The NBA: Where Trash-Talking Goes To Die

04.25.11 8 years ago 20 Comments

Oh how the game has changed. Back in the day, you could clothesline someone and be lauded for your intensity. Back then, you could throw a punch, wind up on SportsCenter and be back on the court the next night. Back in the day, nearly anything was tolerated in the name of competition. Back then, everyone thought the NBA was better.

So how did we reach this point, where players get technicals for animated conversations with each other and guys get suspensions in the playoffs for slapping each other around? How did we go from Xavier McDaniel to Zaza Pachulia? Larry Bird to Hedo Turkoglu? How did we go from competition to opposing players helping each other up? This has been one of the best beginnings to the playoffs in a long time and yet I can’t shake this feeling that it should be better. Say what you want, but know this: the attempts to bury this kid of adrenaline do nothing but make the game more peaceful. The NBA is the only major professional sport that does this; and people wonder why there is this stigma that players in the NBA don’t play hard.

By now, you might have read Player X’s journal entry on trash-talking in the NBA. Some of the highlights include:

When players hold their tongues, the league is boring. And we’ve been quiet too long. I blame all the foreign guys. They don’t like confrontation. I don’t know many who can talk trash, or even try. The refs are at fault too. A lot of the T’s you see called are preemptive; refs hear some noise and blow the whistle before it escalates. If you ask me, they’re trying to take the “black” out of the game. Besides Bird, all the great trash-talkers have been black. We were born talking trash. They want to silence us, but that’s like telling a bunny to stop jumping. The bunny can’t help it.


Want to get to “The King” and some other prime-time players? Here’s one man’s go-to material: Drop a “you’re riding coattails” on LeBron or remind him he bailed on the Cavs to buy a ring. Mention Dwight Howard‘s J — or lack of one; it never fails to piss him off. Call Kobe a fake Jordan. (Just beware you may get posterized for the rest of the game.) Don’t bother with Tim Duncan; dude can’t hear a thing and never gets rattled. But feel free to remind Tony Parker that “Eva is fine”; wives are over the line, but not exes. Tell Pierce his one ring was all luck. Then have one of your bigger guys step to KG.

If there’s anyone in the world who wants more trash-talking in the NBA, it’s me. I grew up on trash-talk. My favorite basketball memories come from the 1990s, the last hurrah for many of the game’s greatest talkers. When I play, I probably set records for how often I run my mouth. It always drove me, motivated me to go beyond. It helped make it feel okay to be mean. Those are the same reasons most players talk trash. I would bet 80 percent of the game’s greatest trash-talkers did it to push themselves, create some enemy in their head that didn’t necessarily exist in real life. The other 20 percent could probably just never shut up. But we can include them in this too.

Alas, it’s not really up to the players. They don’t make the rules. There’s too much money involved, and thus, they end up wearing the muzzles. You can’t blame them. But you can blame the system, the same system that promotes an NFL where players get into shouting matches after literally every play, the same system where MLB and NHL players often get into fights and bench-clearing brawls. The NBA doesn’t need that stuff. But what’s wrong with a little s&%^-talking? Are league officials truly that afraid that another Malice at the Palace is going to happen? Do they feel that NBA players can’t control themselves and that they, given their stance as elders, need to control these young athletes? The thinking is actually kind of pathetic. There’s no trust at all.

In the article, Player X says most of the technicals players get nowadays are preemptive. The instant two players come face-to-face, or even start jawing at each other, whistles start firing, everyone rushes to break it up and David Stern’s heart starts pounding. Is that really necessary? What is everyone so afraid of? Is society so screwed up that spitting junk is still causing the public to downgrade and destroy the NBA with easily-refurbished stereotypes?

We found out from the AP that last night, Dwight Howard had an interesting exchange with a couple of fans:

Howard came over to the press table to exchange barbs with a couple of trash-talking fans during a break in the third quarter. “You’re the biggest whiner in the league,” one of them said. “You wanna come out here and play me?” Howard responded. “I’m averaging 33 points a game. Just keep drinking your beer.”

Players still have it in them, even someone as nice and personable as Howard. So the NBA needs to stop letting this negatively define them and start using it to better their product. It’ll work. It happens in every other league.

This goes so much deeper than just the surface “gives us more trash-talk.” It speaks to a lot more than just attempting to keep the game clean. But at this point, all I want is some more #$%^-talking.

Does the NBA need more trash-talking?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.

Around The Web

DIME Instagram