The Biggest Rivalries in Sports Right Now

  • Patrick Beverley, Damian Lillard
    10. Patrick Beverley vs. Everyone

    It’s hard to imagine a player that played in a second-tier Euroleague just three years ago, a cat who was just the 42nd overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, a man who was waived twice by the same team (Miami) is now perhaps the most hated player in the best league in the world.

    Beverley is only 6-1, with limited offensive talent, and even more average athleticism. But on the court, he’s a bulldog defensively, and that’s pissed off more than a handful of star point guards.

    It all started with Russell Westbrook. During the 2013 Playoffs, the two got into a tangle — courtesy of Beverley doing something you don’t always see in the NBA, which is players playing all the way until the whistle — and Westbrook suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the postseason, shutting OKC’s championship window.

    Beverley started receiving death threats, telling insiders, “Man. I am from the West Side of Chicago. I have been looking over my shoulder my whole life. I am not worried about a death threat. Let’s go.”

    Since then he’s become one of Houston’s most valuable players, often used as a wrecking ball by his coaches. Before the start of last season’s playoffs, Beverley and Portland star Damian Lillard got locked into a war of words, with Lillard telling, “You’ve got somebody out there who wants to try to be bumping and doing little slick stuff. I’m not going to buy into it but I’m almost not going to let it fly. I’m going to say something. That’s what he does. I don’t really care for that. I’m not just going to let somebody be all in my chest and do all this extra stuff. That’s not basketball. Everybody knows what he does to get under people’s skin.”

    He isn’t the first and definitely isn’t the last player to get irritated by Beverley.

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  • 9. Richard Sherman vs. Michael Crabtree

    Russell Wilson might be the Seahawks’ most important player, but Sherman is the most exciting.

    Sherman likes to talk. In between making more plays than any other defensive back alive, that’s what he does. He started spouting off at Darrelle Revis and once he grew tired of the Twitter beef, dude took it in another direction. This time he went at a player he’d actually have a chance to go against. (Unless the ‘Hawks try for a #TBT and start using Sherman as a wideout again.)

    Sherman (Seattle) and Michael Crabtree (San Francisco) met up in the NFC Championship Game last year and went at it, with Sherman causing the deflection that led to an end zone interception that sealed the game. Afterward, Crabtree refused to acknowledge Sherman’s “sportsmanship” and it was on from there.

    Sherman wasn’t having it. In a postgame interview with Erin Andrews, dude went full Tyson mode:

    “Well I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me!”

    “Who was talking about you?”

    “Crabtree. Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m a shut it for you real quick. L-O-B.”

    Sherman has since said he’d like to play Crabtree every play for the rest of his career and even choke him out. Then this summer, he reiterated: He still hates the 49ers receiver, still thinks he’s sorry. Tell ’em how you feel, man.

    Add in the fact that these are probably the two best teams in the NFL, with wildly similar dispositions and strengths, as well as two coaches — we’ll get to this a little later — that really don’t like each other, and you’re talking about a true Sunday Funday. Grab the popcorn. First matchup: November 27.

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  • LeBron James, Kevin Durant
    8. Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James

    Remember when Kevin Durant said he was sick of being second?

    “I’ve been second my whole life,” Durant told Sports Illustrated in 2013. “I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.”

    We all know which player that comment was aimed at, and Durant did get some revenge last season when he finally threw LeBron James off the top of the hill and took home the league MVP. But KD still hasn’t won a title, and actually hasn’t even made the Finals since 2012. He’s been there just once — ‘Bron’s been there four times in a row. It has to eat at him.

    This individual rivalry has everything you need:

    -they both play on great teams in opposing conferences, meaning there’s a good chance they meet in the Finals every year

    -they play the same position, and are the two best players in the NBA

    -and while they might workout together at times during the summer, both are supreme competitors that consistently try to show the other player up

    Durant might be a humble star but there’s nothing more he wants than to beat James. He’s at a crossroads now, too, having lost 14 of his 18 career matchups against LeBron (that’s not a typo): Either step up and take what’s yours, or risk seeing your failures turn into some mental block that’s impossible to overcome.

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  • 7. Michigan vs. Ohio State

    Perhaps the greatest collegiate rivalry of all time, these two schools have produced the “Game of the Century” and an epic on-field brawl that resulted in three players getting ejected. And that’s just in the last eight years!

    These two schools have been playing each other since 1897, and while Michigan leads the all-time series with a record of 58-45-6, the Buckeyes have been dominant of late. They’ve lost just one time to Michigan in the last decade. Yet that hasn’t halted the drama.

    In 2013, during the game that featured this brawl, the Buckeyes entered the game in Ann Arbor standing at No. 3 in the nation, an undefeated 11-0. Despite that, the game went back and forth and with 32 seconds remaining, the Wolverines had a shot at a two-point conversation to go ahead. However, quarterback Devin Gardner‘s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Tyvis Powell, ending any hope of a comeback.

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  • Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll
    6. Jim Harbaugh vs. Pete Carroll

    It’s truly rare that we get to see a rivalry prosper from one level to another. There are too many conflicting relationships, situations, too many outside adherents for that to happen often in today’s world. But Harbaugh versus Carroll dates back almost five years ago to the game that Harbaugh’s Stanford Cardinal destroyed Carroll’s USC Trojans, and then rubbed salt in the wound by going for two late. You’ve probably seen the postgame handshake, with Carroll all like WTF is wrong with you dude? and Harbaugh all like Nothing, dude. I just busted dat a**. That’s what’s up.

    They both went on to accept new NFL jobs over the following two years … in the same conference … in the same division … on competing NFL contenders. Over the last three seasons, the 49ers have won four of seven matchups, but Seattle beat them to go to the Super Bowl last year and has won three of the last four meetings by an average score of 28-13.

    Both coaches talk down their animosity, insisting it’s only football and competition. (Harbaugh: “Animosity? No. Erroneous. Erroneous. It’s football. It’s competition. It’s winning. Football. Competition. Winning. That’s the sport. That’s what we’ve had, great competition.” … Carroll: “I have great respect for what Jim has done, and I think he’s a tremendous football coach. I don’t know him very well personally. So that’s it. That’s where it starts and stops, and all the other stuff, you guys have had a blast with it, but there’s nothing there.”) But who knows? It’s fun to speculate.

    Nowadays, the two are locked in a bitter feud that has Seattle and San Francisco poised to meet up in the NFC Championship again this year. There’s a very good chance one of these two teams makes the Super Bowl. There’s also an even higher possibility that things get a little testy between the two coaches again.

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  • 5. Duke vs. UNC

    I was there. Feb. 8. 2012. When a Duke freshman named Austin Rivers canned a three-pointer at the buzzer to stun UNC in their own gym. It was the craziest, most surreal experience I’ve ever seen first-hand. There were 21,750 people in the gym that night and I swear the only one I could hear was Doc Rivers behind the bench, screaming like he’d won the 2008 NBA title all over again.

    It was dead quiet. Complete silence. When we all left the arena, Tar Heel fans littered the street, half-asleep, like they were coming from a funeral.

    It’s this level of dedication that makes the Duke and UNC rivalry so amazing. Yes, they’ve had some incredible matchups and some incredible players, but it’s the fans who truly make this rivalry what it is. Just this year, managers for the opposing schools got into a fight during a pickup game.

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  • 4. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

    Take it from a guy who’s from Baltimore: There’s no rivalry in the NFL where the fans hate each other more. Seattle/San Francisco gets the benefit of the doubt simply because they are both fantastic teams, bolstered by already angry fans who deal with the media’s East Coast bias every year. But Steelers/Ravens games have a deep, deep history of hatred.

    Ironically, the seeds for this rivalry were planted in 1996 by Art Modell when he moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, nicknamed them the Ravens, and turned an entire city in Ohio against him. Cleveland and Pittsburgh had always gone to war on the gridiron, and so, somehow, by osmosis or something … tradition followed. It didn’t take long for Baltimore fans to pick up the slack and start stomping on their fair share of Terrible Towels.

    Now locked in a never-ending struggle for control of the AFC North — because, really, who takes Cincy or Cleveland seriously? — the rivalry goes to the next level when you realize both teams promote the same traditional smash-mouth football for hardworking, blue-collar towns, and are so close in talent that the games almost always come down to the final minute.

    Ten of the 14 meetings between the two franchises in the last six years have been decided by three points or less. That’s crazy. Since 2000, the two sides have also combined for five Super Bowl appearances (four wins) and faced off in the playoffs three times.

    These two teams hate each other so much that the fans even hate their colors. I dare you to find a Steelers fan that has one piece of purple clothing in their closet. And Baltimore fans? They hate black and yellow so much that you should play Wiz Khalifa at your own risk.

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  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi
    3. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi

    It’s a great time to be a soccer fan. The world’s biggest sport currently has two of its top players — both in their primes — going head-to-head for some of the game’s biggest honors. This year, Ronaldo won the FIFA Ballon d’Or award, which is basically like winning the MVP in the NBA. It was a breakthrough moment for him, in a way, because his rival Messi had taken it home three straight years.

    With Real Madrid and Barcelona battling year after year for soccer supremacy, fans have taken sides. The two global icons will continue to duke it out as well, as Messi only recently turned 27 years old and Ronaldo is 29. Messi probably has a larger fanbase simply because he’s already considered one of the greatest players in the game’s history, but Ronaldo is coming on strong, either matching his rival’s numbers or besting them over the past two or three years.

    With the way fans talk about these two — seriously, go into any YouTube comment section and you’ll hear things like Ronaldo makes up for his talent with effort and dedication while Messi is purely gifted by God — this is like the KD/LB rivalry, except on a global stage. You can’t get much better than this.

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  • 2. Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

    This is the greatest rivalry in professional sports. During the years I lived in Boston — from around ’99 until 2009 — the rivalry had reached almost mythical proportions. Not only were the two teams consistently vying for AL supremacy and World Series appearances, but many of the biggest Red Sox fans had come to truly believe in the “Curse of the Bambino.” It wasn’t a fad. It wasn’t funny. It was REAL.

    In 1919, Boston sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and the franchise wouldn’t win a World Series for 86 years. In 2003, New York and Boston faced off over 25 times during one season, a record, and then matched up in the ALCS. With crazed Sox fans convinced the baseball gods were against them, they went on to blow Game 7 in extra innings, having squandered a late three-run lead.

    Since then, both teams have won titles, and Boston was finally able to shake free of the dreaded curse. When they did — in 2004 — all of New England partied.

    Baseball plays third fiddle nowadays to basketball and football, but it’s hard to find more rabid fanbases than the Yankees and Red Sox. With an impeccable history, these teams could miss the playoffs for 20 straight years and this matchup would still probably make this list.

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  • 1. Auburn vs. Alabama

    Last season’s Iron Bowl ended on one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, easily the best play of the past year. The reactions were priceless.

    A longtime rivalry — it started in 1893! — that has all the ingredients of a great one, it’s once again the fans that put this one over the top. They hate each other so much they’ll resort to committing crimes to prove their point. For a long time, the two schools were the only ones in the state to belong to Division I FBS, and for a football-crazed state like ‘Bama.

    The best part about this rivalry is that it only seems to get better, and both schools should be very, very good this year. Everyone remembers last year, obviously, but what about 2010 when Cam Newton drove Auburn back from a 24-0 deficit to win? That game helped determine the national title. Currently Alabama leads the all-time series, 42-35-1, but after winning the “Game of the Year” the Tigers will be back for blood on November 29.

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  • Patrick Beverley, Damian Lillard
  • Richard Sherman, Michael Crabtree
  • LeBron James, Kevin Durant
  • Michigan, Ohio State
  • Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll
  • Austin Rivers
  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi
  • Boston Red Sox
  • Auburn, Alabama

We might still have Kevin Durant and Lil B, but we’re all going to miss Indiana and Miami. For three straight years, the Pacers and Heat met up in the playoffs, and for three straight years LeBron, D-Wade, and the rest of South Beach sent Indiana packing. It can be hard to sell a rivalry that’s almost entirely one-sided, but not in this case. With the Pacers employing a new-age “Jordan Rules” against the softer, more athletic Miami players, the games turned into throwbacks.

“Our guys are getting punched in the face, man,” Chris Bosh told The Palm Beach Post after Indiana beat the Heat this year, 84-83. “We’re getting punched in the face and clotheslined out there.”

Credit the Pacers for knowing what they do well: Hit like football players.

Physicality was the only way they could beat Miami in a seven-game series. So Danny Granger turned it up in past years, getting into constant altercations. Roy Hibbert started owning the inside. David West did David West things. And Lance Stephenson went over the top, blowing in LeBron’s ear, flopping, calling him out through the media. In the end, the two sides developed a pretty testy relationship, bolstered by playing 19 playoff games in three years. (Miami won 12 of those games.)

But now Lance is gone, signing in Charlotte for an expanded role and $27 million and Paul George broke his leg and won’t play all year and, oh yeah, LeBron left for Cleveland. Even though it’s been far and away the best rivalry in the NBA over the past few seasons — just another reason why we need Kobe healthy — we can’t include it on this list now.

What you will see are longtime college football rivalries, longtime baseball rivalries, longtime NFL rivalries, and Patrick Beverley versus everybody. (At least the NBA still has that!) Everyone loves a good brouhaha, and all of the following teams/players are going to give it to you. Here are The Biggest Rivalries in Sports Right Now.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney