*With all of the recent events surrounding the Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Garnett feud, and the trash talk involved that lit the Internet on fire, we figured it was a good time to repost our piece on the top 20 trash talkers of all time, originally published in October of 2012.*
David Stern and the rest of the suits might be charged with trying to take the fun out of the NBA, but trash talk will never die. It’s too engrained in the culture, too fundamental when it comes to egotistical athletes playing at the top of the game. Who grows up and doesn’t talk trash? I know I did, and it fired me up, forced me to back it up.
If you didn’t talk trash, chances are you were either Tim Duncan or you never got off the bench. Everyone has different uses for it, too. Some players need it to fire themselves up. Some are a little unstable mentally and emotionally. And others just can’t stop talking.
The NBA had some good talkers over the years, from the guys on the sidelines to the ones actually on the court to even the owners. We went through the tape, and picked out who we thought were the 20 best in NBA history (or at least as far back as current history goes…).
20. RON ARTEST/METTA WORLD PEACE
World Peace was always more crazy than he was talkative. He’s more apt to pull down your pants, as he famously did at one point against Paul Pierce in the playoffs, than he is to start a war of words. He’s a different cat, who borders the line between truly crazy and just awkward. The best part about it is Metta knows it, and that sets the tone for some truly hilarious situations.
ESPN once interviewed an unidentified player and asked him about World Peace on the court. He responded by saying, “Ron Artest is just weird. One reason he’s a great defender is he’ll get way too close and whisper in your ear.”
See? Crazy, right? Sometimes hearing the same tired trash-talking clichÃ©s can get old. MWP is never stale, and when he gets weird, it has the potential to throw anyone off their game. At its core, that’s what talking trash is all about.
19. MICHAEL COOPER
One of the best defensive swingman of the past few generations was a key part of some epic playoff battles in the 1980s with the L.A. Lakers. More often than not â€“ and this will be a key part of this list so pay attention â€“ Cooper found himself matched up with Larry Bird. Unless you enjoy getting humiliated, you had to talk to Bird. HAD to. One of the greatest shooters ever was going to put it on you verbally. Cooper was one of the few players who was more than happy to return the favor.
Cooper took everything personally, which might not be a great thing if you’re trying to win a game. But for us, as fans? It’s awesome. An embarrassed cat is liable to say just about anything on the court.
18. DARRYL DAWKINS
A few years ago during his time spent as the head coach of the Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs of the United States Basketball League, Dawkins told ESPN Page 2 columnist Eric Neel this: “If you’re not having fun, if you’re not talking trash, then I don’t want you on the floor, I don’t want you on my team.”
That pretty much sums it up.
Chocolate Thunder didn’t stop at naming all of his dunks. He talked throughout the game, a big personality with an even bigger creative side. The thing is, no one ever bothered Dawkins for a couple of reasons. One, he was just a nice guy that loved to act crazy, say wild things and run his mouth. And two, perhaps more importantly, he had muscles on top of muscles. It’s probably a good thing he never got angry. He would’ve broken more than just backboards.
17. MARK CUBAN
Part of what comes with being a ridiculously successful multi-millionaire is the platform to say whatever the hell you want. Cuban did that for years with Dallas, and while he took a more silent approach with the media over the past few seasons, especially in the playoffs, his legacy as a shit-talking gnat lingers on.
It’s easy to forget Cuban used to be a consistent distraction during the playoffs, releasing venom on the officials for bad calls, on David Stern and the NBA for any grievance that came up, and on opposing teams Dallas was playing in the playoffs. Nowadays, he might stay quiet on the Mavs’ sidelines because he found other avenues to shoot his hot air into.
Still, Cuban is BY FAR the greatest trash-talking executive I’ve ever seen. He even once told Kenyon Martin‘s mom that her son was a thug. Here’s what happened next:
16. NATE ROBINSON
Everyone knows Robinson is the typical little man in a big man’s game: always competing, always feeling he has to prove himself, always loud so no one forgets about him. His former teammate in Golden State, Stephen Curry, told The Big Lead this summer that Robinson was the biggest trash talker he’d ever been around, the best in the entire league, a 24/7 hype man who could run his mouth on just about anything.
After signing with Chicago this summer, Robinson admitted he cooled down as the years went on, which was necessary because he was on his way out of the league at one point. Robinson lives and dies on his emotional highs and lows, a great quality for a backup guard if he can keep his temperament in line with the team’s gameplan. But there’s no denying the man can talk some junk.
15. PAUL PIERCE
The last couple versions of the Boston Celtics had to be among the two or three best trash-talking squads of all time, and the Truth was a major part of that. Another supremely confident, and talented offensive player, Pierce has serenaded dozens of would-be defenders throughout his career, perhaps most memorably when he lit Al Harrington and the Indiana Pacers on fire during the 2003 Playoffs.
Even during the biggest moments, and on the grandest stages, Pierce wouldn’t stop. During the 2010 NBA Finals against the Lakers, the dude went OFF throughout the series on Ron Artest, seemingly never taken a breath between “You’re a bum!” You can’t touch this!” and “I’m busting your ass!”
At one point towards the end of the 2010 regular season, Pierce was giving it to Charlotte so bad that Stephen Jackson took exception to it. Jack noted afterwards that he’s all for conversation, especially when you keep it between the lines. But Jackson, then with the Bobcats, said the Celtics were going WAY over the line with some of their talk, getting personal and disrespectful. He wouldn’t name Pierce or anyone else specifically, but after watching the two going at it throughout the game, it was obvious who he was talking about. When Stephen Jackson of all people says you’re being rude, well, that’s pretty much the only co-sign you need for this list.
14. CHUCK PERSON
The Rifleman always tried to play it off like he didn’t talk much. But we all know better, especially when every old NBA video featured Person getting involved verbally with someone. More often than not, it was Larry Bird.
When it came to sparring with words, it was hard to beat Bird. He relished the challenge of backing up what he was saying. But Person wasn’t bad either. A lot of what he said wasn’t revolutionary â€“ normally it revolved around traditional methods like you can’t guard me or get someone in here who can stop me â€“ but when you talk often enough that even Michael Jordan must single you out to reporters, you know you have a big mouth.
As Charles Smith says in this video at the four-minute mark, Person routinely stepped up his shit talking in the playoffs, a true clutch talker. Smith described it as “going AWOL.”
13. KOBE BRYANT
Kobe always had a slick mouth, and he uses it on everyone and anyone, including his own teammates. From calling out Shaq repeatedly to dissing Pau Gasol as a black swan, Bryant’s unwavering confidence almost automatically leads to a lot of condescending comments. Sometimes that can be troublesome for team chemistry. For the sake of this list? It’s awesome.
Bryant was never a tough guy. Just ask Chris Childs. But he normally comes out on top when it comes to talking because he can back it up. The man once challenged an entire crowd while they were chanting “Kobe sucks!” in Phoenix, and then backed it up with bucket after bucket. His infamous back-and-forths with Raja Bell were pure entertainment… Bryant using every tactic in the world to try to convince Bell that he didn’t matter.
Most of Kobe’s methods revolve around reminding everyone he’s the best, and if you’re someone like Smush Parker (another spurned former teammate), what exactly can you say to that? Just turn, tuck your tail and walk away.
But Kobe’s best trash-talking moment didn’t come with an NBA player. It came with the most powerful man in the world.
During the Lakers 2010 trip to the White House to celebrate another NBA championship, Barack Obama, who’s from Chicago, told Bryant that Derrick Rose might have his number. Kobe didn’t hesitate, telling the president he’d make sure to pick up after the fifth ring.
12. RASHEED WALLACE
Was there any question he’d make this list? If we were polling NBA referees from the past 15 years, ‘Sheed would’ve undoubtedly made the top five. He tormented officials from the moment he entered the league in 1995. Currently he’s with the Knicks, still hanging onto the old glory days.
Wallace is known for being an extremely loyal teammate, and many of his best moments during the second half of his career came while backing up his guys. He guaranteed a victory against the Pacers during the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, and then delivered in what became known as the Guaran-sheed.
But what he’ll always be remembered for is “BALL DON’T LIE!” It’s truly one of the best trash-talking lines of all time, and it became Rasheed’s signature. Whenever he didn’t agree with a call, which was pretty much every foul he ever committed, if the opposing player missed the first free throw, you could count on hearing a relatively loud “BALL DON’T LIE!” come streaming into your living room. It might’ve been downright frustrating for the refs, but it also rattled more than a few players.
Wallace always had a big mouth, and anyone who has their own official trash talk mixtape â€“ even if it comes in a summer league at 38 years old (on second thought, that actually makes it better) â€“ deserves a mention.
11. XAVIER McDANIEL
No one represented the ruggedness of the ’80s and early ’90s more than the X-Man, who unfortunately, probably lost more trash-talking battles than he won. He was on the losing end of one of the more famous trash-talking incidents in NBA history â€“ when Larry Bird called his shot against him, and then went out and did it right in his face.
It’s become such a staple in NBA lore that McDaniel eventually had to admit he got embarrassed, and had to admit to being completely shown up by Larry Legend.
But that wasn’t his only career highlight where the 6-7 forward came out on the losing end. In the 1992 Playoffs, the Knicks had the defending champion Bulls on the ropes in a Game 7. McDaniel, who spent the entire series going at Scottie Pippen in whatever way he could to throw him off his game, squared up with the wrong man and was burned.
Michael Jordan stepped up, the two went face-to-face for nearly 10 seconds, and whatever was said fired up MJ enough that he exploded for 42 points in a 29-point Chicago win.
Doc Rivers once said McDaniel is a part of a rare breed of trash talkers: he’d talk even when he was playing horribly.
10. PHIL JACKSON
No one before or since was ever as slick as the Zen Master. Part of that has to do with him being such a successful coach. Seriously, what can you say to PJ? Not much. When Stan Van Gundy used to run his mouth, he’d perennially get put in place by people like Shaquille O’Neal (the Master Of Panic), but Jackson accomplished too much, made too many fans in the media and has the respect of some of the greatest players ever for someone to connect with a good shot.
Jackson stacked the deck. He aligned himself with the best, won more titles than anyone, and gave himself the position to say whatever the hell he wanted to.
Jackson makes the top 10 because he went beyond the typical smack talk. You really had to think about what he was saying. It was deep. Sometimes, he’d even compliment opponents, and yet you had to stop and think, “Wait a minute. Is that a diss? What’s he saying?”
One of the Zen Master’s greatest moments came against Sacramento when he called the city an “Old cow town.” That hurt.
It’s always the quiet ones you need to worry about, and for the most part, Jackson was pretty quiet. He wasn’t hotheaded. He wasn’t loud. But when he decided he wanted to go at someone, Jackson was nicer than B-Rabbit.
9. CHARLES BARKLEY
Sir Charles said a bunch of crazy things throughout his career, and didn’t discriminate when it came to handing out verbal ass whoopings. He’d talk to career journeymen, referees, fans in the crowd, Michael Jordan, even in his post-retirement career as a human soap box, he’s taking shots at presidential candidates (Hello, Mitt Romney).
At one point, he even went after Chicago executive Jerry Krause, who was holding on with the Bulls after Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson left. During those years, Chicago was historically bad, and impressed by Krause’s ability to hold onto his job as the general manager, Barkley noted, “Jerry Krause must have pictures of his boss’ wife having sex with a monkey.”
For Barkley, it wasn’t so much an obsessive competitive habit. Talking trash on the court was the way he grew up. On the playgrounds in Alabama, you had to in order to survive and keep your respect, but it never really crossed the line with the former league MVP. He never let it get personal.
I could also pull up any “Inside The NBA” show from the past five or six years, and I can pretty much guarantee Charles would have at least one quotable. He might not be playing currently, but that still counts right? Even if you don’t want to count that, he deserves this placement, and ironically, if it was up to him, a few of the top 20 wouldn’t be on here. Barkley was a stickler for backing up the talk. Some players just loved to run their mouths, and a good proportion of them couldn’t play. In Sir Charles’ words, “I’ve always thought if you can’t play, shut the hell up.”
John Salley once summed up Barkley nicely, saying, “I think he’s psycho.”
8. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
O’Neal is probably more famous for his nicknames, and his repeated attempts to sabotage the greatest NBA postgame show of all time. But he was one of the best at taking shots through the media. It was extremely rare to see someone talk junk to the biggest player in the league face-to-face, so for the most part O’Neal served everyone quietly. When they put the mics in front of his face afterwards, he’d rip off a number of classic one-liners.
When Jerry Stackhouse laid him out on the fast break during the 2006 NBA Finals, O’Neal said afterwards that, “My daughters tackle me harder when I come home… It actually felt good to get hit like that. Thanks, Jerry.”
When he got annoyed with Chris Bosh, he started calling him “The RuPaul of big men.”
When Lawrence Frank annoyed him, he called him Laura Frank.
When the Sacramento Kings started acting like they were the best team in the West, he called them the Sacramento Queens.
When Kobe thought he was finally safe from the tandem’s longstanding beef, Shaq asked, “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes.”
The man was probably involved in the most personal feuds of all time, and recently he’s found a new target in Dwight Howard. Let’s see if his game is still sharp.
7. VERNON MAXWELL
Mad Max wasn’t necessarily a great player. He was just crazy. Ask any player who came up in the late ’80s and on through the ’90s about the most annoying and loudest guys they ever went against, and Maxwell is going to be mentioned more often than not. Considering he never made an All-Star team, and had a career scoring average below 13, he must’ve been a damn good trash talker for people to remember him that well.
Michael Jordan certainly does. Once when Houston was playing Jordan’s Bulls, backcourt mate Kenny Smith remembers Mad Max twice telling Jordan, “Look, if you score on me again, I’m going to fight you.” He thought Jordan was scoring on him too easily, showing him up and embarrassing him. Eventually, the slight 6-4 guard actually did swing on MJ.
The thing about Maxwell is he just didn’t care. He’d talk or challenge anyone, from guards to coaches to centers. No one bothered him in practice, either. You never knew when he would go off, and the difference between Mad Max and pretty much every other player was that when he said he was gonna hit you, he actually went through with it.
During games, Maxwell loved to take shots from in front of an opposing team’s bench, can the jumper, and then lean back towards the sideline, yelling, “Catch me because I’m falling in…”
At 34, Maxwell went to Seattle and played with Gary Payton. The two of them formed what must’ve been one of the all-time greatest trash-talking duos.
6. KEVIN GARNETT
Garnett went from being a kid in Minnesota who was a very good, yet somewhat reluctant trash talker to a full-fledged nutcase in Boston – annoying, angry and vindictive in his later years. The dude got in Big Baby‘s face so bad on the bench during one game that Davis started crying. Sometimes, Garnett even took it way over the lines.
Who remembers the Charlie Villanueva incident? Charlie V, who suffers from a medical condition called alopecia universalis that causes hair loss, tweeted after a Detroit and Boston tilt in the early portions of the 2010-2011 season that Garnett called him a cancer patient during the game. After first brushing off the accusations, KG finally responded, saying he had merely called Villaneuva a cancer to his team and the league. How much do we really believe Garnett? With the way that man drops F bombs and stares down opposing teams from the bench (check the 2009 First Round series against Chicago), I sided with Charlie V. Garnett’s profanity-laced rants remind me too much of DMX.
If you were going up against the Celtics, you could expected a mouthful for 48 minutes (especially if you were white or international). Sports Illustrated ran a recent poll among NBA players, asking who the biggest trash talker in the NBA currently is, and Garnett pulled in 62 percent of the vote. That’s ridiculous.
5. REGGIE MILLER
At no time in NBA history did a player’s trash talk carry more weight than in the Pacers’ playoff battles with the Knicks in the mid-90s. Reggie Miller not only stomped on New York’s heart twice in incredible fashion. He did it all while talking non-stop smack with Spike Lee.
Miller also might be the only player ever who can make this claim: he was so annoying, he got both Michael Jordan AND Kobe Bryant frustrated enough that they tried to body slam him during a game.
One of the greatest shooters of all time admits that he, truthfully, never talked because he didn’t like someone or because he felt the need to dominate conversation. He talked because he had to fire himself up. Self-motivation.
In his playoff battles with John Starks â€“ and they often became testy â€“ Miller constantly talked, telling himself, “There was absolutely no way he could guard me.” That not only fired him up and gave Miller confidence, it forced him to back it up on the court. He did that over and over again.
At one point, the two got locked into such a heated conversation that Starks actually head-butted Miller.
4. GARY PAYTON
Payton just never stopped talking. He couldn’t. It was in his DNA. Sometimes he could be ruthless, like the time he made Brevin Knight cry or the time he called Ervin Johnson (not THAT Earvin Johnson, but the slightly less talented one) Tragic Johnson or the time he hurt Jamie Feick‘s feelings by telling him to shut up with, “Man you won’t even be in the league next year.”
The Ason Kidd nickname, given to Jason Kidd because he had no J growing up? Yeah, that was all GP. The Glove even once told Jordan he drove better cars than him (MJ responded, “Except mine were free.”).
He was a talking megaphone, the Stephen A. Smith of the NBA hardwood. The thing that adds to his legacy as an epic shit talker is his style. The dude sounds like he just walked in off the street and into the barbershop, ready to go on for four hours about which pizza outlet makes the best pies. Even when his career was over, he took his epic shit talking ways and made a semi-career out of it on NBA TV and TNT, routinely turning every NBA show he was on into an NBA locker room.
As Shaq once put it on Open Court: “I played with GP. I played against GP. He just didn’t care. The crazy thing about GP on the court was that he was like that off the court. If he saw you in the mall, ‘remember that time I crossed ya up big fella and I gave ya that thang and ya went up there and almost pulled ya arm out the socket?! Ya can’t call me boy. I’m a Hall of Fama. I’m first ballot.'”
3. MICHAEL JORDAN
The greatest player of all time was known for being one of the most vicious SOBs to ever lace them up. He thrived off it, and truly loved it. No one was safe, either â€“ not even his own teammates.
Before Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, Scottie Pippen came down with an unexpected migraine. The Bulls were run off the floor, and Pippen scored two points. When Pippen shot 2-for-16 in a game the following season, Jordan checked out the box score and asked him, “Migraine tonight, Scottie?”
The dude called Will Perdue Will Vanderbilt because he felt he wasn’t good enough to be named after a Big Ten school. He once made fun of Horace Grant‘s aftershave lotion, saying it smelled like a lawn, one that was just fertilized.
But Jordan’s greatest (or maybe his worst) moment as a trash talker came later in his career against the Charlotte Hornets, and their loveable point guard, 5-3 Muggsy Bogues. During a deciding game in a ’95 first round playoff series, the Hornets had a late shot to steal a game in Chicago. Jordan, guarding Bogues, backed off him and said, “Shoot it you fucking midget.” Bogues finished just 2-for-12 for the game, but took the shot anyway and missed. The Hornets lost, and Bogues reportedly told Bulls’ assistant Johnny Bach that his jump shot never recovered.
2. LARRY BIRD
We all know the most famous incident involving Bird’s legendary mouth. Before the 1986 Three-Point Shooting Contest during All-Star Weekend in Dallas, an event that also featured all-time shooters like Dale Ellis and Craig Hodges, seven of the eight contestants found themselves getting dressed and prepped inside a locker room at Reunion Arena. They had been told to be there 30 minutes beforehand.
Bird, considered one of the best two or three players in the league at the time, wasn’t there. Obligations? Superstar traffic? Oversleeping? It could’ve been anything. Finally, about two minutes before the contestants were scheduled to meet to start the event, the doors fly open and Bird strolls in.
He looked around the room, and said, “I want all of you to know I am winning this thing. I’m just looking around to see who’s gonna finish up second.”
That was rather harmless compared to some of the other things he was known to say. He once came out of a late game timeout with the game on the line against Seattle, pointed to a spot on the floor, and told Xavier McDaniel, one of the most physical players of his era, that he was going to get the ball and shoot it right in his face in that exact spot. He did, and he made it too. The only problem was he was pissed he left two seconds on the clock.
Bird did the same thing to Horace Grant. During a fourth quarter stretch against Chicago, he hit a shot on Grant, pointed to the spot, and then scored 11 straight from the same spot.
Reggie Miller, a noted trash talker in his own right, once tried to affect Bird’s concentration by talking to him during his free throw routine. Bird glared at him, made the first free throw, told him, “You got to be kidding me. Rook, I’m the best shooter in the league right now. In the league. Understand? And you’re up here trying to say something.”
Then he banged the second one.
But by far the greatest Bird trash-talking incident involves Chuck Person and the Indiana Pacers on the day after Christmas in 1990. Person had previously stated before the game, “The Rifleman is coming, and he’s going bird hunting.”
So Bird showed up during the pregame and told Indiana’s 6-8 forward that he had a Christmas present waiting for him. Then during the game – with Person on the bench – Bird canned a triple from directly in front of the Pacer sideline, turned, and told him, “Merry fucking Christmas.”
1. THE FANS
Sorry if this feels like a little bit of a cop out, but it’s true. The fans are genuinely the best trash talkers in NBA history because guess what? Unless they resort to throwing cups of beer, there are almost zero repercussions. Go after LeBron‘s mom? He can yell at you, but that’s about it. Make fun of Kevin Willis‘ age? He’ll just laugh (That actually happened once. A fan yelled at Willis, saying his grandma was interested in him. The entire San Antonio bench started chuckling. Willis even had to acknowledge it was a pretty good joke.). Tell Michael Jordan to dunk on someone his own size? He’ll find a 7-footer, jam on him, and then keep the conversation going.
One of the best instances of trash talk I’ve ever seen wasn’t vengeful or hateful. It wasn’t even derogative or negative towards someone’s game on the court. I was in Boston for a Celtics game during the brief period when Massachusetts’ legend Chris Herren was on the squad. Herren was in the midst of some of his off-the-court issues, and many of the fans knew the dude was a little cuckoo. So these two cats showed up to a random regular season game, sat directly behind the Celtics’ bench, and then rocked back and forth for AN ENTIRE GAME, saying, “Haaaarrrreeeen Haaaarrreeeen” just loud enough for the guys on the bench to hear. Nothing crazy. Simple. And it pissed Herren off.
All the way up to the present, fans are still on their game. Recently, Howard Beck of The New York Times was at a Brooklyn Nets game, and tweeted that a fan yelled, “You look like the New Jersey Nets out there! Go back to Newark!”
Barkley always felt the fans got away with things no normal person should be allowed to. On NBA TV’s “Open Court,” he decided, “I’ve always been a firm believer when I’m commissioner of the NBA that you should be able to go up in the stands and bring a fan â€“ I mean this sincerly too â€“ you should be able to go up in the stands, bring a fan down to half-court, and say, ‘Say what you just said right now.'”
Who was your favorite trash talker?
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