There are some players who have played in the NBA that are known for their performances and some that are known for their trash talk. Then there are those that are known for both. It’s not hard to imagine that some of the greatest basketball players of all time were also competitive in other ways. It’s also not surprising that some of these players were so good that sometimes they had to talk just to keep things interesting and to keep the pressure on themselves to actually perform. Finally there’s a psychological advantage to trash talk if you manage to perform to the level your talk has prescribed – getting out played is one thing, but getting told you’re going to be out played through out the event is demoralizing on a whole different level. In this article I’m just going to list a few of my favorite stories of trash talk for some of the greatest to have every played basketball in the NBA. This article will stay focused on players from previous generations, but we’ll do plenty more covering the most recent as well.
Gary Payton Trash Talk
Let’s start with Gary Payton. He was also known at “The Glove” because that’s how tight his defense was. He was an outstanding defender that could shut down anybody that he played and then in the same game dish out 10 assists and go off for 20 points. All the while he’d be in his opponents ear making sure they knew that he was responsible for all the mental pain they were dealing with on the floor. You might think it was a big show for the fans, but nope, he’d even trash talk imaginary players!
Here’s a couple of examples. Once, when playing in an New Jersey Nets arena where hardly any fans showed up for the game Gary Payton looked at his opponent (Kenny Anderson) and explained how it was actually a good thing for Anderson that hardly any fans were there.
“At least nobody will see me take the ball from you” he explained.
Then there’s this gem I found over about Payton trash talking his imaginary opponents!
“Every release came with accompanying commentary. “Put your hand down, you can’t stop this. Too late. Take the early bus and get here quicker next time. Don’t even turn around, you know it went in. Ooh, another one. How’d that feel?” All the trash talk wouldn’t have seemed so unusual, since Payton’s chatty reputation was already well known, except for one thing: No one was playing defense. Payton was taunting the air.
Larry Bird Trash Talking
Larry Bird is arguably the biggest trash talker in the history of the NBA. Apparently the game was so easy for him that he just had to keep things interesting by getting into your head as he annihilated you. I’ll share a few of my favorite trash talk stories about Larry Bird below.
The first trash talk story has a little bit of background that goes with it. Chuck Person of the Indiana Pacers had the nickname “The Rifleman”, and before a game against Bird’s Celtics the Rifleman stated that “The Rifleman is coming, and he’s going Bird hunting”. Now, just knowing how competitive Bird is I can only imagine how much more motivated that made him for that game which was on a Christmas Day. When all the players got on the floor Bird told Person that he had a Christmas present waiting for him. Then during the game Bird shot three right in front of Person who was on the bench at the moment. While the ball was still in the air Bird vocally wished Person a “Merry F**king Christmas” and then his shot dropped through the net.
Then there’s the story where Bird was just going off while Dennis Rodman was guarding him. Shot after shot after shot was falling. Finally, Bird went over to Rodman’s coach (Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly) and asked “Is anyone guarding me?” followed by stating that “You better get someone on me or I’m gonna go for 60.” Rodman was right there during the exchange and Bird kept it up for quite a while after that. Rodman backs up the anecdote and tells it like this per viralhoops.com:
“I would be all over him, trying to deny him the ball, and all Larry was doing was yelling at his teammates, I’m open! Hurry up before they notice nobody is guarding me!” then he would stick an elbow in my jaw and stick the jumper in my face, then he would start in on my coach “Coach you better get this guy out and send in somebody who’s going to D me up, because its too easy when I’m wide open like this”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Michael Jordan Trash Talking
MJ was just as brutal handing out a verbal beat down as his actual play was devastating. Here are a couple of stories about Jordan trash talking that give a little insight into how vicious he was as a competitor.
Nice shoes! During a Maimi Heat – New Jersey Nets Summer game, Kendall Gill shared this Michael Jordan story. In the 1996-1997 season, while Jim Jackson was on the Nets, Jackson was enjoying a good game against Michael Jordan and the defending champion Chicago Bulls. That was until Jackson started trash talking. Jordan put the brakes on Jackson’s trash talk pretty quick by pointing out that Jackson was wearing Jordan’s own brand of shoes. It’s gotta be da shoes!
The shrug wasn’t so much trash talk as it was an admission of guilt that he was so freaking good that sometimes he couldn’t even stop himself from succeeding. He had amazing game against Portland in the playoffs in which he hit 6 threes in one half… a feat he had barely accomplished over the course of the entire season (a little exaggeration because he had hit 27 of 100 taken that year… not exactly a shooters percentage). Once his shots started dropping he just kept tempting the basketball gods and getting further and further away. Eventually he hit a shot and on seeing it go in he just shrugged as if to say “nothing I can do… I’m just that good”.
Wrapping it up
Those are just a few of my favorites. There are so many and I think I’m going to actually add a full section just for this topic because, well, it’s fun! I’ll leave you with this one from Larry Bird. You can decide if it’s trash talk or not, but it’s pretty funny. Bird was asked if the 2008 Olympic team could defeat the original dream team if they played each other (maybe it was the 2012 Olympic – it doesn’t really matter). Birds response was priceless:
“They probably could. I haven’t played in 20 years and we’re all old now.” -Larry Bird