No Athletes Inspire as Much Devotion as the Ones I Love to Hate


#1

Most of the time, my love of sports comes from a place of positivity. I love the building tension of the final moments of a close contest, or watching someone at the absolute pinnacle of their profession expressing and demonstrating their mastery in the most incredible ways. Playoffs are my favorite time of year because you also see how great athletes and teams rise to the most demanding moments, overcoming physical exhaustion and creeping doubt. That’s great stuff, and I spend a good many hours of my week celebrating it.

But then there are the figures that I cannot stop loathing, and yet cannot look away from because I am so eagerly awaiting my next dose of shock, outrage, and disgust. I desperately want sports to serve them their comeuppance, lovingly catalogue their sins and mistakes, and have one-sided arguments with broadcasters who insist on praising teams and players who I know, in the bottom of my heart, are complete and irredeemable assholes.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the dispiritingly long list of star athletes who have been credibly accused of being various forms of dirtbag and abuser. I’m talking about people who are fine, maybe even great, but the problem is they totally suck and the world just seems to refuse to see it.

F1 2017' screenshot courtesy of Codemasters

I’m talking about the Matthew Dellavedova’s of the world, who are undeniably talented and hard-working players… but whose real art is getting under people’s skin and getting his rivals to lose their cool. Or Boston’s enfant terrible, Brad Marchand, a brilliant hockey player whose on-ice behavior ranges between edgy, creepy, and borderline criminal.

Or there’s my current Formula 1 obsession, Max Verstappen: A driver who somehow manages to be the embodiment of privilege and entitlement in a sport jam-packed with millionaires and billionaires, and whose every fuckup is somehow interpreted as further evidence of his nascent greatness. Ever since he entered the sport as the youngest driver in its history, he has been defined by a reputation as an athlete of unlimited potential… and by the on-track incidents he causes with jaw-droppingly aggressive and irresponsible moves.

Yesterday, after he blocked his teammate Daniel Ricciardo on a fast straight at the Azerbaijan GP and caused a 180 mph crash, I must have spent five or ten minutes watching slow-motion replays of the crash and raving about the egregiousness of what I’d just witnessed.

“Look! There! See! Don’t you see ?!” I shouted at the TV. “He is checking his mirrors to keep blocking Ricciardo.”

“I really can’t tell who was at fault,” my partner said gently.

“OH I CAN: Here let me show you again at one-quarter speed.”

But even as I marshall argument and evidence against Verstappen like I might one day be asked to prosecute him in a court of racing law, I have to concede that I love how much I hate him. I love the righteous indignation that marks my Sunday mornings, the way I howl with disgust as announcers and commentators talk about how “talented and aggressive” he is every time another driver rescues him from his bad decisions.

I love clean racing and skilfull duels between great drivers, but I don’t think there is another driver whose actions I scrutinize and memorize like Max’s, and I think some part of me dreads the possibility that one day he might get his act together. Because for all the things I say I love about sports, sometimes I think I love its villains most of all.

What great, terrible athletes or teams are you weirdly fixated on? What is their worst sporting crime, in your eyes?

Let me know in today’s open thread!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/kzxdza/no-athletes-inspire-as-much-devotion-as-the-ones-i-love-to-hate

#2

As soon as I read the headline here I knew exactly who my answer was. I’m a Dallas Mavericks fan. A young Dwyane Wade at the height of his powers killed the Mavs in the 2006 NBA Finals. When they met again six years later, I think only four players combined from that '06 series remained on either team - Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki on the Mavs, and Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade on the Heat. That 2011 Heat team was so goddamn talented, starting LeBron, Wade, and Chris Bosh all in their primes. Add Mike Bibby, who’d always been kind of a villain in his Western Conference days with the Kings, and Erick Dampier, a former Maverick who’d been paid well but never quite performed well, and the Heat were like the ultimate storm of disdain for Mavs fans.

At some point, I think it was after game 4 or 5, Dirk Nowitzki revealed he’d been playing with a sinus infection and had played with a fever. At a press conference, Dwyane Wade fake-coughed and kind of mocked Dirk’s illness, and that set it off in me. I’d never felt that indignant towards a player (and even now, looking back on it, it was kind of a shitty thing for Dwyane to do). I grew to appreciate that Heat team as the years went by and in retrospect I love LeBron’s professional-wrestling villain approach to that season… but mocking a man who’d just dropped twenty points on you while sick was some bullshit, Dwyane!

Also, added to this story should be the fact that DeShawn Stephenson, who LeBron James had once compared to Soulja Boy during a 2007 series as described in this wonderful SBNation video, played surprisingly well for the Mavs and really disrupted LeBron. That whole season, and that whole series, was nuts and I’m still a little shocked that the Mavs came out as champions that year. But Dwyane’s always going to be the guy I love to hate, even if I appreciate his game a little more now.


#3

He is the article’s header photo and as always it’s a bit too easy but… fuck Tom Brady?

And I’m from Philly, so I recoil at the sight of Sidney Crosby, but that’s an occupational hazard of being on the painful end of a team rivalry with an all-time great. Unlike Brady, he doesn’t seem to be a creep in real life too (though I might have just missed something), but that doesn’t matter when he destroys us for the umpteenth time.

Okay, maybe a little more uniquely, I can’t stand Russell Westbrook. I’m not even super invested in basketball (basically just for my Sixers), but Russell Westbrook just aggravates me. Maybe that would happen anytime the New York Times calls someone a Misunderstood Genius, but it’s hard for me to even tell why. He hasn’t left a small market and sold out for a superteam (which made teenage me absolutely hate LeBron back in the day, before I wised up). He plays with such incredible intensity and cockiness and like, I should love that—hell I grew up watching Brian Dawkins scream his way around a football field before every single game and it was the greatest thing ever—but instead I just get angry every time he does something incredible. It really did make the triple-overtime game between the Sixers and Thunder earlier this year an even better experience.


#4

Russell Westbrook is this for me. Is he an incredible athlete and produce amazing highlights? Yes, but my god watching him play just annoys me like no tomorrow. It’s like his game hasn’t gone past the “I’m so much more athletic than anyone else on the court” that you see in high school basketball. As I’ve been learning more about the game and the mechanics of what makes a good flowing offense, his game only infuriates me more. He only cares about assists to get a triple double, not in helping his teammates score. That’s also another thing annoys me about him. He said multiple times that he doesn’t care about averaging a triple double, and then goes and obviously forces passes or steals rebounds in order to get a triple double. Just admit it dude! I mean just look at his box score for the last game of the season! He needed to have 16 assists or something to average a triple double and he was only looking to get them! He had to actively try and only score 6 points against a horrible team like the Grizzlies.

I’ll never be a fan of Westbrook. It’s incredibly impressive that his brand of “high school” basketball works given his injury and the talent level of the NBA, but I will never enjoy it. I won’t say I wasn’t happy that the Jazz beat the Thunder. It was enjoyable in multiple factors. It likely means that Paul George is leaving in the off-season giving Westbrook a worse team around him and forcing another All-Star player away. Also Carmelo Anthony’s comments in his year end interview ultimately saying he isn’t coming off the bench is just the cherry on top. Enjoy playing basketball with a player that is somehow worse at playing team basketball than you.


#5

I’m a Raptors fan, and these past few years should have been some of the best in my team’s history. The team is composed of good-to-great, personable players who all seem to get along. The front office is forward thinking and rational. The atmosphere at the ACC is amazing night-in, night-out. And they win a lot of games! But I’m not happy because of one man: LeBron James. Like Jordan did to the Knicks in the 90s, so too does The King pose an impenetrable barrier between us and the Finals. And so, despite the fact that LeBron is an all-time great who is incredible to watch, despite how he seems like the sweetest lame dad off the court, I can’t help but hate him with a passion. The Raps take on the Cavs for the Conference Semifinals this week, and perhaps a win here could exorcise this particular demon. But I equally anticipate yet another demoralizing early exit at the hands of the Chosen One.


#6

I feel like you wrote this to me Rob.

Tom Brady is the perfect example of this, and I think why so many people got so much joy seeing Austin’s an my Eagles take the Patriots apart this year. Yes, we had a personal stake in our team winning, but there was a certain catharsis in not only seeing the Eagles succede, but in seeing the Patriots fail. And in thinking back to that game, the things that stick out most are those failures. Seeing that ball just slip out Brady’s fingertips on the failed TD catch, only to have the Eagles complete a similar play soon after. The strip-sack at the end that all but sealed the deal.

I think this same feeling gets more complicated when watching F1 however, and I think that’s because so rarely does a driver’s failure only impact them. Yes, there a times when a driver clips a wall and takes themselves out, but often when they fail, they take out an innocent party. I understand the hate for Verstappen, but as a fan of another (formerly) young and aggressive driver, Sergio Perez, I find myself defending the driver that others seem to hate. Sergio has rightly gotten flak for his brushes with his teammate last year, but he also has a proven track record of pulling podium finishes out of nowhere, and yesterday was a brilliant one. I mean on lap 1 he was rear-ended and lost his front wing and still somehow ended up on the podium, the beneficiary of the Riccardo/Verstappen crash. But there are still those that will not let his past transgressions go, bringing up his “attitude” at McLaren, or taking out Massa in Canada. But what I remember are the pass on Raikonnen coming out of the tunnel in Monaco, the double overtake on Hamilton and Raikonnen in India, and the podiums that come out of nowhere.


#7

Baseball players tend to skew towards the 'Play the game the right (Read: white) way’ crowd, so there aren’t a whole lot of personalities like in basketball or other sports, but I think the closest for me would be Ryan Theriot, who was a shortstop for the Cubs for half a decade or so.

Theriot was traded midseason to the Dodgers in 2010, then signed with the Cardinals for a year and this prompted him to say some full heel shit like ‘I’m on the right side of the rivalry now’. He also said some shit that when the Cardinals were starting him on the field that they performed better (Which was not really true). It definitely did not help that he won a World Series with the Cardinals that year and the following year, the very last play of his career was scoring the run that gave the Giants their second trophy.

Derek Jeter wasn’t viewed as a villain during his playing career (Although you can say he’s villain-like as a businessperson) but the way he was sort of lifted up as the shortstop god was just infuriating. Jeter is one of the greatest hitters of all time but he was lucky his prime was before Twitter and Statcast were a thing or ‘Past a diving Jeter’ would’ve been a meme at some point. (Derek Jeter over Alex Rodriguez at SS is the only time I’ve ever seen a PR decision on a baseball field)


#8

Yeah Yeah Yeah, I know people are going to say Brady here but he was never the villain really… it was the horrifically loathsome PEYTON F’N MANNING.

It got pretty irritating anytime someone would troll and pretend like Manning could ever hold Brady’s jock.

It got way more irritating that Brady possibly being aware of 2 inches of psi was the biggest story in the world and yet Manning getting steroids shipped to his front F’n DOOR was barely mentioned.

It then got unbearable when some still treated him as Trump’s guy when no one on planet Earth has personally hurt Trump more. Meanwhile Peyton is out there telling people it would be “Unamerican” not to golf with Trump and NO ONE CARES.

I Hate peyton manning so so SO Much. And its all your faults.


#9

I can assure you, as a red sox fan who as a kid was forced to watch that overrated cheerleader win gold glove after glove glove while sitting in a god damn lawn chair out there… Jeter was a villain to me…


#10

Cristiano Ronaldo of course. I mean, how can this thread exist without even mentioning the generally accepted most annoying athlete in the world?

Rafael Nadal comes in close second, especially every time he does the socks thing. And when he beats Roger Federer, because Roger Federer is not an athlete, but a wizard with a tennis racket for a wand and if he loses it can only mean there is black magic involved (maybe a spell that involves pulling up socks.)

I am surprised by the fact that every defensive move in Formula One is either illegal or at least seen as bad etiquette. No wonder the sport is unwatchable. Codemasters Dirt games are much more fun that their F1 games too. The F1 cars are impossible to drift into a corner and that’s 90% of the fun in a racing game.


#11

I always attribute Jeter’s range or lack thereof never being widely exposed to the metrics not being as ubiquitous as they are now and Cano becoming entrenched at 2B. That and he can also thank Omar Vizquel moving from Cleveland to San Francisco for his 2005 Gold Glove.


#12

All of what you said 100% true… except for 2009 and 2010 which still get me upset. Dude was moving around like Lt. Dan and they give him two more arrrrggggghhhhggggg…


#13

I am a Washington Capitals fan. I know this pain even better than you do. But this year will definitely be the year we don’t get knocked out of the playoffs in the second round by the Penguins. Definitely.


#14

This is a bit of a throwback, but I still hate the Colorado Avalanche. Their rivalry with the Wings in the 90s and early 2000s was one of the best in the history of North American sports.

Case in point:


#15

If Nick Foles could win us a Super Bowl, y’all can beat the Penguins. Exorcise those demons. You got this.


#16

For me, the weird thing is when they guy you love to hate becomes the guy you just kinda love.

Growing up in ACC country (University of Maryland) there is nothing more imperative than hating Duke. And nobody exemplified everything wrong with Duke than Christian Laettner. There was, of course, the swagger, the cockiness, the floppy curls, the only collegian on the Dream Team, the staying in school for 4 years because that’s the Duke Way. And there was also the fact that he was probably the best college basketball player I ever saw. ESPN even made a 30-for-30 called I Hate Christian Laettner. Fuck Christian Laettner. Seriously.

Then he struggled in the NBA. He eventually landed on the local Washington Wizards. Maybe they were still the Bullets at the time, not sure. But I started to realize that, despite the public persona of the cocky hothead, he was actually a pretty chill dude that seemed kinda cool. And now he just seems like a quiet family guy who contributes to his community and doesn’t try to pull rank on people.

I don’t know, I will always hate Christian Laettner, but I kinda like Christian Laettner.


#17

Hello everyone. I am a Lions fans, and there is nothing else I’m better at than hating Aaron Rodgers and convincing myself that he is a key figurehead in a widespread match-fixing conspiracy personally led by Roger Goodell.


#18

I could never figure this out as a Royals fan, whose best shortstop until like 2010 was Angel Berroa, how you could do that to Rodriguez, and even more I’m a little surprised he went along with it so well. Oh well, they got their championship out of it I suppose


#19

Dudes standing and golf clapping for a massive Wings v. Avalanche fight is the most late 90’s Detroit sports thing I’ve ever seen.


#20

I would just like to thank Jeter’s first 6 months as “owner” of the Marlins for confirming his shitcanoe-ery to the rest of the baseball-viewing public that insisted he walked on water for 20 years.

Eh, yes and no. No, in that the front office absolutely knew, and if they didn’t it was a clear dereliction of duty. Yes, in that the general public’s lack of knowledge let them get away with it.