Great basketball must maintain an ultra-competitive streak within themselves in order to flourish in the NBA. Some do this by setting challenges for training and games, others find themselves competing in a battle of words as well as the battle taking place on the court. Trash-talking is common in many sports but basketball players seem to take it to the next level. Opposing players, coaches, fans, and even teammates have never been safe from the wrath of trash-talking in the NBA. The league is considered by some to be a lot ‘softer’ than it used to be and many of these incidents took place during the golden age of smack-talking on and off the court during the 1980s and 1990s. Many on this list including Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kevin Garnett have transitioned to broadcasting which makes for amazing entertainment. This article could have been entirely populated by Larry Bird, Gary Payton, or Michael Jordan incidents alone. Check out 15 (in no order) of the most savage trash-talking incidents in NBA history and take a trip down memory lane to the time when the league was fuelled by rivalries and superstar egos. Please leave a comment below if there is a specific incident you would like to have covered in the future.
15. The Time Larry Bird Told Dr. J To Retire
This incident happened on 9 November 1984 and took place in the midst of Boston thrashing Philadelphia. Bird was chirping for the entire game at Dr. J, Julius Erving, constantly reminding him of his total points, which had reached 35 by the third quarter. By the fourth quarter, Bird had put up 42 points compared to Erving’s 6 and his trash-talk became too much for Dr. J to ignore. As this photograph shows, the incident got extremely tense between the two gentlemen who are both considered all-time greats. Danny Ainge, a former NBA player and now GM for the Boston Celtics, remembers the incident as follows, “(Bird) told Dr. J to retire …that led to a fight… Dr. J started punching him and a couple guys grabbed him.” Both were ejected for the remainder of the game and the image is one of the most famous in NBA trash-talking history.
14. Michael Jordan Vs. Mugsey Bogues
Jordan was infamous for his trash-talk and he could certainly back it up with his play on the court becoming the greatest of all time. During the 1995 playoffs, the Chicago Bulls were taking on the Charlotte Hornets in the first round and were up late in the game. Five-foot-three Bogues from the Hornets received the ball and needed to make a basket to avoid elimination. Jordan stepped back, gave Bogues all the room he needed and exclaimed: “Shoot it you f****** midget”. The shot missed and the Chicago Bulls moved on to the Eastern Conference semi-finals. This specific incident is utterly savage and Bogues himself even admitted that his jump-shot was never the same after Jordan had treated him with such disrespect. Mugsey averaged just 5.9 points per game after this incident, well below his previous double-figure point averages of the past three seasons.
13. Larry Bird At The 1986 All-Star Weekend
After winning the inaugural three-point contest at the 1986 All-Star Weekend, Bird had his eyes on a second title. Walking into the locker room as competitors were getting ready he asked them, “’I hope all you guys in here are thinking about second place because I’m winning this”. Bird went out and did exactly that, walking the walk after talking the talk. This story is a clear indication of the confidence Larry Bird possessed in his basketball skill and he would go on to win the three-point contest that year as well as the 1988 contest. After Craig Hodges won the event in 1990 he attempted to trash-talk Bird by saying “He knows where to find me,” Bird replied, “Yeah, at the end of the Bulls bench”. Bird has always had the competitive personality needed to thrive in the NBA.
12. Gary Payton Vs. Sidney Lowe
Gary Payton is a legend in the NBA, known for his defensive prowess and non-stop trash talking. Payton, as a rookie, even trash-talked Michael Jordan claiming “I got the young guy”, referring to guarding Jordan who was four or five years his senior. During a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Payton got bored with antagonizing opposing players on the court and his attention turned to head coach Sidney Lowe. Payton told Lowe, who was standing on the sideline yelling at his team” to “Sit down you smurf”. This insult is free from expletives but hits just as hard as the others on this list. Although Payton is just four inches taller than Lowe the quip is priceless and is perhaps one of the most memorable trash-talking moments in NBA history.
11. Rasheed Wallace’s “Ball Don’t Lie”
Rasheed Wallace is the one season, as well as all-time, NBA leader in technical fouls, mostly due to arguing with officials over foul calls. When Wallace was not directing his chatter at the referees, he roasted his opposition, usually with hilarious off-the-top quotes. The phrase “Ball don’t lie”, was often heard on television as opponents missed their free throws or open jumpers while Wallace was on the court. Ball don’t lie was first used when opponents would get a foul-call that Wallace deemed unfair and it was his way of criticizing the officiating, without directly doing so, as well as psyching out his opponents. Wallace himself claims that “it just so happened I felt as though one ref called a B.S. call on me and so the guy went to the line — it was nothing personal against him — he went to the line and he shot that first one and it went clunk. And it just came out. Ball don’t lie”. The quote has become synonymous with Rasheed Wallace and is still a common trash-talking term in all levels of basketball today.
10. Larry Bird Rips Dennis Rodman
Early in his career, Rodman was not the feared defensive force he became in the late 1980s and 1990s. Bird antagonized the young Rodman who was assigned to guard the veteran sharpshooter. After making four consecutive buckets, Bird, in front of Rodman, began asking the opposing coach Chuck Daly “Who’s guarding me?”. If this wasn’t savage enough, Bird followed this up with “Is anyone guarding me? You better get someone on me or I’m gonna go for 60.” Rodman tried to D-up as much as he could but Bird continued calling for the ball and adding “Before they notice nobody is guarding me.” This is some serious trash-talk and Bird could certainly back it up with his skills on the hardwood floor. Rodman bounced-back and evolved into one of the best rebounders and defensive players the NBA has ever seen, it is nice to think his career was not ruined by trash-talking like some of the others in this article.
9. Kevin Garnett Gets Personal With Carmello Anthony
Although both players had been in the league for several seasons, this feud did not spark-up until a game during January of 2013. During this game, Garnett, playing for the Boston Celtics, got Carmelo Anthony, playing for the N.Y Knicks, so fired up with trash talk that they tussled and pushed each other on the court. Both players were assessed with technical fouls and after the game, Anthony went to the Celtics team bus to confront Garnett. Anthony was fined and suspended for the incident but fans were intrigued as to what was said to Anthony to provoke him to act so out of character after the game. According to some sources, Garnett claimed that Anthony’s wife “tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios”, if this is true, it may explain the reaction of Anthony on the court and after the game. The comments were later played down by Carmelo Anthony and only Garnett and himself truly know what was said.
8. The Kobe And Shaq Feud
Shaq and Kobe are considered to be one of the most unstoppable duos in the history of the NBA and their feud is as legendary as their time together with the Los Angeles Lakers. After Shaq demanded a trade to the Miami Heat after uncertainty over the free-agency of Kobe and the contract of coach Phil Jackson, Shaq let loose on Kobe and the organization. Criticism was leveled at both players (from each other as well as the media) with Kobe being called manipulative and Shaq’s demands for a pay rise labeled as selfish and impractical. There are many memorable incidents from this rivalry and Shaq even rapped about Kobe losing the 2008 NBA finals claiming “You know how I be, last week Kobe couldn’t do without me…now that’s the difference between first and last place, Kobe, tell me how my a** tastes!”. One of the only sports rivalries to carry over into the realm of hip-hop diss records.
7. Paul Pierce And Draymond Green
Paul Pierce was a well-known smack talker in the NBA and his last season took place in 2016-17 after a 19-year career with one championship and one finals MVP trophy under his belt. Draymond Green went at Paul Pierce during a game against the Golden State Warriors during the 2017 season stating “You can’t get no farewell tour, they don’t love you like that. … You thought you was Kobe?”. Pierce fired back a few hours later with a tweet that said, “73 wins and u thought u was gonna win a title that yr … 3-1 lead oops”. Allegedly, Pierce took several shots at Green during the game and Green responded with the aforementioned farewell tour quote, captured by under-the-basket microphones. Two infamous trash-talkers going at it makes for one savage moment.
6. Reggie Miller Vs. The 1990s New York Knicks
The 1993 and 1994 playoff series between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks provided the foundation for a heated rivalry to continue throughout the decade. Miller’s trash talk in 1993 provoked John Starks into headbutting him and the 1994 series is most remembered for the clutch performance of Miller at Madison Square Garden. This seemingly yearly playoff battle during the 1990s gave rise to Miller’s “Knick-killer” nickname and the clutch performances by Miller gave NBA fans lasting memories of the intense rivalry between the two teams. The rivalry will always be remembered for the intense trash-talk between Reggie Miller, Knicks players such as Ewing and Starks, and super-fan Spike Lee as well as great performances from both teams. Perhaps the most famous moment in this rivalry is the choke motion that Reggie Miller made to Spike Lee before and after draining several important threes. This rivalry is fondly remembered by fans and players alike.
5. Michale Jordan Trash Talks His Own Teammates
Michael Jordan was just as savage to his teammates as the opposition and he was so competitive that he would rip teammates apart for poor performances and perceived flaws in their game. When the Chicago Bulls let Charles Oakley go and brought in Bill Cartwright, who was often injured, Jordan referred to the veteran as “medical bill.” During 1993, Rodney Mcray was a member of the Chicago Bulls roster and was often tasked with guarding Jordan in practice. Jordan was quoted as saying, “You’re a loser! You’ve always been a loser!’ Mcray became a shell of his former self after playing with Jordan for just one season. Kwame Brown is another case of Jordan’s ruthless trash-talk having adverse effects on a player. Kobe Bryant has also had well-publicized feuds and trash-talk with former teammates such as Dwight Howard, Kwame Brown, Shaquille O’Neal, and Smush Parker.
4. Charles Barkley’s Entire Career
There is not enough space in this article for the number of incidents that Barkley was involved in and his quote, “I’ve always thought if you can’t play, shut the hell up,” sums his personality on the court up nicely. ‘Chuck’ earned the 1993 NBA MVP trophy and certainly had the skills the back up his mouth. Barkley took his on-court trash-talk to the next level, telling Scottie Pippen during the 1993 All-Star Game that he could not guard him. The two shoved a little and this was unheard of for this type of showcase. One of the funniest off-the-court Barkley trash-talking incidents was his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2005 with Michael Jordan. These two basketball legends roasted each other the entire time much to the delight of the crowd and is definitely worth a watch. Barkley has worked as an NBA analyst for TNT since 2000, his basketball knowledge offers a unique perspective on current NBA players, some of which he talks trash about on-air.
3. Gary Payton Vs. Jason Kidd
Payton mentored Kidd when they grew up together in Oakland and when Payton was on the court, the opposing team was certainly considered his enemy. As a teenager, Kidd was exposed to relentless trash-talk from Payton who would ask if Kidd was going to go home and cry after losing, testing the youngster and seeing if he would come back to play the next day. In one game in his rookie NBA season, Kidd blocked an early shot attempt by Payton and said: ” get that s*** out of here”. After the block, Payton went on a 15-0 personal run annihilating Kidd with trash-talking the rest of the game. After the game, Kidd said to Payton, ” I had a mental block (and) I forgot who I was playing, I didn’t mean to say that to you”. Payton claimed, “oh no, you woke me up, it definitely helped me”, Kidd replied ‘don’t worry about it, it’ll never happen again.”
2. Larry Bird Letting His Opponents Know Exactly How He Is Going To Score
There is a reason Larry Legend appears on this list so much, he is arguably the G.O.A.T trash-talker in NBA history. Bird was in the zone, scoring 60 points in one game against the Atlanta Hawks on 12 March 1985. He was telling his opposing players, coaches, and even trainers where he was going to shoot from and how it would go in. Exclaiming towards the end of the game, “In the trainer’s lap — who wants it?” meaning that Bird would come down the court and drain one near the opposing bench. Bird went up for the shot which was heavily contested, made it, and ended up in the trainer’s lap! Bird’s confidence on the court was unmatched at the time and many successful players today carry the same killer-mentality that made Bird so great at chirping his opponents and then backing it up with strong play.
1. Honorable Mention
Michael Jordan lit a victory cigar and walked into Washington’s changing room before a 1997 NBA Playoff game asking, “Who’s going to check me tonight?”. The Bulls finished the series that night with a sweep.
When Dikembe Mutombo started talking trash to Michael Jordan while he was at the free-throw line in 1991 and then Jordan proceeded to take a free-throw with his eyes closed, saying, “This one’s for you Mutombo”.
Many NBA fans do not know that Kobe Bryant speaks a little bit of French. During his playing days, Bryant learned how to trash-talk Spurs player Tony Parker in French in order to psyche him out.
According to Shaquille O’Neal, he ran into Gary Payton at the mall and Payton exclaimed “Remember the time I crossed you up big fella and I gave you that thang and you almost pulled your arm out of the socket…you can’t guard me, boy, I’m a Hall of Famer, I’m first ballot boy, I’m first ballot!”.
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