Draymond Green, welcome to the Basketball Trash Talk Hall of Fame.
The Golden State Warriors’ do-everything forward already was considered one of the best smack-talkers in today’s NBA before his verbal swipe at Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James (plus an ill-placed arm flail) knocked the Finals off course. After James spoke on Green’s disrespect, which some say broke an unwritten rule of talking unprintable trash, Green was suspended for Game 5. James and Kyrie Irving promptly ran wild at Oracle Arena, setting up an unexpected Game 6 on Thursday in Cleveland.
By altering the course of an NBA Finals with two choice words served with extra hot sauce, Green elevated himself into a select pantheon of trash-talkers. These are players we remember not only for how they killed opponents, but what they said as they slid in the daggers. Players who embodied the African-American tradition of refusing to be silenced. Who talked that talk, dared you to do something about it, then smirked off the court with a W.
The culture of verbal put-downs has deep roots in the black community, from African rituals and schoolyard dozens to Jelly Roll Morton lyrics and rap’s eternal crusade against sucker MCs. At best, basketball taunts represent improvisational brilliance and bravado, rising above crude insults to an art form based on creativity, wit and performance.
So when it comes to talking trash, the names below are the greatest. Don’t disagree with me, or I’ma come over there and teach you how to read.
Like everything related to hoops, Michael Jordan resides on his own plane when it comes to trash talk. It’s as if simply beating dudes wasn’t enough of a challenge, so he had to add something extra to the competition. Like starting a game by counting his points out loud – backward, from 40. Or shooting a free throw with his eyes closed. MJ hasn’t stopped woofing in retirement, either. “You don’t see me wearing Air Keegans,” he tweeted at a golfer who dared boast about a victory. Respect the G.O.A.T. – Greatest Of All Talkers.
Jordan is The Greatest, but Kevin Garnett is The Illest. He (allegedly) talked about Tim Duncan’s dead moms. He (supposedly) told New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony that his wife, LaLa, tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios. What’s undeniable is that an aged, broken-down KG talked garbage (hell nah, “trash-a– n—–”) while sitting behind the bench in street clothes. That’s true dedication to the craft of trash.
You know the type. The dude who never … ever … stops … talking. Gary Payton gave it to teammates, opponents and random pedestrians from the hotel to the arena and everywhere in between. Recalled Shaquille O’Neal: “If he saw you in the mall, [he’d say] ‘Remember that time I crossed you up big fella, and I gave you that thang?’ ” We fully expect Payton to crack on his undertaker’s suit from the afterlife.
The Spike wars. The choke sign. Just how ruthless, theatrical, and unique was Reggie Miller’s smack game? He’s the only player to ever get under the G.O.A.T.’s skin and instigate Jordan into actual fisticuffs. No one has ever come closer to sonning the G.O.A.T.
Not only was Cheryl Miller a better player than her little brother — “I loved killing Reggie,” she said — she so thoroughly dominated and humiliated him when they were growing up that he took out his verbal frustrations on the NBA for 18 seasons. Big up, Cheryl, for teaching Reggie how to chop ’em up.
Universally recognized by his peers as one of the greatest talkers ever. Owner of perhaps the best one-liner in NBA history, before the 1988 NBA 3-point contest. Bird started staring at his opponents, got them thoroughly confused, then posed the general question: “Who’s gonna finish second?” When Bird splashed the final money ball to come from behind for the win — raising a victorious No. 1 finger before the shot even went in — the humiliation was complete.
THE FAB FIVE
Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber n’em deployed the visual aspect of trash talk — the big-bucket flex, the postdunk grimace, the inches-from-your-face ice-grill — as ruthlessly as their ceaseless, profane chatter. The loquacious C-Webb aimed an all-time classic at a Cincinnati benchwarmer before the 1992 national semifinal game. “I don’t even wanna see you again until you write me a 10-page paper on why you can’t play!”
The word “smirk” was invented for Christian Laettner, whose Duke University team Kryptonited the Fab Five. Decades later, the Five were still mad enough at Laettner to publicly call him the word that got James so upset with Green.
The Jordan clone also employed Michael Jordan’s superiority-based style of verbal savagery. Bryant wasn’t particularly creative with his smack, but “you can’t guard me” works just fine when you average 30-plus. Bryant also used Jordan’s tactic of aiming missiles at teammates as frequently as foes, as demonstrated in his infamous practice rant. Soft like what? Bryant will let you know.
“He’s an intelligent trash-talker. He doesn’t just say random, dumb things. And it works,” one opposing assistant coach said. But that was before Game 4. What will Dray say as the Warriors seek to clinch the championship in Game 6? Perhaps Green will go back to the wordless gesture of dominance, an essential weapon for any Hall of Fame trash master. Either way, Dray, welcome to the club. Now watch your mouth.