“Towel-gate” — Robert Horry explains why he threw a towel in Danny Ainge’s face
DISRESPECTFUL

“Towel-gate” — Robert Horry explains why he threw a towel in Danny Ainge’s face

Vince Carter quitting on the Raptors is usually the first moment most people go to when talking about a player forcing his way out. Well, it was until James Harden visited strip clubs without a mask during a global pandemic. But both of those may not be the most disrespectful move a player has done to get traded. I present to you Robert Horry in 1997. 

Big Shot earned his nickname by making clutch shots everywhere he went – Houston, LA, and San Antonio. But most people forget for 32 games, Horry was a Phoenix Sun. He was a part of the package that brought Charles Barkley to Houston, and the moment he got to Phoenix, Horry was an awkward fit. Things got way worse after the 8th game of the season. The Suns were on an 8 game losing streak when their coach Cotton Fitzsimmons quit his job. In comes new head coach Danny Ainge

Horry and Ainge had history, and it wasn’t good. Ainge was a good shooter, but his brand in the NBA was that of a rough, some would say dirty, player – think Patrick Beverly. Being a shooter wasn’t enough in the 90s, you had to bring something else to the table and for Ainge it was tenacity. That created a lot of conflicts, and one of Ainge’s most famous episodes put him on Horry’s s**tlist.

I hated Danny Ainge, I’m not even gonna lie. I hated him. We heat them so many times when he was in Phoenix when I was with the Rockets. Mario Elie is one of my good friends, and in one of the playoff games, he took the ball out – Danny Ainge was a pitcher – he hit Mario in the face with the ball on purpose. 

Robert Horry, Big Shot Bob Podcast

Horry revealed the next game the Rockets lost because all they were trying to do was hurt Danny Ainge. Every screen, every possibility to inflict pain on Ainge was not to be missed. The refs didn’t do anything about that, because they knew it was revenge for the past game when Ainge hit Elie and got away free. 

We was killing him, we didn’t care about winning the game – we just wanted to punish him. So I get traded there, and he becomes the head coach. It was no love lost there because he was just…that’s one thing people forget. When you play against people and they are just assho**s, and all of a sudden you’re playing for that assh**e…there was no love lost. 

Robert Horry, Big Shot Bob Podcast

This all may be true, but Horry was still in the wrong. He threw the towel in his coach’s face after Ainge pulled him out of a game in which Horry was 1/4 from the field; not an unreasonable coaching decision. Big Shot knew he messed up and apologized to Ainge and the team. Despite the apology, the Suns suspended him for two games without pay.

You may wonder why Horry only got a two-game suspension. That was the maximum allowed punishment according to the CBA at the time. Then GM Jerry Colangelo said that he’s “of the old school, so I would have taken much sterner action if we weren’t limited by the bargaining agreement.” It was obvious Horry had to go, and the Suns shipped him to the Lakers for Cedric Ceballos. Can you think of a better punishment than being sent to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers just as they are about to start their championship run?

The best part about it is, this probably isn’t the worst memory Suns fans have of Robert Horry. A decade later, he would hip-check Steve Nash and get Boris Diaw and Amar’e Stoudemire suspended for leaving the bench. One of the worst decisions in NBA history altered the course of those Playoffs and probably robbed the Suns of a title. That was primarily a David Stern mistake, but Suns fans will never forget Robert Horry started the whole thing. 

P.S. When Horry said Ainge was a pitcher it wasn’t a phrase. Ainge is actually one of the 13 NBA players that also played baseball in the MLB – Ainge played for the Blue Jays for three years before joining the NBA.