Grizzlies guard Chris Robinson, then a rookie, was playing in a
preseason game against the SuperSonics in October 1996 when
Seattle guard Gary Payton yelled at him from the bench, "Young
fella, you can't play any defense." Robinson remembers Payton's
words clearly because they were his introduction to NBA trash
talk, an art form that's as much a part of pro basketball as the
24-second clock. Even the most reserved player, it seems, can't
resist making a comment or two in the heat of battle. Nets
swingman Kendall Gill recalls the normally taciturn David
Robinson of the Spurs telling New Jersey's Armon Gilliam, after
blocking one of his shots, "You can't bring that into Mr.
The NBA doesn't sanction trash talking, of course. Two years ago
the league instituted a rule against taunting: Anyone caught
shouting "in your face" or a similar epithet could be hit with a
technical foul and a $500 fine. The rule has had an effect. Many
players believe that trash talking is on the decline. "Five
hundred dollars for a technical, that's expensive, even for a
millionaire," says Gill.
During a typical game, though, players still jabber more than
Rush Limbaugh, all the while following the canons of the
trash-talking game within the game.
Insulting an opponent's ancestry is strictly for amateurs. In
other words, "Your mama...." is for the asphalt, not the
hardwood. "Trash talking is a little more toned down in the NBA
than on the playground," says Bucks forward Tyrone Hill. "On the
playground it's worse. You hear about your mama and your daddy
and your grandma...your grandma got one leg, and stuff like
that." In the NBA the trash revolves more around professional
matters. Says Pacers guard Haywoode Workman, "People will say,
'You didn't make the Olympics,' or 'You didn't make the All-Star
A trash talker doesn't have to open his mouth to get his message
across. When Cavaliers guard Bob Sura slammed down a
particularly nasty dunk last season, he kept quiet, just walking
around the court nodding his head repeatedly. "Somebody might
score on you and look at you a certain way, or dunk on you and
look at you all crazy," says Hill. "Guys also will give you
little bumps and stuff that mean, Hey, you better come to play
or I'm going to bust you up."
Big men don't yap--at least not as much as little men. Says
guard Terry Porter of the Timberwolves, "Twos and threes
[shooting guards and small forwards] talk more than anybody.
Reggie Miller, Glen Rice, those guys yak all the time."
For a supposedly dying art, trash talk still elicits plenty of
opinions. That's why we think Mavericks forward Dennis Scott may
have the most honest assessment: "I don't think there's as much
trash talking as there once was. Or maybe I just don't hear as
TALK THE TALK
Here are a few of the trendier terms in vogue in the NBA.
RUNNING WATER A hot shooter. He just keeps draining buckets.
MARK FUHRMAN A strong defender. He locks people up.
TURNSTILE A poor defender. He lets opponents pass right through.
BREAKING ANKLES Making an offensive move that all but makes the
defender fall over.
GRILLE A defender's face, like the grille of a car.
BANGING Dunking the ball in somebody's grille.
CRAZY PAPER Synonym for big money.
DROPPING DIMES Handing out assists.
CLOWNING Making an opponent look foolish.