Some bad sports decisions get brought up over and over again, until no one in the general populace can ever forget they happened. See LeBron and The Decision. Others? Not so much.
Here are seven that have somehow flown under the radar…
7. Bruce Levenson voluntarily selling the Atlanta Hawks
In the aftermath of the Donald Sterling fiasco, Levenson voluntarily turned himself in to the league for a series of racially insensitive emails he wrote speculating on how to get more fans to Hawks games. Some thought the emails were indeed racist. Others disagreed. Whether or not they were, Levenson didn’t need to self-report them and certainly didn’t need to sell the team over them. He ended up getting out just as the getting in the NBA got really, really good.
6. Nick Saban choosing Dante Culpepper over Drew Brees
This one has been talked about quite a bit, but most of the commentary has overlooked the true impact of the decision. If Saban had dug a little deeper and not just taken the team doctor’s word for it, he may have come to the conclusion that Brees’s surgically repaired shoulder was worth the risk. If he had, chances are he would STILL be an NFL coach, probably with at least one Super Bowl ring.
He would be the second best coach in the league behind Belichick and their battles in the AFC East would be epic. The fortunes of the Dolphins, Saints, Sean Payton, and Alabama football would all be drastically different.
5. The Red Sox choosing Larry Lucchino over Theo Epstein
This probably should be higher on the list. It had huge implications and is almost never discussed outside the Boston media echochamber. It feels like most people remember the Theo-Red Sox divorce as inevitable and mutual. He was getting restless, his effectiveness was diminishing, yada, yada, yada. In reality, he simply didn’t want to work for (the extremely overbearing) Larry Lucchino anymore and left in 2011 because he wasn’t given total control.
If John Henry and Red Sox ownership had the fortitude to dump Lucchino and make Epstein team President, the boy genius would still be working on Yawkey Way, not presiding over a budding dynasty in Chicago. To make matters worse for Red Sox fans, Lucchino ended up getting pushed out (the team said “retiring”) a mere four years later anyway.
4. The NHL allowing the Winnipeg Jets to move to Phoenix
This move signified everything wrong about the NHL in the 1990s, and the league is still feeling the effects. Motivated by an extremely misguided philosophy of trying to grow the game in the sunshine belt, they ripped a beloved team away from a loyal fan base and dropped them in the middle of the hottest city in America, with a bunch of fans who wouldn’t know the difference between a hockey puck and a cheeseburger. In what qualifies as some of the least shocking news ever, the team was bankrupt less than 15 years later.
3. The NHL owners hiring Gary Bettman
Speaking of terrible NHL decisions, this was the cardinal sin from which all others spewed. Besides dreaming up and presiding over the disastrous expansion into the American south, Bettman has also presided over three separate work stoppages (including a canceled season in 2004-05) and the bungling of a burgeoning concussion crisis. The league’s prominence has shrunk (and shrunk and shrunk) under his leadership, going from a permanent member of the “Big 4” to a niche sport in a remarkably short period of time.
Fun conspiracy theory: David Stern recommended his longtime lieutenant Bettman for the top job in the NHL because he knew that Bettman would be a disaster and the NBA would benefit from the inevitable fallout.
2. The Hawks passing on Chris Paul for Marvin Williams in 2005
This isn’t 20-20 hindsight. Most knowledgable observers questioned this move at the time, and the oversight got plenty of attention in the subsequent years (most notably from Bill Simmons). But you almost never hear about it anymore (as opposed to say the Timberwolves passing on Steph Curry for Johnny Flynn), and the coverage at the time tended to gloss over the ramifications.
Chris Paul could have been the (relatively) local hero that saved basketball in Atlanta. Chances are he would have gotten out of the second round of the playoffs in a weaker Eastern Conference and formed the core of a Hawks nucleus that could have challenged LeBron and the Cavs/Heat for years to come.
1. The Patriots trading Deion Branch (and letting David Givens go)
That boring looking chart above? It’s the Patriots receiving leaders from 2006, the year after they traded 2005 Super Bowl MVP and Tom Brady favorite Deion Branch to the Seahawks for a 1st Round pick and let David Givens walk.
Despite the collective horseshit out there catching passes, they still managed to make the AFC Championship and race out to a 21-3 lead over the Colts behind the brilliance of Tom Brady, before eventually giving up the lead and losing the game 38-34. The Colts went on to beat the putrid Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl, a game the Patriots would have won with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck at WR.
But they couldn’t hold onto the lead vs Indy, mostly because of a lack of pass-catching firepower. With Branch and Givens at receiver, they most likely would have played that AFC title game at home, a place where they rarely (if ever) lost Peyton Manning. They would have won that game, and then the subsequent matchup against the Bears, giving them a 4th Super Bowl in 6 seasons, and forever altering their legacy.
Bill Belichick could have paid Givens and held on to Branch for one more year, even if they couldn’t come to an agreement on a long-term deal. Or he could have replaced them with even half-decent NFL talent. By doing neither, he put his QB and team in a position to fail, and cost the franchise a ring that was there for the taking.