Sports

In sports, some feuds can be set aside if only briefly

NBASportsProfessional BasketballMajor League BaseballBaseballLarry BirdTerry Bradshaw
Sports feuds don't always last forever
LeBron James is headed back to Cleveland to play for owner Dan Gilbert

In some cases, bad blood comes with an expiration date.

LeBron James is headed back to Cleveland to play for owner Dan Gilbert. That might have been unthinkable four years ago, when James announced he was taking his talents to South Beach to play for Miami and Gilbert responded with a scathing letter calling James' action "heartless," "callous" and a "cowardly betrayal." Here are some other famous hug-it-out moments in sports — or at least times when some hotheaded competitors briefly set aside their differences:

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — Theirs was a bitter rivalry that largely defined the NBA for most of the 1980s. The cold war between them thawed in 1986 when they worked together on a Converse commercial that depicted them as archenemies. They met on the set at Bird's home in Indiana, a place Johnson initially protested visiting. They didn't talk much during filming of the first half of the commercial. But during a break, Bird's mom greeted Johnson with lunch and a hug. That broke the ice, and a friendship blossomed. "I got to know Larry the man that day," Johnson told David Letterman, "and he got to know Earvin."

Julius Erving and Bird — These two NBA Hall of Famers didn't always see eye to eye, and in 1984 they famously went toe to toe. In his 2013 autobiography "Dr. J," the Philadelphia 76ers superstar described how he wound up with his hand around the throat of the Boston Celtics legend. He thought Bird was taking a swing at him, "so I reach out, just wanting to make sure Larry can't clock me. I end up with my right hand on his chest, and my fingers around his neck." Both Erving and Bird wound up with $7,500 fines for that brawl, yet years later they would make far more than that doing promotional work together. "I don't hate Larry," Erving wrote. "I never hated Larry. I hated Boston. I hated the Celtics."

Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger — Who could have guessed the quarterbacks who won a combined six Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers would have such a frosty relationship? It started when Bradshaw criticized Roethlisberger for riding his motorcycle without a helmet, which came to light after Big Ben's near-fatal crash. Later, Bradshaw justifiably took issue with Roethlisberger's off-the-field behavior, specifically the allegations of sexual assault against him. The two mended fences in early 2011, when Bradshaw interviewed Roethlisberger for Fox before the Super Bowl. "We just both came to the conclusion that we're Steelers and we're part of that family," Bradshaw said. "I encouraged him and told him that yesterday is yesterday, I got his back and support him 100%. But if he screws up, I'm going to say it."

Bill Buckner and Boston Red Sox fans — Long after the boot came the reboot. Best remembered for allowing Mookie Wilson's grounder to pass through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the much maligned Buckner was welcomed back to Fenway Park in grand style 22 years later. The retired first baseman got a standing ovation when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch to open the 2008 season, a reception that brought him to tears. He called the moment "probably about as emotional as you can get."

Pete Rose and Johnny Bench — These two Cincinnati Reds fixtures had a chilly relationship for years, so what were the odds they could make up? Pretty good, evidently. In 2010, Rose apologized to Bench for the way his gambling scandal in 1989 cast a shadow over Bench's induction in the Hall of Fame. Bench said Rose set up the meeting between the two, and that they hugged at the end of it.

George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin — Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, hired and fired Martin as manager so many times — five, in all — it became a running joke. Couldn't live with each other, couldn't live without each other. Martin was famously quoted: "All I know is [as a Yankees Manager], I pass people on the street these days, and they don't know whether to say hello or to say goodbye." Steinbrenner was rumored to be considering rehiring Martin yet again before Martin was killed in a 1989 car accident.

Reggie Miller and Spike Lee — We know player versus player, player vs. boss, or team vs. team feuds, but player vs. fan? For years, bad blood percolated between Indiana Pacers star Miller and filmmaker Lee, a noted New York Knicks fan seated prominently courtside. Hard to forget Miller scoring eight points in nine seconds to beat the Knicks in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals and taunting Lee afterward. Fifteen years later, in an ABC interview in which he promoted the movie "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks," Miller said: "Spike, I consider you a … good friend. Thank you very much for your participation in this movie. Next time, drinks are on you."

Rob Blake and Los Angeles Kings fans — Blake, a defenseman who will enter hockey's Hall of Fame this fall, had two stints with the Kings as a player and now works in their front office. Many fans are still bitter over his first departure, especially because he won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001. Those fans weren't happy with his second departure, either, because he agreed to only a limited waiver of his no-trade clause by the going-nowhere Kings before the deadline in 2008. Thus, the franchise did not get anything in return when he eventually departed, via free agency. Some old-guard fans weren't happy a year ago when he was named the team's assistant general manager. That fence-mending is a work in progress.

Al Davis and Pete Rozelle — NFL Films once called this the greatest feud in NFL history, pitting Davis, the irascible owner of the Raiders, and Rozelle, the public relations man turned league commissioner. The two couldn't hide their disdain for each other, in the courtroom or elsewhere. Both are gone now, and they never made up. But they briefly struck a fragile peace — at least for the cameras — when Rozelle handed the Lombardi Trophy to Davis after the Raiders beat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl. Rozelle had been advised by his NFL colleagues to hold the trophy with both hands to avoid the awkwardness of Davis stiffing him on a handshake. The two locked in a quick power grip, though.

And each resisted the urge to wipe off his hand afterward.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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