Trash talking in the NBA is different now than it used to be. In fact, imagine the NBA with no trash talking (there was a time when that was the case, believe it or not). For this article, there’s some specific criteria as to what makes someone a good trash talker. Anyone can talk it, but not everyone can walk it.
To be considered a good trash talker, you have (or had) to back it up. There’s a difference between trash talking and being a psycho. Take Rasheed Wallace for example. He will ll make bunch of lists that focus on the 10 best NBA trash talkers of all-time. The problem: Rasheed was a nut job. As was Dennis Rodman and many others. To be on this list, you had to be creative, not just obnoxious.
There’s more than just trash talking on the court. Using the media, being a prime example. To use trash talk as a tool is a special gift, and not every great player had it. Imagine if the players below had access to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube…etc. The battles between legends would have been epic.
10. Sam Cassell
Busting on to the scene and winning two NBA titles in your first two years in the league. You can talk as much trash as you want. And Cassell did. A lot. Then again, no one ever really understands him, so technically he could have been yelling at himself for motivation.
Regardless, Cassell was a personality staple in many NBA locker rooms. He wasn’t always on the best teams, but he made up for it with his loud mouth and solid play. Above you’ll see Cassell’s best taunt of all time.
9. Kevin Garnett
Garnett’s style of trash talk has changed drastically from his days as “the kid” in Minnesota, to his days in Boston/Brooklyn. When KG got to Minnesota, he was was a smiley, skinn and energetic kid who couldn’t shoot. He had terrible language skills and let his game do the talking. As he grew as a player, heck, as a MAN, KG got better with his trash talking skills.
Garnett learned how to talk to the media properly. He knew when to say something and when not to. He learned how to become a complete basketball player, not just a high-flying, shot-swatting bean pole. He talked on the court and he talked off it, but he knew his game would have to back it up. The guy is a flat out competitor. And often times, fans confuse that with being “cocky.”
Things changed when KG got traded to Boston. Why? Who knows. He became more serious, with more of a “tough guy” attitude that was so different than his early days in Minnesota (where he was worshiped). He came off as more of a jack-ass than a trash talker, but he won that NBA title that he’d been chasing for so long. Maybe it was the surroundings, maybe it was his teammates, maybe it was Boston, it doesn’t matter. Garnett didn’t let anyone get in the way of his ultimate dream. That is how you back up your trash talk.
8. Drazen Petrovic
Like Cassell, Petrovic was another guy no one could understand. Granted it was due to a language barrier, but effective none the less. Not many fans of today’s NBA will remember how special Petrovic was. He consistently made highlight-reel plays, while staying aggressive and getting under the skin of other players. Want proof? Check out the video above where Reggie Miller talks about how much he disliked playing Petrovic.
7. Reggie Miller
Speaking of Reggie Miller, he makes this list for memorable moments of trash talk. We all know about the Spike Lee/Knicks moment, but Reggie was a loud-mouthed player who never stopped firing up cut throat three’s to burn the dreams of your favorite team. He played in an era where trash talk was at its peak, and that never slowed Reggie down. He was the reason the Pacers were feared by teams like the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls. His game did more of the talking than other guys from this list. That’s a skill many NBA players wish they had.
6. Gary Payton
“The Glove” made a living jawing at his opponents. His style was a different sort of trash talk. Tasteful but effective. Players knew it was coming and he’d still get to them. He had a way of pumping his chest, but also backing off respectfully when he was defeated. With that said, Payton never matched up against a player he couldn’t talk smack to.
5. Shaquille O’Neal (warning: strong language)
As dumb as this may sound, Shaq actually had to talk trash early on in his career because of his haters. You know, the people who said “he’s just big and that’s why he’s good” or “he can’t shoot free throws.” Shaq brought a different fun to the game of basketball. He used every medium possible to get his trash talk out there. In game, post game, pre-game, off-season, it didn’t matter. Shaq was fun, creative and direct off the court, and a complete monster on the court.
Sure, Shaq had his beef with specific people (Kobe, the most obvious), but he still won. Everywhere he went during his prime, that team got better. What Shaq did better than most players in the history of basketball: he let you know he was going to dominate you. Didn’t matter how, but you got that message as an opposing team. As you’ll see in the video above, Shaq doesn’t give a rip when he’s asked an honest question while he’s upset. And for that, we love him.
4. Charles Barkley
Barkley had trash talking down to an art form. He’d say what he wanted, when he wanted. Like Shaq, Barkley paved the way for using the media as a way to get at his opponents. He was a physical player who was also undersized for his position, so he was forced to use trash talking to gain an edge. Perhaps his smile, which can light up a room, helped him gain love/hate relationships. He never won a ring, but you can’t say it was due to his effort. If you could find a production company to make a Shaquille O’Neal/Charles Barkley DVD of their best on and off-court moments, it would fly off the shelves.
Barkley had his beef with everyone. From the greats to the nobodies, no one was safe. Heck, he even talked trash to legendary referee Dick Bevetta which led to a hilarious head-to-head race during the 2006-07 NBA All-Star weekend.
Acurazine.com listed off their top 50 Charles Barkley quotes, and they are worth reading. Here are two other legendary trash talk moments of Barkley:
1) Charles Barkley versus Chris Carr – During a crucial point in a playoff series vs the Timberwolves, Carr has to make a couple free throws to give the Timberwolves a chance. As you’ll see in this interview via slamonline.com, Barkley’s conversation with Carr went like this:
EJ: “What did you tell Chris Carr that time when you played?”
Barkley: “I said, They can’t get a pin up your ass with a jackhammer right now. [Next two shots went] clang, clang. He had no chance of making them free throws.”
Barkley even talked trash to his own teammates! There doesn’t seem to be proof of the exact quote, but Barkley once responded to the 15 minutes of fame that teammate Matt Maloney was getting from the ladies, by (roughly) saying:
I’m getting sick of my daughters talking about Matt Maloney, and I’ll tell you what; I use the same shower he does and it ain’t no big deal.
3. Larry Bird
The quiet kid from Indiana sure doesn’t fit the mold of a trash talker, but he sure could. @TCEverybody and guest Jeff Pearlman discuss the feud between Larry Bird and Michael Cooper on a recent podcast. It sums up how most players viewed Bird. That is, of course, until he started schooling them on the court. Bird became legendary as a competitor and winner, but he didn’t need the media to talk trash when he played. You don’t see that sort of grit from the skinny guys anymore, which is a shame. This video pretty much sums up Larry Bird’s trash talking:
Here’s an interview with Bird from 2013 about fighting in the NBA. It really does show the difference between Bird’s era and today’s era.
And finally TC and Jeff Pearlman discussing Larry Bird vs Michael Cooper and their trash-talking ways.
2. Michael Jordan
The odd thing about Michael Jordan is that no one liked him at first. He was too cocky, too flashy and too in love with himself. Perhaps combined with always being told he wasn’t good enough, caused him to develop that edge. That edge included trash talk. It was a confident trash talk, but Jordan knew how to do it. Jordan never saw a challenge he didn’t step up to. He’d get in the face of his opponents and then dunk in their face moments later. When you get some of the NBA’s greatest players trying to play mind games with you, that means they’re jealous or out of ideas (or both).
Just watch Reggie Miller talk about his rivalry with Michael Jordan in the video embedded above.
The funniest thing about the way Jordan was viewed in his early days, is that he thinks the exact same way about himself now as he did back then. Yet, he’s the greatest of all time. That’s what happens when you talk trash and back it up.
1. Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys”
Rather than separate this team, we’re putting them together. No one liked playing the “Bad Boys.” It didn’t matter who they played or when they played them, they came at you hard and often. They’d talk it, then they’d walk it. Then they’d put you in to the 3rd row. Even quiet Isiah Thomas had some nasty fight in him. Add Rodman and Bill Laimbeer to the mix and you’re going to get some pretty gnarly results.
They backed up their style of play by winning, which separates them from being “cheap.” Teams knew they were going to get beat up physically when playing the Pistons. That was their plan all along. Embedded above is a great video tribute to the “Bad Boys” of the Detroit Pistons.
They played a style of basketball we will never see again in the NBA. Think about how legendary that is.