For three years, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were a dynamic duo for the Cleveland Cavaliers, teaming up to make three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and winning a title together in 2016. Then it all came crashing down when Irving asked out of Cleveland, possibly to get out from under James' shadow -- though if history is any indication, we won't know all the reasons Irving left until years or decades down the line.
The James-Irving breakup is far from the first, and it won't be the last. In fact, messy endings have become something of a staple of the NBA over the years. Fresh off Irving's attempt on First Take to explain how things ended in Cleveland, we look back at some of the worst NBA breakups of the past three decades.
Isiah Thomas and Adrian Dantley (1989 Pistons)
After losing the 1988 NBA Finals in seven games to the Lakers, Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey traded forward Adrian Dantley, the Pistons' leading scorer, for Mavericks misfit Mark Aguirre and a 1991 first-round pick. Dantley blamed Pistons star Isiah Thomas -- even as teammates, they were seen as rivals -- for the trade that brought Thomas' Chicago buddy to Detroit. The "Bad Boy" Pistons won back-to-back titles after Dantley left. In 2014, Dantley called Thomas a "con man" during a radio interview with Detroit Sports 105.1.
-- Marc J. Spears
Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway (1996 Magic)
This breakup seems so juvenile in retrospect. Shaq and Penny beefed over who was the bigger star? Who could sell more shoes? Who had more power in Orlando? Those hardly seem like good reasons to derail a potential dynasty. Now, people conveniently forget that Orlando bungled the negotiations with O'Neal before he bolted for the Lakers in 1996. Or that O'Neal yearned to play in L.A. Those were equally important reasons for the breakup, if not more important. Either way, Shaq's departure -- which Penny learned about while they were sharing a podium at a pre-Olympics news conference -- was a seismic event in the NBA that still reverberates.
-- Ramona Shelburne
Jim Jackson, Jason Kidd and Jamal Mashburn (1997 Mavericks)
It's one of the juiciest NBA breakup rumors of all time and is often discussed like it's an unsolved mystery from the '90s -- did Toni Braxton break up the Three J's? Jason Kidd, Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn were a trio of budding stars only to be broken up after less than three seasons together. Egos got in the way, and rumor had it that a love triangle involving Braxton created a Texas-sized rift in the locker room between Kidd and Jackson, who would go weeks without talking.
The two repeatedly denied the rumor over the years and noted that it didn't hurt Braxton's record sales. "[Braxton] didn't full-out deny it, and she kind of played it up because her album was coming out," Kidd said in 2002. "I've never met her. But those type of things hurt a young team. We didn't know how to handle it." Mavs fans were singing "Unbreak My Heart" until Kidd returned and helped Dirk Nowitzki win a title in 2011.
-- Ohm Youngmisuk
Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury (1999 Timberwolves)
This breakup can largely be blamed on the 1998-99 lockout, or at least the collective bargaining agreement that ended it. Because of the new max salary limits, Marbury found himself in a situation where he'd never be paid as much as Garnett -- who'd signed his big contract before the lockout. As former teammate Tom Gugliotta told Jackie MacMullan a couple of years ago, "If you ask Steph, I'm sure he's the one kicking himself a bit. No matter what Steph did -- he could score 25, 30 points -- he still wasn't going to be the best player on our team. That was KG." It wasn't long after the lockout ended that Marbury got his wish. He was traded to New Jersey just 18 games into the shortened season.
-- Adam Reisinger
Michael Jordan and the Wizards organization (2003 Wizards)
Michael Jordan arrived in D.C. in a splendid suit with the nation's capital buzzing over His Airness taking over as Wizards president of basketball operations in 2000. But three-and-a-half seasons later, Jordan pulled out of the Wizards' arena parking garage in his Mercedes convertible seething after being fired by owner Abe Pollin. Despite coming out of retirement and trying to turn the Wizards around himself for two seasons as a player and executive, a 40-year-old Jordan sold plenty of tickets but couldn't get the franchise to the playoffs. Expecting to return to the front office full-time after retiring again, Jordan was fired after Pollin saw dissension within the organization and unhappy players. The owner told Jordan he was going in a different direction in a short but heated meeting. Jordan told "60 Minutes" he felt "used."
In her self-published memoir, Irene Pollin detailed the breakup between Jordan and her husband -- two competitive men who once famously argued at a players-owners labor negotiation. "This was not what Michael expected. He was shocked," wrote Irene Pollin. "What followed was a heated discussion of what had and had not been promised. But after Abe repeated his decision 'to go in a different direction,' Michael lost it. He became very angry and began shouting. At that point, Abe walked out of the room as Michael called him several unflattering names. Michael stormed out of the room, went down to the parking garage, jumped into his Mercedes convertible with Illinois license plates, took the top down, and drove directly back to Chicago."
-- Ohm Youngmisuk
Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant (2004 Lakers)
There's been a lot of making up in the years since this breakup, starting when they shared MVP honors at the 2009 All-Star Game in Phoenix. To hear Shaq tell it now, the whole feud was "all marketing." But make no mistake, their animosity was very real before their breakup and afterward. Shaq said everything that ever needed to be said in that infamous freestyle rap heard round the world. You know the one: "Kobe, how my ass taste?" Meanwhile, Kobe showed his cards only after the Lakers won two more championships, and he admitted he was driven to win more titles than Shaq.
-- Ramona Shelburne
Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce (2012 Celtics)
It's hard for players now to secure a place in the deep Boston Celtics lore, but Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen did earn their spot in Celtics history by winning the 2008 NBA title as the Big Three. The Ubuntu feeling that Pierce, Garnett, Allen and guard Rajon Rondo enjoyed, however, ended in 2012 when Allen departed to the rival Miami Heat without notice. Despite a lengthy cold shoulder, Pierce and Allen have recently reconciled. Will Garnett and Rondo follow suit by the time the Celtics celebrate their 10-year title anniversary?
-- Marc J. Spears.
Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant (2013 Lakers)
This time Bryant was the jilted superstar after Dwight Howard chose to leave the Lakers to sign with the Houston Rockets. Bryant unfollowed Howard on Twitter and then posted a photo of himself and Pau Gasol on Instagram with the hashtags, #vamos #juntos #lakercorazon #vino. Translation: let's go, together, Laker heart and Vino (the nickname Kobe gave himself that season as he nearly won a scoring title at age 36 before tearing his Achilles' tendon.
-- Ramona Shelburne
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (2016 Thunder)
This breakup has probably been the messiest since Shaq and Kobe. First, there was Westbrook's infamous cupcake Instagram post after Durant bolted for the Golden State Warriors (and its obvious tie-back to Durant). Then, Westbrook showed up at Golden State's Oracle Arena in a photographer's vest (a passive-aggressive shot at Durant's day as a photographer for The Players' Tribune). Durant and his teammates responded to the cupcake photo -- and cupcake shirts worn by OKC fans -- by wearing those shirts after Durant's first game back in OKC. For an extra bit of frosting, Durant had one of his signature shoes dubbed "Red Velvet." Of course, things went to a new level this week when Durant responded to a fan's tweet with a negative post on Thunder coach Billy Donovan and the entire organization. He's since apologized, but obviously this isn't over.
-- Ramona Shelburne
Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson (2017 Knicks)
This relationship got off to a rocky start when Jackson said in 2014 that he "wasn't losing any sleep" over the possibility of Anthony leaving New York in free agency. And things only got worse from there. Jackson openly discussed trading Anthony in June. His issue, in part, was Anthony's failure to adapt to Jackson's desired system. Phil was fired before he had the chance to move Carmelo. Melo, of course, is still in New York. But his future in the city is uncertain at best.
-- Ian Begley
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving (2017 Cavaliers)
The only thing certain about Kyrie Irving's decision to ask for a trade out of Cleveland is that the only person who truly understands why he wanted it is Kyrie Irving. He took the first step at explaining his motivation Monday on First Take, but the most memorable part of the interview was Irving's admission that he has yet to speak to LeBron about it. For his part, LeBron has mostly stayed above it. His only subtweet so far was an Instagram post that showed him singing along to a Meek Mill song with lyrics that allude to betrayal.
-- Ramona Shelburne