What happened to the talkers?
Before the Rockets played the Knicks a few weeks back, Houston forward
Carl, however, didn't deliver this riff orally. He sent it via text message.
Such is the sorry state of trash talk in the NBA today. There was a time not all that long ago when the ability to spew verbal shrapnel was as much a part of a player's basketball repertoire as his dribbling ability or crossover skills. Stars talked smack. Scrubs talked smack. Fans talked smack. Even refs talked smack. Told he was having an off night, longtime official
Today? Sit courtside at an NBA game and you won't hear much more than the squeak of sneakers and the tweet of the whistles. Oh, the players still have plenty to say -- as any of, say,
But for whatever reason, trash-talk has become the equivalent of a dance step that's fallen out of vogue. One player blames technology. "Everybody picks up on everything and stuff goes viral and gets blown out of proportion, so you're better off not making controversy." To prove his point, he then asks not to be quoted by name.
It's hard to trace the origins of trash-talk. But by the mid-1980s, NBA games featured more chatting than a class taught by a substitute teacher. In Boston,
The soliloquies of some players could skew a bit vulgar. In the course of talking trash, it isn't uncommon to question the virtue of an opponent's wife or sister or mother. The Timberwolves'
But, on balance, it's easy to argue that trash is -- or was -- ultimately a force of good. Even when delivered with an edge, it was usually in good fun. Sometimes it doubled as a bit of psychological warfare, intended to sow seeds of doubt in the opponent's head. This could backfire, imbuing opponents with extra motivation. (You talked trash to Jordan at your own peril ... which
Trash-talk also helped grease the wheels of the NBA's star machine. It was another way for players to express themselves and reveal personality and character. It's no coincidence that the most gifted players of the last generation were also some of most gifted talkers.
One contemporary figure who understands the code and virtue of trash-talk?
"I just had to see how he was gonna take it," Rawls told
There are still a few notable practitioners in the NBA today. In a recent
Yet, we pine for a return to the day when Jordan would sink a shot and ask his man, "Doesn't your coach get mad when you don't play defense?" It was spontaneous, it was fun, it was revealing. And it wasn't issued with that 140-character limit in mind.