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Picking Through the Trash

NBA refs will have to decide who's trashin' and who's tauntin', and then trash the taunter

Your mama's so fat, dogs follow her around for shade.

Yo, hold on, now. Nothing personal. This is scientific. If someone said that to you, would you consider it mere "trash talk" or an out-and-out "taunt"?

You 're so ugly that when you were a baby, your mother fed you with a slingshot.

Again, is this mere woofing? Or do you consider it more severe than that, something that would require you to rip off the speaker's arms and beat him with them?

This is the sticky wicket that NBA referees will be facing this season as the league steps up its attempt to quell on-court violence. Last season Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Johnson and nine zillion other guys were suspended for at least one game or fined for punching, chasing a ref and, of course, head-butting. Flagrant fouls were up 43.5% from the year before. The New York Knicks got in more rumbles than the gangs in West Side Story.

Anyway, the Big Suits in the NBA office on Fifth Avenue in New York City didn't like it one bit. If there's one thing the Big Suits in the NBA office don't want to happen is to have their game turned into the senseless mayhem and nightly gloves-off bloodshed of, say, baseball.

So the Suits are considering a crackdown on these millionaire hooligans this season with some serious new rules. Under one proposal, trash talking will be permitted but taunting will result in a technical foul.

What exactly is the difference?

For instance, if the man who is guarding you says, I could whip your butt with Salman Rushdie's moves, is that just trash talk or is it a taunt? If somebody says, Your wife is so wrinkled she has to screw her hat on, is that merely jackin' or should you start kicking his behind until his nose bleeds? If your opponent says, I'm gonna use you in more ways than Arm & Hammer, what's the call?

"Taunting is the type of thing that would lead to an altercation," says Rod Thorn, one of the Biggest Suits, who, as the NBA's vice-president for operations, serves as the league's rules enforcer. "Taunting is something that embarrasses the opponent in front of everybody in the stands. Trash talking is just talk. But taunting is something that is very hard to back down from."

Thorn says he's going to explain these nuances to NBA refs before the season starts. This is where we come in. Having been trash talked to and taunted by every no-passin', K-Swiss-wearin', no-Right-Guard-usin' YMCA gym rat from here to Hell's Kitchen, this is a subject we know volumes about. Therefore, we provide this short and easy-to-use guide.

Trash Talk: Yo, Homes, I just flushed your butt.

Taunt: Say, be sure to catch CNN tonight. You just made Play of the Day.

Trash Talk: Man, you got no J.

Taunt: Uh, George Mikan called. He wants his jump shot back.

Trash Talk: Your girl is easy.

Taunt: Excuse me, but when you get home tonight, will you check behind your headboard? I think I left my watch.

Trash Talk: Your mama is really fat.

Taunt: Your mama's so fat, she cut her finger the other day and Haagen-Dazs came out.

Trash Talk: Damn, who cuts your hair, Ray Charles?

Taunt: Damn, who cuts your hair, Pete Rose?

Still the new rule brings up some troublesome questions. For instance, if Player A turns around and what-fors Player B with a right cross, doesn't it follow, according to Thorn's definition, that B must have taunted A with something that A "just couldn't back down from"? Thus, not only would A get a technical for the punch, but B would also get one for the taunt the minute the paramedics get a pulse.

The NBA also may introduce a penalty system based on "flagrant points." Under it, every time a player got a flagrant foul, he would earn a flagrant point. Upon reaching a specified number of points—probably five—the player would be automatically suspended for one game. Then he would be suspended for at least one game for every flagrant foul after that. Last season Charles Oakley of the Knicks had 11 flagrant fouls. Under this new system, Oakley would have been suspended for approximately two seasons past his retirement.

This, of course, is hardly fair. Guys like Oakley have labored too hard to have their work demeaned like this. These guys pride themselves on their flagrants. You can almost hear Oakley this season ragging on a ref: One point? Man, that had to be at least a three! Perhaps, as in competitive diving, the point system should include degrees of difficulty. Lemme check, Morty. Limbs still attached but neuromuscular functions have ceased—make it a 2.6.

Personally, we think NBA players ought to be allowed to police themselves, as they have for more than 40 years. And the Big Suits in the high-rise NBA offices who obviously aren't getting enough oxygen to the brain ought to go out and rent a life.

(Definite taunt.)