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TOO MUCH TALKIN'?
Trash talking is nothing new to the NBA. After all, Larry Bird was refining the art a decade ago. But there is a feeling in some quarters that a new mistiness has come into play—the Suns' Danny Ainge describes the woofing these days as "more vicious and mean-spirited"—and that it is at least a contributing factor, if not the root cause, of a recent spate of fisticuffs around the league.
"If we were allowed to step in right away and stop the talking with a technical foul, I think a lot of these physical situations wouldn't develop," says one veteran referee, who desired anonymity. "But it's not punishable under our current guidelines. Maybe that should change."
However, there is no consensus. Another top veteran ref sees no increase in trash talking and blames the boxing matches (bantamweights Greg Anthony of the Knicks and Kevin Johnson of the Suns fought on March 23; and on March 30, cruiserweights Derrick Coleman of the Nets and Armon Gilliam of the Sixers went at it, and heavyweight Shaquille O'Neal of the Magic met lightweight Alvin Robertson of the Pistons) on late-season pressure. "Guys are tired, edgy, dying to start playoffs," says the ref. "I feel the same way."
Some players don't see much of a change in the nature of the trash, either. "There's no more trash talking now than when Bird, [Kevin] McHale and [Robert] Parish were in their heyday," says the Pistons' Joe Dumars, a nontalker. And what does Parish have to say about it? "The only thing that's changed about trash talking is how many guys are doing it," says the Celtic veteran. "Before, you had only a few guys."
Others, though, believe yapping contributes to physical confrontations. And they blame it on the younger generation.
"More young guys are coming out of college talking and showboating than ever before, and that gets irritating," says Sonic guard Nate McMillan, a seven-year veteran. Says Nugget general manager Bernie Bicker-staff, "It's the playground mentality, the competitiveness. You even see it in commercials. My concern is that with some of the collegians, it's coming into the NBA."
All of the recent brawls did involve young players—Coleman (in his third season), Anthony (second) and O'Neal (rookie). But to paint all the fights with the stroke of impetuous, throaty youth is to use a brush that is far too broad.
Nevertheless, trash talking is on enough people's lips that the NBA may be forced to address the subject publicly before the playoffs. In the off-season the league will most assuredly discuss whether it should be controlled and how.
After all, Chris Webber & Co. will be here soon.