The 5 Biggest Rivalries and Controversies In Sports History

Rivalries in sports often erupt from playful comparisons, into bitter feuds. These five sports rivalries and the controversies they caused, are legendary.

I love watching sports. Not so much golf, but literally any other sport. When I watch my favorite team win, I feel so much joy and I love the celebration that comes with it. What also brings joy into my life, is a good scandal. I love reading about the drama between two people, how it got started and what the boiling point was. When I get to combine sports and my love for a good scandal, I am the happiest person on Earth. Lucky for me, there are quite a few rivalries and scandals in sports history. Here are my top five picks for the biggest rivalry generated controversies in sports history.

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

This rivalry gives me life because it really has everything. Nancy and Tonya were top two in the US with a heated rivalry. During a practice in Detroit, a man smashed Nancy’s by right knee with a baton. What made this attack worse, it that she was forced to pull out of the national championships, meaning her place on the Olympic team was in jeopardy. No broken bones or anything though. Flash forward to a few days later, Tonya’s husband and a few of his friends were arrested for carrying out the attack. Although she didn’t admit to taking part in planning the attack, Tonya received a lifetime ban from competing professionally. To make things worse for Tonya, she didn’t even place at the Olympics and Nancy placed second. Just goes to show, cheaters never win.

1972 Olympic Basketball Championships

At the height of the Cold War came one of the biggest Olympic controversies in history. This was the eighth time the sport of basketball was played in the Olympics, and the Americans had won the past seven times. Seems as if the Soviet Union grew tired of seeing America win. Especially since America team was composed of amateurs and theirs with professionals. With Americans up by one with one second left on the clock, the Soviet Union claimed their calls for a time out were ignored. The clock was reset to three seconds and the play restarted.

When the Americans won with the second inbound, once again the play was restarted. During the third inbound play the Soviet Union scored a basket and won, and that is the score that stuck, landing America with a silver and the Soviet Union with gold. To this day, the American team has not accepted their silver medal because it is not the medal they deserve. Basketball isn’t the only sport in question at these Olympics. It is believed the Soviet Union bribed officials in the hopes of winning 50 gold medals at the 50th Olympics.

Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics

As an LA girl, born and raised, I will forever be on the side of the Lakers in this argument. I’ll also forever be salty that COVID wiped out the Lakers comeback season. This rivalry reached its peak in the 1980s when the Lakers drafted Magic Johnson and the Celtics drafted Larry Bird. The two teams played against each other in the NBA Finals 12 times. I think that’s more than any other team in NBA history. It kills me to say this but out of those 12, the Celtics won 9 times and the Lakers only 3.

It does make me feel better though that the last time the Celtics won was in 2008. Also, a majority of their championship wins came in the 60s and 80s. The last time the rivalry flared up was in 2008 when the Celtics beat the Lakers in Game 6. However, the Lakers closed out the rivalry on a high note by beating the Celtics in 2010 in Game 7. Boy what a happy day that was. The two teams have not played against each other in an NBA Finals since then.

Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali

While these two started off as friends, things quickly changed when they met each other in the boxing ring. Prior to their first match in 1971, Ali bashed Frazier for his silence on Civil Rights issues, which caused friction in the relationship. Frazier won the fist fight, defeating the previously undefeated Ali. Their 1973 rematch Ali took back the title. Their most epic match took place in 1975 in the Philippines. The fight has come to be known as the “Thrilla in Manila.” The legendary 14 round match came to an end with Ali as the winner. Although Ali won the match, Frazier earned his spot in just about every list detailing epic sports rivalries.

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova

The greatest tennis rivalry is between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. The two tennis greats faced each other over and over again, and watching them never got old. Between 1973 and 1988, the two played each other a total of 80 times. Not only was their rivalry fun to watch, it also elevated women’s tennis and made it a must watch event. What makes this rivalry special is that the two players were exact opposites.

While one excelled on grass, the other did so on clay. While one had a killer serve and volley, the other dominated the baseline. They met in 14 grand slams, with Navratilova winning 10 of them. In total their record was Navratilova with 43 wins against Evert and Evert with 37 wins against Navratilova.It seems as though their rivalry stayed on the court, as the two are good friends off the court.

Which one of your favorite sports rivalries did I forget to mention?

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