Trae Young knows it very well: triumph over a terrific foe leads to an emotional outburst and a great display.
Some see a vigorous celebration of a game-winning shot as disrespect and poor gamesmanship. Others see it as worthy and earned statements–of talking the talk and then walking the walk.
Over 25 years before Young played the villain in Madison Square Garden, the performance of Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals comes to mind, when he infamously grabbed his neck and crotch in a “choking” motion toward longtime New York Knicks fan and venerated movie director Spike Lee. He did so after scoring eight points in nine seconds to stun the MSG crowd at the buzzer.
This past Sunday, the Atlanta Hawks guard added to the litany of lip service paid in professional sports when he shushed the crowd of MSG after hitting the winning floater against the Knicks in Game 1 of the opening round in the 2021 Eastern Conference playoffs.
Trae Young shushed the MSG crowd pic.twitter.com/Bt53b6kAXg
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) May 24, 2021
Trae Young’s disrespect is impressive and confident, and it might create a nice, new rivalry in the Eastern Conference. However, it doesn’t even crack the top five of the most disrespectful game-winning moments in sports history.
5. Terrell Owens dances on Dallas star in Week 4 of 2000
Before Terrell Owens was a Bengal, a Bill, a Cowboy or an Eagle, he was a San Francisco 49er…lined up alongside the greatest wide receiver of all time in Jerry Rice.
Selected in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft out of Chattanooga, Owens quickly became “TO”—posting his first 1,000-yard season (with 14 touchdowns) 1998. But it wasn’t until 2000 did he make his first Pro Bowl (1,451 yards receiving, 13 touchdowns), with two of his scores coming in a Week 4, 41-24 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Owens scored the final San Francisco touchdown with a little more than four minutes left in regulation, all but putting the game out of reach for Troy Aikman and the gang. And just as he did with his second-quarter touchdown to put San Francisco up 17-3, Owens rushed out to the middle of the iconic Dallas star for a spike and dance—only to get clocked by Cowboys defensive back George Teague.
It’s a legendary moment in what was a Hall-of-Fame-worthy career from Owens, albeit behind a touch of bad sportsmanship.
Terrell Owens took it to the Dallas Star twice after absolutely schooling the Cowboys.
George Teague wasn't having it the second time around.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) May 9, 2020
4. Muhammad Ali shouts ‘Get up and fight, sucker!’ after knocking down Sonny Liston
In one of the most anticipated boxing rematches in the history of the sport, Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston clashed on May 25, 1965 in Lewiston, Maine … heavyweight bragging rights on the line. Thousands were on hand to see if Ali, the “Louisville Lip,” would hand out another stunning defeat after doing so against Liston in 1964, or if Liston would regroup against a worthy adversary.
At the 1:44 mark of the opening round, Ali sidestepped Liston and countered with his right hand in what’s now known as his “anchor punch”–a deft, swift stroke that was so blindingly quick, even Ali was unsure he’d hit him. Liston stumbled to the mat, prompting Ali to stand over him and yell: “Get up and fight, sucker! No one is going to believe this!”
Thirty seconds later and Liston was a little uneasy on his legs, prompting referee Jersey Joe Walcott to award Ali the first-round knockout…in one of the most controversial but iconic finishes in boxing.
Ali’s taunts would’ve been urban legend or another “you-had-to-be-there” moment, except that ringside photographer Neil Leifer captured the glare and gesture on camera.
It’s now one of the greatest sports photos of all time, and it fully encapsulates the energy and emotions of the scene.
Neil Leifer and @muhammadali hold a copy of Neil’s iconic photograph of Muhammad Ali’s knockout of Sonny Liston during the 1965 World Heavyweight Title fight in Lewiston, Maine. #neilleifer pic.twitter.com/iUAxwQAlDt
— Neil Leifer (@LeiferNeil) January 16, 2021
3. Michael Jordan buries Craig Ehlo, Cavs in ’89 NBA playoffs, exults
Trae Young likely knows this particular story: In May 1989, local beat writers famously scripted that the Chicago Bulls had no chance to advance against Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper, Craig Ehlo, Larry Nance and the 57-25 Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
So naturally, Michael Jordan took that personally. In Game 5, with three seconds remaining, he double-clutched against a trailing Ehlo for a game-winning jumper (101-100) and a 3-2 series win.
It was Jordan’s 44th point and second-consecutive jumper in crunch time, and it answered Ehlo’s dive to the basket and easy layup on the previous possession. Even Trae Young and other NBA stars who weren’t born when this moment unfolded have learned about the legend of MJ.
As Ehlo crumpled to the floor along the baseline, gassed and exhausted from the incredible effort, Jordan raced to midcourt and leapt into the air—fist-pumping in mid-stride. His coach, Doug Collins, ran out onto Cleveland’s court with two fists held high and joined his team, all in a stunned and silent Coliseum.
Jordan’s celebration is one of the many iconic images of his career, but it also was one of his bigger displays of pure emotion following a key win.
On this day in 1989, Michael Jordan hit “The Shot” on Craig Ehlo.
First of many playoff winners.
“All you f–kers go to hell.”
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 7, 2020
2. Jose Bautista bat flips in Game 5 of 2015 ALDS
Down 2-0 to the Texas Rangers in the 2015 American League Division Series, the Toronto Blue Jays, at 93-69 as AL East champions, were on the brink in the best-of-five before riveting wins in Games 3 and 4.
Tied 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 5 with two on, two outs and a 1-1 count, prolific slugger Jose Bautista buried an inside pitch from Sam Dyson deep into the left-field seats, sending Blue Jays fans into a frenzy with a 6-3 lead.
It not only wound up being the game-winning drive for the ALCS-bound Blue Jays, but Bautista’s epic, dramatic and captivating bat flip after the blast serves as one of the greatest sports struts of all time.
Did Bautista break some unspoken rules of baseball? One wonders what Trae Young might think. Were his bravado and braggadocio just too much for the great game? Was he the least bit disrespectful to the spirit of competition? Maybe a little. Maybe a smidge. But rules were made to be broken. Emotions were made to be felt. The Blue Jays were chasing a pennant, and they don’t even get that chance without Bautista’s ballyhoo, easily rated the most important swing of the 2015 ALDS.
3 years ago, we witnessed the bat flip seen around the world.
Best bat flip ever? pic.twitter.com/tfiH8Rf2x8
— MLB (@MLB) October 14, 2018
1. Damian Lillard waves ‘buh-bye!’ to Russell Westbrook, Paul George and OKC
Trae Young certainly knows the history here: Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian “Logo” Lillard owns perhaps the most disrespectful game-winning celebration of all time, in any sport, thanks to his antics following a 118-115 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the opening round in the 2019 Western Conference playoffs.
Lillard canned his 50th point of the game on a step-back, 37-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer, and in the face of elite defender Paul George.
And then, as if sending the Thunder to a dismal early playoff exit wasn’t enough, the former Weber State star waved goodbye to the Oklahoma City Thunder before being mobbed by teammates and staff at midcourt.
Dame waves goodbye to the Thunder pic.twitter.com/kBmHYbAuJr
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) April 24, 2019
Despite being the Western Conference third seed at 53-29, Portland didn’t really solve the Thunder until the postseason. The Trail Blazers were a woeful 0-4 against sixth-seeded OKC team before the playoffs, but they had little issue dispatching them when it mattered most.
In some ways, Lillard wasn’t just saying a physical goodbye in the moment. He said goodbye to the Thunder as a franchise in a philosophical way, too, as their brass completely refitted the roster in the 2019 offseason. Trae Young played for the Oklahoma Sooners in the NCAA Tournament; he lost in a single-elimination tournament. The Thunder lost in a best-of-seven series.
OKC GM Sam Presti sent George to the Los Angeles Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, first-round Clippers picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, first-round Miami Heat picks in 2021 and 2023, and the right to swap first-round picks in 2023 and 2025. Russell Westbrook, drafted out of UCLA by OKC in 2008, was traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, a top-four protected first-round pick in 2024, a top-four protected first-round pick in 2026, a top-20 protected first-round swap in 2025, and a top-four protected 2021 swap that’s fluid with the Clippers or the Heat.
Yeah, Lillard’s “sayonara” was as cold as cold it can possibly be.