Trash talking in basketball comes as naturally as sand in a desert. (Well, arid deserts, anyway.) From local pick-up games around the world to the televised NBA games, trash talking is such a part of the game, it loses most of its combativeness and shock value.
And then there are some historically funny, offensive, or just plain gutsy trash talkers that have graced the NBA. Usually, good trash talkers are good players. In fact, just about the only way to be a good trash talker is to be able to light it up on the court. If not, well, you’re a bad trash talker. There’s hardly anything more embarrassing on the basketball court than talking trash and getting schooled.
Some people talk trash just because they’re ultra competitive. Some people do it for a competitive advantage, claiming they can ‘get in the opponent’s head’ and mess up their game. Others just like to do it. And to be fair, if you’re not numb to it, trash talking can definitely get under a player’s skin. It’s certainly happened plenty in the NBA, at the highest level of competition. We all remember events like Carmelo Anthony walking out to the Celtics team bus after a game to confront Kevin Garnett over things said on court during the game.
So without further hoopla, here are 10 of the best trash talkers ever to grace our favorite association:
10. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq would probably be higher on this list, except that so much of his antics were completely goofy and purely for fun. But he definitely didn’t shy away from letting loose some trash. In fact, it was just as much of his personality as his ridiculous side. He basically started an entire movement of making fun of NBA mistakes with his weekly Shaq’tin a fool segements. He also had a long standing argument with Kobe Bryant, saying things like “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes.” He also hasn’t held back about Dwight Howard, or the now famous Jason Collins. He said Collins belongs to a “flopternity” (flop-franternity), including others like Vlade Divac in that illustrious imaginary organization. He also famously called Chris Bosh “the RuPaul of big men.” Yeah, Shaq doesn’t keep his mouth shut much, especially when he’s annoyed.
9. Charles Barkley
“Sir” Charles never shied away from some good old fashioned on court trash talk. Charles is famous for engaging in long trash-talking bouts with Michael Jordan, Latrell Sprewell, fans, and countless other lesser-known NBA players. He even talked trash to the refs, once telling a ref “I’ve scored 20,000 points in this position, and you’re going to tell me what’s a foul?” He’s about as unfiltered as they come, as he once said that the one-time Chicago executive Jerry Krause managed to keep his job despite a number of awful seasons becuase “… Krause must have pictures of his boss’ wife having sex with a monkey.” Just, wow. His time in the media has certainly only served to cultivate his reputation for mouthing off uncontrollably.
8. Rasheed Wallace
Rasheed Wallace is something of a famous figure among hardcore basketball fans. Much of that is for his defense, but most of it is for his energetic persona and fiery personality. He’s absolutely loved by fans for his trash talk. He’s got a championship ring he won with the legendary Pistons team in 2004, which obviously elevates his trash talking game even higher. But he’s said he has a code– he won’t talk trash about people’s family. But everything else is fair game. He’s often credited with popularizing the ever-present phrase on courts across America “ball don’t lie”. He talks trash to players, officials, fans, it doesn’t matter. He was ejected for yelling at officials after receiving a flagrant he didn’t agree with, before screaming that phrase after the opposing player missed the free throw. He again yelled “That ball don’t lie!” at Austin Rivers after getting called for a foul and Rivers missed. When Arron Afflalo missed a free throw in a game against the Knicks, Wallace screamed “Yeah Afflac!” at him. And really, the stuff we can hear is only the tip of the iceberg.
7. Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson might be the most beloved player of his era in basketball, despite never winning a championship. Though he was undersized, he was easily one of the best players in the league during his career, and was unabashedly himself. He’s most famous for trash talking the media (who does that?) when they grilled him about his effort. “We’re not talking about the game. We’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice.” He wasn’t very subtle in his insinuation that the media didn’t know what they were talking about. On court, he’s most famous for his spats with Kobe. His attitude on the court annoyed many players even in his rookie year; Michael Jordan pulled him aside to talk to him, and Iverson told him he didn’t have to respect anybody. Yeah, Iverson never really bothered to tone it down for the NBA or anyone, for that matter.
6. Kobe Bryant
Everyone who knows the NBA knows that Kobe says whatever he’s thinking basically at all times. His incredible talent on the court has only served to enhance his trash-talking lore, as he knows what to say and when to say it. He’s even gotten in trash talking bouts with teammates like Shaq or Pau Gasol. He’s usually reminding everyone around him that he’s better than them. He played a 1 on 1 with Kyrie Irving, and immediately started trash talking him. After they bet on the game, he told Irving “Get your dad on the phone right now,” because he would say “Son, are you crazy?” Off the court, he’s ran his mouth off every which way. He doesn’t hesitate to tear down current and former teammates: “I was shooting 45 times a game. What was I supposed to do? Pass it to Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown?” Wow Kobe. Don’t tell us how you feel or anything.
5. Kevin Garnett
Garnett has garnered something of a reputation for being a trash talker without any boundaries. Some people think it’s because he’s just an asshole. Which is altogether possible. While he’s done some routine trash like taunting Jose Calderon up and down the court, he regularly uses racial slurs after blocks, and once called Charlie Villanueva, who suffers from alopecia, a “cancer patient”. Along with that, he also supposedly told Carmelo Anthony his wife “tastes like honey nut cheerios” during a game, while Carmelo and his wife La La were going through a rough time in their marriage. It infuriated Melo to the point of confronting him after the game. Not to mention he grilled Glen “Big Baby” Davis so hard on the bench once that Davis cried. He was once voted as the biggest trash talker in the NBA at that time with 62% of the total votes. Yeah, the guy is a piece of work.
4. Reggie Miller
Often discussed as one of the most famous trash talkers in NBA history, Reggie Miller had an incredible knack for getting under people’s skin. Most famously, he was a regular dream-crusher as his Pacers often beat the Knicks in the playoffs, all while he ceaselessly talked trash to Spike Lee sitting courtside. The most famous of those was when he made a shot on one end of the court at a Knicks home playoff game in 1994, and ran back up the court making a choking sign at Lee.
Though his motivation for trash-talk was to get himself fired up, it didn’t stop him from being incredibly effective at it. He managed to frustrate Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and John Starks to the point of them physically attacking Miller in-game. Despite being a somewhat mild-mannered guy off the court, his timeless jump shot and unending banter puts him in the upper echelon of trash talkers.
3. Gary Payton
Gary Payton AKA the Glove was one of those trash talkers for whom it was second nature. Trash talking wasn’t a choice, it was an inevitability with Payton. The number of classic nicknames and famous quotes from Payton in his career of talking trash are just endless. When playing Ervin (not to be confused with Earvin) Johnson, he nicknamed him Tragic Johnson, He came up with the Ason Kidd nickname because “he had no J”. He once made Brevin Knight cry, and told Jamie Feick that he “…won’t even be in the league next year.” He talked trash to Michael Jordan in his very first preseason game in the NBA. Why would he do that, you ask? Becuase according to many former NBA players, this wasn’t an act or a display of machismo. This was who “the Glove” was. He was just an unfiltered, high energy trash talking machine both on and off the court.
2. Michael Jordan
Absolutely deadly, that’s what Jordan was both as a player and as a trash talker. He truly loved to talk smack; it’s obvious from his in-game demeanor when he’s mouthing off, and his general love of basketball dominance. He famously told Dikembe Motumbo “Welcome to the NBA,” then shot a perfect free throw with his eyes closed after Motumbo dared him to. That is some serious bravado. He’s often told his opponents what he would do before he’d do it, and they rarely stopped him. He once called Will Perdue “Will Vanderbilt” because he said the guy didn’t deserve to have the name of a Big Ten university. Like so many trash talkers, he had no filter and no remorse. A diminutive point guard that was famous in the 90s named Muggsy Bogues was only 5’3″, and when he had a chance to hit a game winning shot in the playoffs for the Hornets, Jordan let him shoot it uncontested, saying “shoot it you (expletive) midget.” Bogues missed, and later claimed his jump shot was never the same. That is some cruel stuff, MJ.
1. Larry Bird
The king of trash talking. Larry Bird may very well keep this title forever. He once told Chuck Person pre-game he had a Christmas present for him– during the game he shot a spot up 3-pointer, turned to face Person and said “Merry #$@*ing Christmas” and walked away as the shot went in. In 1986 he busted into the locker room of the inaugural three-point competition just before it started, looking around at everyone, before declaring “I’m looking around to see who’s gonna finish second.” He’d go on to win it, along with the next two years’ competitions as well.
He once told Xavier McDaniel, a player known for his defense. “I’m going to shoot it from here,” pointing to a spot on the floor at the end of the game. He brought the ball up the court, spotted up at the very place he said, and hit the game winning shot despite McDaniel’s defense. He did the same thing to Horace Grant against the Bulls– except he pointed to the spot, and made eleven straight baskets from the same spot.
Perhaps even more amazing, Larry Bird would claim he was open against Dennis Rodman, a defensive specialist who would drape himself all over Bird. Bird one time got the ball, made the shot, then told Rodman’s coach that Rodman wasn’t covering him, making it too easy for Bird. It’s truly a shame we don’t have more recordings of Bird talking trash, because every story we know of is just fantastic. You’ve got the throne all to yourself on top of the mountain, Larry.