Love it or hate it, trash talking is a part of sports. Some view it as bad sportsmanship. Others view it as gaining a competitive edge. And others view it as an inevitable part of the game. Regardless of how it is viewed, from the streets of every local playground, to the local YMCA, to the professional NBA court, basketball players are some of the best trash talkers around. Trash talking brings a colorful swagger to the game without undignifying or it, at least some of the time. At the very least, it makes the game even more enjoyable than it is because it shows that the players are actually playing hard, something that doesn’t always happen.
Baseball has some trash talking, but because it is a non-contact sport, there is very little player-to-player interaction. Football has trash talking, but its full scope is disguised on television because the players wear helmets. Hockey is the closest to basketball, but they also wear helmets and a heavy pane of glass separates fans from the actions (and the dialogue). It is only in basketball where there is a ton of player-to-player interaction. It is only in basketball where you can actually read the player’s lips, and in some cases, even hear what they are saying.
Throughout the history of basketball, the NBA has seen some of the best trash talkers ever. However, it is only in recent history that it has become a form of art. The ‘80’s and 90’s, in particular, saw some of the best trash talking due to the legitimate hatred and animosity that brewed from the rivalries. Basketball, like any other sport, is a sport that requires a high level of confidence. And there is no better way of reducing someone’s confidence than playing mental games with your opponent. The following players are some of the best trash talkers that the NBA has ever seen in its history.
15 Bill Laimbeer
Bill make have spoken more with his elbows and fists, but his words were just as jagged and hurtful. Laimbeer, or course, was a part of the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons who brought a physicality to the game that the NBA had never seen. However, what may be forgotten in the midst of all of the physicality is the verbal abuse that Laimbeer and his teammates gave to their opponents. Laimbeer’s opponents not only got a ton of cheap shots to the their ribs, but a mouthful filled with expletives as well.
14 Stephen Jackson
Stephen Jackson may be one of the few players on this list that was actually better at talking than playing. Jax won a championship ring with the San Antonio Spurs and eventually landed a hefty contract with the Indiana Pacers. However, he will always be remembered for being involved in the Malice at the Palace and as a player whose tongue and hasty words got in his way. If Jax ended his career with the same amount of humility he began it with, his career would have been even better than it was.
13 Paul Pierce
The Truth has never been the most athletic player in the world, but he has always made up for it with his instinct and trash talking. Pierce is obviously a fantastic shooter, but it is his cockiness and toughness that really make him the player that he is. This year, Pierce has already brought the young Washington Wizards a swagger that they never had last year. The best thing about Pierce? Focusing against the Celtics when Pierce and Garnett were on the court must have been difficult.
12 Vernon Maxwell
Mad Max was reckless on and off the court. He was one of those players that could get hot in an instant, whether it was with his jump shot or with his temper. Vernon was always a bit of a hot head and when he got loco, he let everyone around him know it, whether it was his teammates, opponents, or refs. It’s what made him unpredictable and so enjoyable to watch.
11 Kobe Bryant
The Black Mamba may be a modern player, but he is still very old school. Kobe doesn’t care about making friends. The only thing that he cares about is his legacy and winning Championships. This means that ripping a new one to his teammates, coaches, or general manager, during practice or to his opponents in the game, is of little relevance to Kobe. Kobe is going to sleep well at night, regardless of what you think about him. He recently made an appearance at a Lakers practice (he rarely practice due to his injuries) and he went off on his teammates, coach, and even on GM Mitch Kupchak. All to stir the pot and get the best out of the team.
10 Allen Iverson
The king of sound bites and the killer crossover, was also one of the best trash talkers in the NBA. Iverson is one of the few professional players that was able to bring his street ball play into the NBA, and that included his trash talking as well. Iverson played with his emotions on his sleeve, and that often led to words that were unfiltered and misguided. Just ask him his opinion on practice and he'll talk your ear off.
9 Rasheed Wallace
Sheed has never been one to be shy with his words. There is a reason why he was always tops in the league for technicals. In 2000-01 he received 41 technicals in 80 games. Sheed has always been a bit of a hot head and his emotional intelligence levels could have been a bit higher. But if you ask his teammates, all of them swear that Sheed was the best teammate you could have asked for. It’s just that he was a terrible opponent to play against.
8 Shaquille O’Neal
Was there any player in NBA history as witty as Shaq? Shaq was born to entertain people. Ever since he entered the league, Shaq has never been shy about his words. Sometimes he used those words to empower others and at other times, he used his words to wreak havoc (aka Kobe Bryant) in people’s lives. It didn't matter if he was on the court, doing a press conference, or freestyling at a club, Shaq was always trash talking someone. One thing is for sure, the NBA will never see a player as jovial and quick witted as Shaq.
7 Charles Barkley
Chuck may be more known for his TV analysis with the youngsters, but when Barkley was a player, he was one of the most physically and verbally intimidating players you had to play against. He was just downright scary on the court. He had a way of making you feel like you were only 6-4, while he was 7-4. There’s a reason why he did commercials saying that he wasn’t a role model in the ‘90’s.
6 Phil Jackson
The Zen Master did as much of his damage on the court as he did off of it. Phil was the master at using the media to his advantage. That included subtle jabs at other coaches and more importantly at the officials. He had a way of influencing the game with his comments during in-game and post-game interviews. Phil trash talked, it’s just that he cleaned it up and folded the trash before he dished it out. It's much classier that way.
5 Larry Bird
Don’t be fooled by the country boy look. Bird had one of the dirtiest mouths in the NBA. I’ll put it this way, kids should have never been allowed to sit courtside when Bird was playing. When other NBA players say that you have a filthy mouth, than there must be something to it. There’s a reason why Bird got into so many scuffles.
Clyde Drexler once commented on Bird's talking in a piece with ESPN:
"I was guarding him my rookie year, he looked at me and he goes “you can’t stop me”…I looked at him and said “gosh, boy you’re so confident”. He goes “Confident? You’re a rookie, you don’t know anything. He proceeded to score 10 straight points on me, coach took me out the game, he walks by and he’s laughing at me."
4 Kevin Garnett
You don’t have to know anything about KG to know that he is one of the loudest players in the NBA. In fact, just turn up your speakers whenever the Brooklyn Nets play and you will quickly see that even at his old age, KG hasn’t decreased his intensity level at all. He is still one of the most passionate and loud-mouthed players in the NBA. There's even a story that he once verbally abused Andray Blatche to the point that he was holding back tears.
3 Reggie Miller
Often considered one of the best shooters in the game, Miller was as sharp with his words as he was with his step back jumper. Miller may not have had the biggest biceps in the NBA, but he sure knew how to use his tongue. In fact, Miller not only tormented his opponents, but he also tormented fans; fans of the other team that is. His epic verbal jousts with Spike Lee are one of the best player to fan interactions in NBA history.
2 Michael Jordan
You can’t be the best player in the world without having some bark to your bite. MJ could deflate his defenders with his scoring, but Jordan didn’t just want to deflate his defenders, he wanted to destroy them. Jordan was the ultimate competitor and that meant winning every trash talking charade as well. There is now way that he would ever let anyone beat him in a game or in trash talking. Kevin Garnett, who's no slouch in this department, insisted that he's one of the best trash talkers he ever played against, along with the next entry on our list.
1 Gary Payton
Was there anyone as ferocious as GP on the court? The feisty point guard was pesky on defense, but he could give you a whiplashing with his words. Payton was never afraid to mix it up with anyone and that included the likes of Michael Jordan. But it is not only that Payton spoke trash – every player speaks trash – with Payton, however, it was the way that he spoke trash. Payton spoke trash like he was a mother hen protecting his chicks. No other player could breathe fire out of his mouth like the Glove.