When you combine a group of men, a competitive sport, and adrenaline, pride will naturally find its way into the equation. The NBA has been entertaining the masses for 75 years, and an unsung element of its appeal is the verbal jousting between players. Regardless of whether a player is on the winning team or not, their ability to ruin their opponent’s focus can pay huge dividends.
While trash-talking can evolve into physical confrontations, that reality simply serves as a test of players’ discipline, especially given the fact that it is often a team’s “enforcer” who jaw-jacks. How well can someone stay locked in when he’s told that his wife tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios? What does someone say when they’re told “you can’t guard me” and their opponent is proving that on every possession?
The players on this list may not all be the most skilled or NBA 75-worthy, but they excel at getting under opponents’ skin and providing a laugh for the fans. Check out the NBA’s biggest trash talkers below.
Draymond Green is often the subject of a lot of jokes, either for his three-point shooting ineptitude or his undying love for LeBron James. Despite being an easy target, two things about the 33-year-old are bulletproof: his resume and his ability to talk. The four-time NBA Champion is the heart and soul of the Golden State Warriors, anchoring their defense and facilitating their offense. He is also their vocal leader, often seen on the court getting in teammates’ ears to encourage them. As for his opponents, things aren’t so uplifting–or, at least, they aren’t intended to be.
One of the funniest instances of the former Defensive Player Of The Year’s trash talk came in 2017. Paul Pierce was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers and in the midst of his farewell season. Pierce called Green out for his supposed inability to guard Blake Griffin and even said the four-time All-Star was a “bum.”
At one point in their February 2017 matchup, Pierce is sitting on the bench and Green yells to him “[You] chasing that farewell tour, they don’t love you like that. You can’t get no farewell tour. You ain’t got that type of love. You thought you was Kobe [Bryant]?” This was particularly incisive, as the Black Mamba had retired one year prior in a very ceremonial fashion, capping off a career where he was Pierce’s rival, but outperformed in all but one instance: the 2008 NBA Finals. Draymond attacked the 10-time All-Star’s insecurities, and, frankly, did not tell a lie.
Honestly, if you need another example of his elite trash-talking, look no further than his systematic dissection of Dillon Brooks’ comments toward him on the March 8 episode of his eponymous podcast. In March, his saying the Memphis Grizzlies’ dynasty begins after Brooks leaves just felt like a burn. Now, with the Grizzlies informing the Canadian forward that they would not be re-signing him, it feels like Draymond predicted his future. A high-level trash talker and a (mis)fortune teller.
Dillon Brooks isn’t too different from Draymond Green. Pesky defender, somewhat decent on offense, and rarely holds his tongue. The major difference between the two is their resumes; Draymond’s is loaded and Brooks’ is an empty canvas. Thus, the 27-year-old was a major topic of discussion throughout this NBA season due to the fact that he and his Memphis Grizzlies teammates talked a lot, but had nothing to show for it.
He expressed his feelings for the Golden State Warriors during March of this season. “I don’t like Draymond at all,” Brooks told Tim Keown. “I just don’t like Golden State. I don’t like anything to do with them. Draymond talks a lot. Gets away with a lot, too. His game is cool — with Golden State — but if you put him anywhere else, you’re not going to know who Draymond is. He plays with heart, plays hard, knows the ins and outs of their defense. I guess that’s why they like him over there.”
The beauty of trash talk is blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Given Green has never played anywhere besides Golden State, one cannot confirm whether he would fit on another team. But they can’t deny it either.
In some ways, the Canadian forward going head-on at LeBron James during the first round of the 2023 Playoffs was admirable. There is a certain courage required to talk down on one of the greatest players of all time. Doubling down on the trash talk after Game 2, calling LeBron “old,” and saying that he wouldn’t respect him until he scored 40 points on him, is when things took a turn. That ended up biting him in the behind as the Lakers won the series in 6 games, notably winning by 40 points.
Brooks may take pride in poking bears, but the embarrassing loss and forthcoming free agency period may be what he needs to ensure his play matches his trash talk.
Michael Jordan’s prime was before the internet, so every story one hears about the arguably greatest basketball player of all time feels like they’re hearing about a mythological creature. Given the fact he led the Chicago Bulls to three straight NBA championships on two separate occasions, it would be safe to assume that he was a great leader. That is correct, though his methods were a bit unconventional.
ESPN’s Rick Reilly reported that MJ would trash-talk his teammate Rodney McCray while defending him in practice. “You’re a loser! You’ve always been a loser!’ Rodney can hardly put up a jumper now,” Jordan said. His harsh words didn’t seem to help that much, as McCray averaged 3.5 points per game that 1993 season, McCray’s only season with the Bulls. However, they did win the championship that year.
Another superpower of Jordan’s was telling his opponent exactly what he was going to do to them before successfully doing it. Shaquille O’Neal talked about how in one game against the Orlando Magic, MJ told Nick Anderson “I’m coming down. I’m going to dribble it between my legs twice. I’m going to pump fake and then I’m going to shoot a jumper. And then I’m going to look at you.” And, according to Shaq, “That’s exactly what he did.” It’s bad enough getting scored on, but someone telling you their exact method of doing so and executing it is a tough pill to swallow.
No moment compares to MJ burying Muggsy Bogues during the 1995 Playoffs. The Charlotte Hornets were trying to avoid elimination, and the 5’3″ guard had the ball while MJ defended him. In a sign of utter disrespect, his Airness stepped back and allowed Bogues to shoot unguarded. “Shoot it you f**king midget,” MJ yelled. Bogues followed his instructions and missed.
Johnny Bach, who was part of that 1995 Hornets coaching staff, said Bogues told him that moment ruined his career. He went on to average 5.9 points per game for the rest of his career, a significant drop from his previous double-digit averages. Michael Jordan’s skills ruined championship dreams and his verbiage ruined careers.
Kevin Garnett is arguably the most notorious of all NBA trash talkers. The Big Ticket was a force on both offense and defense, and his ability to get into his opponents’ heads only made things easier for him on the court. Joakim Noah looked up to KG and was excited to meet him upon entering the league. “Man, KG, I had your poster on my wall, I looked up to you, man,” Noah said the first time they played against one another in 2007. The NBA Champion responded with a harsh “F**k you, Noah.”
Several years prior, Garnett’s jaw-jacking was rumored to have taken a tasteless turn. Allegedly, during the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs’ first-round matchup in 1999, the former MVP wished Tim Duncan a Happy Mother’s Day while he was shooting free throws. The issue there is the five-time NBA Champion’s mother passed away in 1990 due to breast cancer, one day before Duncan’s 14th birthday.
Of course, there is the infamous shoving match with Carmelo Anthony in 2013 where KG allegedly said that Melo’s former wife, La La Anthony, “tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios.” The former New York Knicks star reportedly waited outside for Garnett following the game and said “There’s just certain things that you just don’t say to another man” when asked about the situation days later.
There may be no comment more egregious than his 2010 jabs thrown at Charlie Villanueva. KG allegedly called the Detroit Pistons forward a cancer patient, which was especially harmful given Villanueva suffered from Alopecia Universalis, where one of the symptoms is hair loss. The two got into a shoving match mid-game and the Dominican hooper called him out in a tweet the following morning.
KG is a legend on the court and well-known for how competitive he was. Evidently, his desire to win knew no bounds when it came to taunting his opponents.
Larry Bird is an all-time great known for his exceptional shooting ability and verbal shots. Nobody was safe, whether you were a player who was equally talented or a coach. The Boston Celtics legend won the inaugural three-point contest in 1986 and walked into the following year’s competition full of confidence. Michael Cooper, a former Los Angeles Laker, once said “Larry walks in and says, ‘I hope all you guys in here are thinking about second place, because I’m winning this.’…And he started shooting and he just didn’t miss.”
By 1990, he had been done competing in the three-point contest but his impact was still felt. That year’s winner, Craig Hodges, was asked if his victory felt “tainted” due to the fact he did not have to compete against Bird. Hodges replied “He knows where he can find me,” to which Larry Legend later said, “Yeah, at the end of the Bulls bench.”
Quadruple doubles don’t happen too often in basketball, and Larry Bird was flirting with one during a 1985 matchup with the Utah Jazz. The Celtics were up 90-66 and he sat out the entire fourth quarter of their game, despite being one steal away from the elusive quadruple double statistic. When asked if he wanted to play and secure that last steal, he said “What for? I already did enough damage to them.”
One of the most hilarious instances of Larry Bird’s trash-talking came in 1987. Bird, a white man himself, took offense to being guarded by other white basketball players because he grew up playing against primarily Black men in Indiana. “As far as playing, I didn’t care who guarded me. Red, yellow, black. I just didn’t want a white guy guarding me. Because it’s disrespect to my game,” Bird said.
In a game that season against the Chicago Bulls, Ben Poquette stepped up to defend him. He laughed at Doug Collins before telling him “Ben Poquette? Are you f**king kidding me?” The three-time NBA Champion went on to score 41 points that game. Even his own people weren’t safe!
Patrick Beverley is a veteran in the league, so likening him to Dillon Brooks may not be the most accurate. They are similar in that they have talked a lot, but their resumes don’t match. At least for Beverley, he’s made one Defensive First Team, two Defensive Second Teams, and earned the NBA Hustle Award, in comparison to Brooks who has none of these accolades. Even with these achievements, the Chicago Bulls guard’s biggest claim to fame is his delusional confidence and comments about well-respected players in the league.
Pat Bev and Chris Paul reportedly have had beef since high school, but it hit a new level the last few seasons. Beverley shoved Chris Paul during their 2021 matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the following season he went on a press run discussing how much defenders anticipate facing CP3 after the Phoenix Suns lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals. “Do guys in the NBA go to sleep early the night before playing the Phoenix Suns? Hell no […] Steph Curry, I’m going to bed early.”
Most recently, in December 2022, he taunted the 12-time All-Star after making a layup over him. The only problem is his team at the time, the Los Angeles Lakers, were down by 26 points. Still, he took the opportunity to declare that The Point God was “too small.”
Beverley also takes aim at younger talent, namely Tyrese Haliburton. He barked on the former Sacramento Kings player back when he was a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves following a victory. Despite the fact he was guarding his teammate Buddy Hield, Pat Bev asserted that the one-time All-Star was lucky he wasn’t guarding him. Haliburton took issue with this, discussing it in an episode of JJ Redick’s podcast The Old Man And The Three.
The beef continued into Bev’s time as a Laker and Haliburton’s time as a Pacer. The Lakers picked up a victory over the Pacers, and while Tyrese had a good game, Beverley still had a lot to say after the fact. “For a first-year guy to mention my name especially all the work I done in this league defensively, I felt it was–I wouldn’t say disrespectful but I remembered his words so I took it kinda personal and I wanted that challenge tonight. Coach gave it to me.”
Patrick Beverley epitomizes having something to say whether he is down or up, and while it may be confusing for opponents, you’ve got to love it.
Gary Payton’s nickname is The Glove, but he should be called The Mouthpiece. The nine-time All-Star is one of the greatest defenders of all-time, and had no problem letting players know what he was going to put them through when it was time to play.
Shaquille O’Neal, who played both against GP and with him, said that he was the same person on the court that he was off the court. The two ran into each other in the mall, and according to Shaq, Payton asked him “Remember that time I crossed you up big fella and I gave you that thang and you almost pulled your arm out of the socket? […] You can’t guard me boy, I’m a Hall of Fame. I’m first ballot boy, I’m first ballot!”
Payton did an interview with ESPN’s Dan Patrick in 1999 where he was asked if there’s anybody who shouldn’t be talking trash. The one-time NBA Champion called out Jamie Feick, a role player at the time, who allegedly had words for him.
“He said something to me. I said, ‘Man, you won’t even be in the league next year.’ And then Scott Burrell came over and said I hurt Feick’s feelings.”
Gary Payton was fearless and knew no boundaries when it came to his trash talk. “If I knew something about a person’s mother, I knew something about his sister. If he had just got a drunk driving charge, I would go at the situation.” Fortunately, he could deliver on the court, but that type of psychological warfare is second to none.
Charles Barkley is more known today for assessing the current players as an analyst on TNT, but he had a knack for trash-talking when he was an active player, as well.
In 1993, he faced off against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. MJ had no shortage of confidence, but Chuck believed that he was divinely protected, saying “God wants us to win the championship. I told Michael Jordan the other day that it was destiny for us to win.” They ended up losing the series in six games, but the delusional confidence backed by religion was quite admirable.
Kevin Garnett, a member of this list, also acknowledges Barkley’s excellence in jaw-jacking. “Charles Barkley was another level trash talker because he would end up fighting you or try to fight you. But he instilled fear in everybody on the court,” KG said during an episode of All The Smoke.
The Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves faced off in 1996, and Chris Carr got sent to the line as the Rockets were up by two points with no time left on the clock. Carr was not able to tie the game, due to Chuck saying “I told him you couldn’t get a pen up his a** with a jackhammer. He was little tight on that one,” as told to a reporter following the game.
Of course, most recently, Charles Barkley had to call out Dillon Brooks, a trash talker who isn’t matching his words on the court.
“You can’t talk all that noise and then play bad,” Chuck said while the Los Angeles Lakers were up three games to one on the Memphis Grizzlies. “You callin’ people old and the old man is kicking your a**, let’s be honest about it.”
Whether he’s on the court and critiquing the game, one thing you can always expect is the 1993 MVP to have something to say about someone else.