of ‘07, he betrayed Louisville by accepting a five-year contract to become the next head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. But 13 games into his first season in Hotlanta (a losing season in which many of his players publicly criticized his methods), Petrino backstabbed the Falcons and owner Arthur Blank by accepting a deal to become the head coach at Arkansas. Just one day before leaving Atlanta for the Razorbacks, Petrino shook Blank’s hand and assured him that he was coming back in 2008. Loyalty clearly isn’t a word in Petrino’s vocabulary. – Anthony Stalter

3. Clay Bennett moves the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City.

We’re supposed to believe that an Oklahoma City businessman was acting in good faith trying to secure a deal for a new arena in Seattle, but when that deal “falls through,” he only choice is to move the team to OKC? Riiiiiiight. This skepticism was confirmed when co-owner Aubrey McClendon told an Oklahoma City newspaper that the group “didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here.” Bennett, of course, claimed to know nothing about this, though emails obtained by the city of Seattle (as part of its lawsuit against the owner) proved that Bennett and his co-owners were talking about moving the team to Oklahoma City as early as April of 2007. But really, what’s worse – ripping a long-standing franchise out of Seattle or naming your team the Thunder? That’s a tough one. – John Paulsen

2. Tim Donaghy (allegedly) fixes NBA games.

Maybe he was a lone wolf, or maybe his claims are true and he’s just a small part of much bigger problem, but either way, Tim Donaghy betrayed our trust. An FBI investigation accused Donaghy of betting on games, manipulating games to fit within a desired point spread, and passing along confidential information to gambling cohorts. He has since accused the NBA, among other things, of extending the Lakers/Kings series in 2002 by putting two “company men” on the officiating crew of Game 6 in Los Angeles. (The Lakers shot 18 more free throws than the Kings in the fourth quarter, so there may be something to his accusations.) Regardless, as fans we know that, like the rest of us, officials are flawed human beings, but they’re supposed to be doing the best, most honest job they can. And Tim Donaghy was (allegedly) fixing games. What a dick move. – John Paulsen

1. Brett Favre retires his way to the Vikings.

After two or three years of flirting with retirement, Brett Favre (supposedly) hung ‘em up for good at a teary press conference in March of 2008. But his career wasn’t even close to over. A month later he tells the Packers that he wants to come back, so Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson schedule a trip down to Mississippi to talk it over, but Favre cancels at the last minute. Enough is enough, they decide – the Packers move on. But Favre can’t understand (now that he wants to unretire, again) why the Packers won’t just release him. He really wants to play for the Vikings, so he can stick it to Ted Thompson, because Thompson didn’t want him (after he said Favre could come back, twice) but TT won’t have any of that. The savvy GM works out a deal that sends Favre to the Jets, but despite some MVP-caliber play over the first dozen weeks, he never really invests himself in the team. He injures his throwing arm and the Jets go into a tailspin, missing the playoffs. He retires again and the Jets grant him his release, so now he’s free to sign with the Vikings. Packer Nation throws up in its mouth. In two regular season games, Favre torches the Packers (throwing for 515 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions) in the game in Green Bay, basically burning Lambeau Field down. In Favre’s dream scenario, the Vikings beat the Packers again in the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl win. Will it happen? God, we hope not. – John Paulsen

Photos from fOTOGLIF

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