The Hidden WorldHere's a comprehensive behind-the-scenes guide to the grit and glamour of pro basketball. Use the links below to navigate through the "On The Court" section. Click on the links at top left to jump to "Off The Court" and "Underground People."
Grizzlies guard Chris Robinson, then a rookie, was playing in a preseason game against the SuperSonics in October 1996 when Seattle guard Gary Payton yelled at him from the bench, "Young fella, you can't play any defense." Robinson remembers Payton's words clearly because they were his introduction to NBA trash talk, an art form that's as much a part of pro basketball as the 24-second clock. Even the most reserved player, it seems, can't resist making a comment or two in the heat of battle. Nets swingman Kendall Gill recalls the normally taciturn David Robinson of the Spurs telling New Jersey's Armon Gilliam, after blocking one of his shots, "You can't bring that into Mr. Robinson's neighborhood."
The NBA doesn't sanction trash talking, of course. Two years ago the league instituted a rule against taunting: Anyone caught shouting "in your face" or a similar epithet could be hit with a technical foul and a $500 fine. The rule has had an effect. Many players believe that trash talking is on the decline. "Five hundred dollars for a technical, that's expensive, even for a millionaire," says Gill.
During a typical game, though, players still jabber more than Rush Limbaugh, all the while following the canons of the trash-talking game within the game.
Insulting an opponent's ancestry is strictly for amateurs. In other words, "Your mama...." is for the asphalt, not the hardwood. "Trash talking is a little more toned down in the NBA than on the playground," says Bucks forward Tyrone Hill. "On the playground it's worse. You hear about your mama and your daddy and your grandma ... your grandma got one leg, and stuff like that." In the NBA the trash revolves more around professional matters. Says Pacers guard Haywoode Workman, "People will say, 'You didn't make the Olympics,' or 'You didn't make the All-Star team.'"
A trash talker doesn't have to open his mouth to get his message across. When Cavaliers guard Bob Sura slammed down a particularly nasty dunk last season, he kept quiet, just walking around the court nodding his head repeatedly. "Somebody might score on you and look at you a certain way, or dunk on you and look at you all crazy," says Hill. "Guys also will give you little bumps and stuff that mean, Hey, you better come to play or I'm going to bust you up."
Big men don't yapat least not as much as little men. Says guard Terry Porter of the Timberwolves, "Twos and threes [shooting guards and small forwards] talk more than anybody. Reggie Miller, Glen Rice, those guys yak all the time."
For a supposedly dying art, trash talk still elicits plenty of opinions. That's why we think Mavericks forward Dennis Scott may have the most honest assessment: "I don't think there's as much trash talking as there once was. Or maybe I just don't hear as well anymore."
Talk the TalkHere are a few of the trendier terms in vogue in the NBA.
RUNNING WATER A hot shooter. He just keeps draining buckets.
MARK FUHRMAN A strong defender. He locks people up.
TURNSTILE A poor defender. He lets opponents pass right through.
BREAKING ANKLES Making an offensive move that all but makes the defender fall over.
GRILLE A defender's face, like the grille of a car.
BANGING Dunking the ball in somebody's grille.
CRAZY PAPER Synonym for big money.
DROPPING DIMES Handing out assists.
CLOWNING Making an opponent look foolish.