Written By: Rory O’Toole
“If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all” -Mothers everywhere
“I’m just looking around to see who’s going to finish second.” – Larry Bird
Every basketball player on the planet is bilingual, whether they know it or not.
There is of course the language of the outside world, the native tongue, where politeness and courtesy are valued, a place where most people are given the benefit of the doubt, and direct conflict avoided as much as possible.
Then there is the language of the gym, learned later in life but its speakers fluent all the same. A distinctly meritocratic environment devoid of the polite “thank you’s” and apt “excuse me’s” of the outside world, replaced with eff bombs, aggressive commands and a decidedly diminished filter when it comes to telling someone how you feel.
Trash talk is as old as the sport itself, with many of the game’s most acclaimed players noted equally for their verbal prowess as their athletic ability. Confidence is the key for any player to succeed and one of the surest ways for a player to maintain faith in their own game is for them to engage in trash talk. It gets the competitive juices flowing and is as much a pep talk for the talker, as it a way to psych the opponent out.
As a celebration of this NBA tradition, we have listed the best trash talkers in the league by position. I trust you’ll note that three of the five players listed are All Stars, proving that talk isn’t always cheap.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The 2016-2017 MVP has converted many a pagan worshipper to the Church of Russ where parishioners testify their faith to triple doubles, one man fast breaks, vicious dunks, all out effort and giving Andre Roberson this look whenever he tees up a three.
Russell Westbrook is not only one of the best players in the Association but one of its finest orators in the art of shit talking. On the court he’s shown he can jaw with the best of them, taking on all comers-the young, the old, the strong, the weak, the fans and hell even the hopeless Knicks.
His infamous verbal confrontation with former teammate Kevin Durant demonstrated the phonetic perfection of a trash talking virtuoso.
Look for more wayward souls to find solace in the teachings of the Holy Book of Westbrook this season and even more to enjoy watching a trash talking master dress down his opponents in more ways than one.
Andy Lions/Getty Images
Wait the guy who blew in LeBron’s ear that one time?
The Brooklyn playground legend, known as Born Ready in the borough, is cut from the New York City tradition of smack talk where annoying your opponent and irrational confidence are the mouds operari for any hooper to succeed in the concrete jungle.
This “by any means necessary” approach to trash talk won’t win many friends but it can help you win your fair share of battles. The LeBron incident is a perfect example of the annoyance method, doing something irritable to your opponent (blowing in their ear), in the hope that it throws them off their game just enough that you can take advantage. Obviously it backfired in this case, the Heat won the series and LeBron went off in the following games but that was probably going to happen regardless.
Trash talkers like Stephenson know they have nothing to lose when it comes to verbally jousting with those higher up the food chain. Everybody is expecting them to get scored on and lose so why not try a different approach? All it takes is for one fish to bite.
Golden State Warriors
It may surprise some people that the seemingly quiet and unassuming Durant would be included on a list of the best trash talkers in the league but don’t let that stoic facade fool you, KD loves to remind his man that they can’t guard him right before he drains a sweet jumper in their grill.
Many players cite Durant as an underrated trash talker. Former teammate Dion Waiters confirmed this notion in a Player’s Tribune piece he said “Kev used to talk wild trash to me too. People don’t know that about him.”
Draymond Green echoed Waiter’s comments on an ESPN radio appearance. “You know who I always thought [was a great trash talker] but was under the radar? Kevin Durant. Lotta people don’t know that. But if you play against him, you know.”
I think Dwight might…
KD isn’t afraid to smack talk anyone in the league because there simply isn’t anyone capable of stopping him. Even LeBron James looks to have lost a step when it comes to defending the Maryland native, both figuratively and literally.
Golden State Warriors
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
From a big surprise to the most obvious choice, I present to you the most notorious talker of them all: Mr. Draymond Jamal Green Senior.
The amount of content out there on the internet related to Draymond’s trash talk could take up an entire article but I’m not going to do that. However if you do want to go down that rabbit hole, the San Francisco Chronicle has created a detailed slide slow of his finest moments in smack talk.
Love him or hate him, even the most casual NBA fan knows Draymond Green for two things- kicks to the nuts and talking a lot of shit.
The sixth year man out of Michigan State earned his reputation as a motor mouth early on his career when during his rookie season with the Warrior’s he had the audacity to talk a whole lot of mess to the ultra quiet Tim Duncan and Duncan handled it just about how you’d expect-with a blank stare. Ever since then it’s been a ceaseless barrage of amazing trash talk including on court scuffles, calling out opponents, battling it out with the media, technicals, sonning opposing coaches, trolling arena names, meme wars with Drake and even sparring with teammates.
Draymond talks nonstop from the first quarter to the fourth. He’ll drop some verbal hooks at the free throw line, on the bench and of course after converting his famous “And Ones!” Green is a classic NBA trash talker: loud, braggadocious and utterly fearless with the game to back it up.
The former second round pick has a chance to not only go down as one of the best forwards of all time but to also join the pantheon of legendary NBA trash talkers.
The Bosnian Beast is a nickname Nurkic has earned for his tough playing style but he’s also shown he’s just as savage when it comes to the verbal side of the game.
The son of a 7 foot 400 pound police officer who single handedly beat up over a dozen people in a fight (yes that is not a typo and no you weren’t the only one to think to yourself that he kind of looks like a mix between Macklemore and a rhinoceros), Jusuf Nurkic isn’t scared of anyone considering he had to grow up with THAT for his entire childhood.
The 7 footer has gone toe to toe with the NBA’s best big men and shown he likes to talk a lot of junk when he’s down in the trenches. Just ask Joel Embiid or Boogie Cousins, who Nurkic seems to relish playing against in particular, perhaps because they both do their fair share of talking.
Nurkic has shown some serious cojones in the past, be it staring down King James after blocking his shot or taunting Kobe after locking him down one on one. If Nurkic makes a play on you, he relishes verbally twisting the knife afterwards.
Toward the end of last season Nurkic seemed to be reenergized amongst his new Portland teammates, putting up some big time numbers thanks to some nice pick and roll chemistry with Dame Lillard. If he can stay healthy this upcoming year, expect the Blazers to do their fair share of winning and Jusuf Nurkic to do his fair share of jawing.