Robert Horry’s ‘Hatred’ for Danny Ainge Turned Into a Fabulous Business Decision and a Lesson in Chemistry

These days, Robert Horry is largely remembered for his ability to sink big shots during even bigger moments. For all of his grace under pressure, though, the NBA talent was still a human being. That means he was more than capable of getting frustrated, and, on one occasion, he even gave into that “hatred.”

During the 1996-97 season, the forward found himself in Phoenix under head coach Danny Ainge. That didn’t sit well with Big Shot Bob, who had a previous history with his new boss. One night, he finally had enough and changed basketball history in the process.

Let’s fire up the time machine and go back to the 90s.

Robert Horry couldn’t stand Danny Ainge and let him know with a towel to the face

Over time, certain NBA players develop rivalries. While those battles are usually confined to the court, things get tricky when the two parties end up on the same team. For Robert Horry and Danny Ainge, however, there was another wrinkle: the former man was coaching the latter.

Ahead of the 1996-97 season, Horry was traded to Phoenix, where Ainge sat at the head of the bench. The two managed to co-exist for nearly half the season until things reached a boiling point. At the end of a loss to the Boston Celtics, the coach pulled his forward from the game. Horry responded with some harsh words and, eventually, a towel to the face.

On a recent edition of Access Sportsnet, which made its way onto Twitter through Rob Perez, Big Shot Bob revisited that fateful day. His tone, however, was more positive than you might expect.

“Best professional move I ever made,” Horry explained. “The hatred I had for Danny Ainge ran so deep. … I hated Danny Ainge with a passion because Mario Elie, one of my very dear friends, when he hit Mario in the face with the ball, on purpose, and that’s the first thing he told me and Sam Cassel when we stepped into the Phoenix arena, that, ‘Oh, I did that on purpose.’ From that moment on, I was like, ‘Oh, you really on my s-list. Oh, you’re on my s-list.’ And then he became head coach. Never liked him, but it was a good business decision. I ended up in the Lakers organization.”

In Hollywood, of course, the forward won three titles, so it’s tough to argue with his claim.

Horry’s hatred is a reminder that chemistry does matter

Robert Horry fields a question during a 2015 Q+A session.
Robert Horry fields a question during a 2015 Q+A session. | Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Thanks to fantasy sports and modern super teams, it’s easy to think that chemistry is a thing of the past. Players these days all know each other and get along, right? And, even if two stars don’t see eye-to-eye, can’t they suck it up for the season? Everyone else has had to deal with an annoying coworker at least once, after all.

Horry’s story, however, is a reminder that personalities don’t always mix.

When we see NBA players soaring through the air like real-life superheroes, it’s easy to overlook their humanity. They are larger-than-life characters, and, as fans, we only see them through a very specific lens. It’s easy to forget that they are actual human beings, not robots created to entertain us.

Through that lens, chemistry comes back into focus. Since players are real people, they’re allowed to have thoughts about their peers, both good and bad. Grudges, beefs, and general rivalries are all fair game; those realities have to be taken into account when building a team.

That, of course, shouldn’t excuse petulance. Players, like everyone else, should obviously try to put aside their differences and work together for the cause. Sometimes, though, the previous history is a bit too much for any amount of team-building to overcome.

Assembling a winning team isn’t as easy as slapping 15 of the most talented players together. While it might seem fluffy, chemistry does matter. Just ask Robert Horry and Danny Ainge about that.

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