Crackin', Jackin', Woofin' and Smackin'

Whatever you want to call it, trash talkin' is a bigger part of the game than ever—and not everybody is happy about it
November 23, 1992

You wanna talk about what? Trash talk? Listen, sit your raggedy, behind-the-times, magazine-readin' butt down and let me school you on one thing: If we're gonna hang out, you need to know that "trash talk" is not a phrase that's used out on the cuttin' edge. If you wanna talk trash, call up 1-900-HOT-STUF, and get outta my face.

These days college hoops players aren't talk-in' trash, though just about all of them are makin' a lot of noise. They're talkin' yang, talkin' smack or talkin' head. They're doggin', clownin', hoorayin', bustin', mouthin', shoutin', crackin', jackin' or poppin'. They're—stop me if I'm going too fast for you now, Poindexter—they're droppin' a line or gettin' a case of yap-yap. They're mind——-', they're steppin' on...well, I don't know how to describe what they're steppin' on without gettin' a warning sticker slapped on the cover of this magazine. Let's just say that if a guy busts on you too much, you have to put him in his place. But I'm warnin' you up front, smack talk can get pretty rough. Ice-T would have trouble bringin' himself to say some of this stuff.

The game today has a cruder, cruder, funnier, funkier, down-and-dirtier sound track than it used to, and you better be ready for it, because as Louisville forward Greg Minor says, "they'll talk about your mama, your girlfriend, your haircut, your 'hood."

Even coaches will admit that everybody has got the yap-yap, and coaches know next to nothing about talkin' smack. "It's like runaway inflation," says New Mexico coach Dave Bliss. "There used to be isolated instances of it, but now everyone's talking. There are players who actually practice it, who work at being good at it. There are some real trash-talk experts."

Some of the fellas call talkin' smack the poetry of the playground, and the taunts and boasts and insults that players exchange but the fans hardly ever hear have gotten more lyrical. "In your face"? That's what used to pass for smack. It's too mainstream now. You know a line is history when ESPN uses it for a slogan, all right? Today you'll more likely hear "Elevator's goin' to nine on this one, baby. I'll be droppin' your ass oil' on six." Or after a dunk, a player will come down and just yell, "Flight school!" in his defender's face. After they dunk on their man. some guys—New Mexico's Khari Jaxon, for one—like to yell, "I flushed on you!"

"Trash talking is an integral part of the game," says former Marquette star George Thompson, who is now a radio analyst for his old team. "A well-executed play isn't finished until you recap it for your opponent in front of his face. Some players carry it to an extreme, but some well-placed trash can go a long way. Talking trash is definitely an art form."

To hear some folks tell it. talkin' smack is a new development, but, truth is, woofin' has been with us ever since Dr. Naismith nailed up the peach basket, stuck one of those two-handed set shots in somebody's mug and said, "Oooh, it hurts to be this good." O.K., maybe that never happened, but trash, in one form or another, has been around for ages. "I played against some Kentucky teams under Adolph Rupp, and they were good at staring," Thompson says. "They weren't much into talking, but they would give you that cocky look after they made a good play. So I guess you can mime talking trash."

One of the unwritten rules of talkin' noise is that what's said on the court stays within the fraternity of players. Most players would sooner take the SATs again than reveal the exact nature of the smack that went back and forth during a game. But I did some nosin' around, and if you promise you won't let anyone know where you heard it, I'll tell you about...

Sexual Harassment

Or, "Your mama came over last night and...." Take it easy. I wasn't talkin' about your mama. I was just giving you an example of the kind of hold-nothing-back mouthin' that goes on nowadays. Told you it wasn't all innocent fun. Guys who played against Arkansas's Todd Day say he used to drop lines like "I'm gonna take you to the hoop, then I'm takin' your mom." Pleasant stuff like that.

One rule of thumb about talkin' smack is that almost any line can be countered by simply turning it back on the guy's mother, his sister or his girlfriend. For instance, in the NCAA tournament last season, a DePaul player said to a guy from New Mexico State, "Gonna work you hard today, man." The Aggie's response: "Your mama worked me hard last night." Sec how easy this is?

But you need to have more than some mama lines in your bag if you're going to survive. Bret Bearup, who played forward for Kentucky in the early 1980s, remembers that one of his teammates, center Melvin Turpin, "would try to talk trash back, and he was absolutely horrible at it. The best he could ever do was to mumble, 'Your mama." It became a running joke among the other teams in the SEC. Whenever Turpin said something, the guys on the other team would say, 'Spell it, Turpin." Mel didn't know what to say. so he kept quiet after that. But we couldn't get away with that. Dirk Minniefield [a Kentucky guard of that era] tried saying 'Spell it' once to Mel in practice, and Turpin almost killed him. Got him in a headlock in the tape room."

Then there's the story about J.R. Reid when he was playing at North Carolina. Seems the girlfriend of a player on another ACC team dumped him to start going out with Reid. When the two teams played each other, Reid would dog the guy something fierce. "J.R. drove the poor kid crazy," says the player's coach. "J.R. would tell the kid all about what he and the kid's ex-girlfriend were doing, and the kid couldn't play."

It's not pretty stuff, but, hey, it happens. It's a little less offensive when we start...

Gettin' Ugly

Or, "He ain't gain' nowhere. The bakery ain't open yet."

That's a line from the smack-talkin' movie While Men Can't Jump. That film was filled with the yang you hear on the playgrounds, which is a little bit different from what you hear in college games, where there's no time for the elaborate, stream-of-consciousness smack that pickup players are known for. On the asphalt you might call somebody a Mr. Potato Head-lookin', K Mart-sneaker-wearin', stank-breath-smellin', crusty-shorts-wearin' chump, but do it during a college game and chances are that a ref or your coach will hear it, or the other team might fast-break while your lip is flappin'. Either way, you've got trouble, especially now that the NCAA has told refs to call a personal foul when they hear a player woofin'.

But that doesn't mean there isn't some serious ridiculing going on out there. You just have to get your message across quicker. You have to stick and move. Some guys like to call it clownin', and most of it centers on physical attributes. Take the time Travis Butler, a senior at Wyoming last year, grabbed the head of Louisville guard Everick Sullivan during a scramble and said, "Thought it was the ball, man. Couldn't tell the difference."

If you're carrying a few extra pounds, expect to be dogged the way pudgy ex-Michigan guard Antoine Joubert was by Michigan State's Scott Skiles. "Yo, 'Toine," Skiles once said, "we're comin' to Ann Arbor in a couple of weeks. Lose 10."

When Oklahoma State forward Byron Houston elbowed Michigan center Eric Riley during an NCAA tournament game last season. Jalen Rose of the Wolverines, probably the biggest smack talker in the country, told Houston, "I was gonna be nice to you, but now I have to dog your fat behind." Then Rose, a 6'8" guard, eyeballed Houston and said. "I thought you were 6'7", but you're just a little fella. You shouldn't be playin' inside. Why don't you bring your little self out here where you belong?"

That's not bad, but it's not quite up to the standard set by former Dallas Cowboy linebacker Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson. He once sized up a foe thusly: "Man, you're ugly. And I bet if I follow you home, someone ugly will open the door."

Of course, if you're going to talk it, you better be able to walk it, which means only good players get the privilege of talkin' smack. And that brings us to...

Shooters' Privilege

Or, "If you're such a good defensive coach, why don't you get somebody out here to stop me?"

That's what Skiles once said to Georgetown coach John Thompson after Skiles had drilled a few jumpers in a row against the Hoyas. No matter what anyone tells you, smack talkers come in all colors and from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but there is one generalization that can be made: Good shooters tend to talk a lot of yang. For instance, Felton Spencer, who played center for Louisville from 1986 to '90, remembers that Kentucky's Rex Chapman would come down the floor and say to him. "This jumper's for you," right before he let go of the ball.

Chapman was just continuing a Wildcat tradition. One of his predecessors. Jim Master, who played for Kentucky earlier in the 1980s, was an expert trash man. "He was the biggest talker on our team by far," says Bearup. "He would hit a jumper and say, "You'd better come out and get me.' And the defender would come out a little farther the next time, and he'd make another jumper and say, 'No, it's going to take another step.' "

Kansas's Rex Walters is another sweet-shooting guard who finds it hard not to boast during games—especially to opponents who try to hold or slap at him on defense. "I tell them, 'You can work as hard as you want,' " says Walters, " 'but I am going to get the ball. And I am going to score. So work, man. Work.' "

Henry Williams, a North Carolina Charlotte alumnus, also liked to punctuate his baskets with some chatter. He would set the tone for the evening by telling the player guarding him, "You're my toy. I'm gonna play with you anytime I want to."

Maybe good shooters are often big talkers because it takes self-assurance to do both. Rarely will you hear a steadier stream of trash than that coming from a shooter who is "raining" in J's.

"It's a confidence thing." says Williams. "When you're throwing in jumpers, you feel like nothing can stop you, and you just want to shout about it. Sometimes you're not even talking to the guy guarding you, you're just celebrating. And sometimes the better the talk makes you feel, the worse it makes him feel, which is O.K., too."

It's all a part of...


Or, "You couldn't stick me if I was made of Velcro."

When you get right down to it, intimidation is the ultimate goal of almost every smack talker. Even Michael Jordan, who is pretty intimidating without even opening his mouth, talks some head now and then. Jordan set the tone for a pickup game at North Carolina Charlotte two summers ago by saying to the guys guarding him, "Let me get your names. You need to he on the roll sheet, 'cause school's in session."

Every now and then you get the chance to toy with a guy's mind and rattle his brainpan at the same time. Bearup remembers an incident that happened when he was playing for Kentucky in the Final Four against Georgetown in 1984. "There was a one-and-one free throw situation, and I was going to box out Michael Graham," he says. "The first shot went up, and he absolutely cracked me in the neck with an elbow. The shot went in, and Graham apologized: 'Sorry, man. My fault, my fault."

"I would have nailed him on the next free throw, except he had apologized. So the next free throw goes up, and bam! He hits me in the same exact place. Graham turned and looked at me and said, 'Sucker,' and ran on down the court."

Now, there are some people who talk about bustin' as if it's going to cause the decline of civilization, to which I say...

Take That —— Outta Here

Or, "I don't think it has any place in the sport." That was the judgment of Indiana coach Bob Knight, who nevertheless got into the spirit of trash talkin' a bit when he trashed it at a recent Big Ten luncheon. "That kind of —— from the players reflects on the entire operation of a team," he said. "I'd rather have players concentrating on what we're going to do than on some clever, wiseass thing to say to somebody else."

Utah coach Rick Majerus is also down on woolin'. "I don't allow my players to [talk trash]," he says. "If they want to be like that, they should be rappers or go on Saturday Night Live."

This is too bad, because if ever a coach had the wit to talk trash, it's Majerus. But lots of coaches don't approve of their players talkin' smack. Just goes to prove what we suspected—that most coaches have no sense of humor.

"It's getting worse." says Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell. "Today's youth suffers from a lack of discipline and respect. If they don't have respect for the adults, they're going to have even less for other players."

With all due respect, gentlemen, lighten up. Listen to what Southern Cal coach George Raveling has to say: "It's all in the spirit of the game, and it's a test of your mental toughness. I tell my players that guys are just trying to make you lose your focus, to play head games with you. I think you will find that most players would be surprised that there's any concern over it."

Most players accept that talkin' noise is as much a part of the game as shooting and dribbling. "If it was starting fights or something, then I'd say it was a problem, but the players know it's just heat-of-the-game stuff," says Rose. "Some of it's just meant to be funny. Even the guys who get a little upset at you during the game are laughing about it and shaking your hand afterwards."

In other words, no harm is meant by most of the chatter. It's only supposed to make the game more fun. So come on, game's to 11 and it's your ball, you air-ball-shootin', no-reboundin', can't-go-left-lookin' son of a....