How has Trash Talking Changed in the NBA?

Michael Jordan (left) and Gary Payton (right) amidst a trash talking exchange.

Bobby Amarant

Trash talk is something many people overlook as a symbol of arrogance within sports. However, many players still seem to want to trash talk and retired players realize that it is starting to die out. Now, this problem is not due to the players not wanting to keep up tradition. Instead, the problem lies within the officiating and technical fouls. A technical foul is awarded to a player presenting misconduct during a game and is very often given out in the instance of arguments or trash talk. Stricter calls by the officials have seriously been cutting down on trash talk.

When thinking of the greatest trash talkers of all time, one must include Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, and of course, Michael Jordan. Jordan’s most technical fouls in a season for his entire career was 5, which was in his last season in the NBA in the 02’-03’ season. He averaged only 2.3 technical fouls per year. Reggie Miller’s career average was 8.9 technical fouls per season, and Gary Payton averaged 14.7 technical fouls per season. However, when looking at the modern day trash talkers, there is seen to be an overall increase in technical fouls.

The increase in technical fouls is evident within the stats. Rasheed Wallace, 2 years retired, averaged 19.8 technical fouls per season in his career while holding both the single season record for technical fouls with 41 and also the career record with 317. DeMarcus Cousins, currently only 25 years old, averaged 14.6 through the first five years of his young career, and he already has two through the first 7 games of this season, putting him on pace for about 24. Blake Griffin averaged 13 technical fouls through his first 5 seasons in the league, putting him up there with the rest of these players.

Former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal agrees that trash talking is on a downward spiral, “Trash talking has slipped 60%. I know a lot of the players are worried about getting fined, but for me, growing up, you had to trash talk. I didn’t play against kids, I played against guys on the army base. Gary Payton — one of the world’s greatest trash talkers — grew up in Oakland, the mean streets of Oakland. But they say lot of the legends were great trash talkers.”
The fines involved, as mentioned by O’Neal, are also a huge factor. In 2010, the fines for technical fouls were doubled in price. The first five per season are $2,000 each, the next five $3,000, the next five $4,000, and each of the following fouls are $5,000 and a suspension without pay for each two. Obviously, since the rich tend to like to stay rich, players do not want these fines and stray away from arguing or trash talking. People were raised into basketball with an idea that trash talk was a method of mental warfare on the court and it was most certainly used for that in the NBA. The loss of trash talk as a tradition, an art even, makes the league duller with its lack of presence. One day trash talk may return as a viable option for players, but for the time being, it will be avoided by most.