The Joy of Six: America's big league trash talkers

While some athletes stand apart because of their physical gifts, others are just as adept at annoying the hell out of their fellow professionals

1) JJ Watt

There’s no particular order to this Joy of Six, but admittedly, JJ Watt is the inspiration for today’s topic. On Monday, the Houston Texans defensive end tickled the thalamus of the Cincinnati Bengals’ red-headed quarterback Andy Dalton via this post-game jibe: “Our goal was to come out here and make the Red Rifle look like a Red Ryder BB Gun, and I think we did that.”

As insults go, it’s a firm 6/10. But this brings us to the crux of the trash talk: is it the wit of the statement or the effect it has? Many would argue it’s better to unsettle your opponent than have the fans laughing along at home. In any case, Watt clearly got to Dalton. “I’m disappointed in him because of the integrity of this game,” said Dalton in a post-game press conference. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a really good player. There are a lot of kids and people who look up to him, and for him to make comments like that, he’s just showing that’s acceptable to say that kind of stuff.”

You hear that parents? Don’t let your kids grow up to be quick witted all-pro defensive ends, who knows where they might wind up.

We can assume that the remark was the barb was the straw that broke the camel’s back: Dalton must be sick of having to field questions and comments about his hair color every week. Watt’s comment could even be viewed as a positive. A quick check of Red Ryder BB Gun reviews on Amazon reveals that 87% of the feedback is four or five stars, which seems quite strong. Plus, every red-blooded American knows that a well-made BB gun can do some reasonable damage.

So come on Andy, cheer up: at least JJ didn’t burn you with his famous burrito line ... or call you a silly goose.

2) Larry Bird

Larry Bird withholds trash-talking to the press during his coaching days for the Indiana Pacers.
Larry Bird withholds trash-talking to the press during his coaching days for the Indiana Pacers. Photograph: Stuart Ramson/AP

These days a middle-aged Larry Bird sits mostly expressionless while watching his Indiana Pacers from the stands of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Unless you watched it happen with your own eyes, it’s hard to imagine that this plain looking man in a suspect suit was one of the most exciting and talented players to ever bounce a ball. It’s even harder to believe that someone nicknamed “The Hick From French Lick” could destroy opponents with both jump shot and trash talk. Bird was hilarious, and for 13 seasons, NBA courts doubled up as a stage for his stand-up, although it’s doubtful his opponents found him all that funny.

Larry Bird could bury opponents with his mouth and with his jumper.
Larry Bird could bury opponents with his mouth and with his jumper. Photograph: Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Question: if camera and mic don’t pick up trash talk, did it really happen? Luckily, the answer is a resounding yes, which is why stories like Bird’s dressing down of Detroit’s Dennis Rodman are out there.

“Who’s guarding me, Chuck? Is anyone guarding me? You better get someone on me or I’m gonna go for 60,” said Bird to then Pistons coach Chuck Daly after hitting four straight shots despite Rodman’s attempt at defense. Even a younger, quicker, pre-Chicago Bulls, pre-tattoo, pre-dyed hair Rodman could not stick with Bird, because no one could. Bird continued, telling his team-mates to get him the basketball quickly “before they notice nobody is guarding me.”

Poor Dennis.

There are dozens more of these stories scattered around the web, and each brings a smile, even to the most ardent Boston Celtic haters.

Dull suits aside, Bird can still talk trash, as he did while messing with his old rival Dominique Wilkins back in March. The defensively challenged “Human Highlight Film” was being honored by the Atlanta Hawks with a statue, and Bird couldn’t resist the opportunity in front of him.

Larry Bird on video says of Wilkins statue: "I'm pretty sure it's not made in a defensive stance." #ATLHawks

— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) March 5, 2015

3) Clint Dempsey

While some players are content to trash talk other players, the USA striker decided to take on the referee earlier this year. The incident occurred when Dempsey became increasingly angry with referee Daniel Radford during the Seattle Sounders’ Open Cup tie with their rivals the Portland Timbers.

Dempsey had already been booked for talking back to Radford when he further lost his cool after team-mate Michael Azira was shown a red card for a clattering challenge on Portland’s Gastón Fernández in extra time with Seattle trailing 2-1.

The former Tottenham and Fulham striker protested the call by tearing the Radford’s notebook to shreds, earning a prompt trip to the showers.

“Our guys played like lions and left their hearts on the field, and they got robbed,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “Caleb [Timbers coach Porter] said last year at the end of the [cup] game that it was the worst refereeing performance he had ever seen. I think it was topped this year.”

Dempsey clearly set an example for his team-mates. The Sounders ended the game with seven men, and Dempsey was suspended from the Open Cup for two years.

4) Sean Avery

Sean Avery walked the line, crossing it more often than not.

Some trash talkers are less charming than others, and Sean Avery is definitely no charmer. We’re talking about a player so hated that New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur refused to honor the NHL’s age-old tradition of a post-series shake his handshake with Avery after the Devils suffered a 2008 playoff defeat to the New York Rangers. That was the series in which Avery used his stick and arms to blatantly screen Brodeur, a move that was instantly made illegal. The two have feuded in a war of trash-talk ever since, and Avery’s reputation as an NHL villain continues to swell, even after his retirement.

You wanted Avery on your team because his chirping hammered away at the league’s thickest skins. Then, in December of 2008, Avery crossed a line with a tasteless, boneheaded remark about two of his fellow players and their partners.

The remark was made in reference to then Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf dating Avery’s ex, Elisha Cuthbert (they’re now married), while another Avery ex, Rachel Hunter had dated, and was later engaged to Jarret Stoll.

The NHL was not impressed, nor was anyone else - the Stars suspended him indefinitely after the NHL tagged him with six games. Avery would return and play a few more seasons in New York before retiring at age 32 to concentrate on a failed Broadway play, interning at Vogue, setting up a bar, home decor, flipping real estate, being arrested for alleged drugs possession, chucking rocks at cars in the Hamptons, and other assorted items that all seem very Lenny Dykstra-ish.

Last June, Avery told the Players Tribune: “... To keep my job. I needed people to hate me. I needed players to come after me in order to stay motivated.”

Job done.

5) Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan

Reggie Miller talked the talk.

The former Indiana Pacers forward told Jimmy Kimmel last March that when he came into the league in 1987, he was tall, but not very big, and that he needed some kind of edge. That edge was his mouth, and once it got running, it didn’t stop until Miller retired in 2005.

The NBA’s one-time holder of the single-season three-point record (until Steph Curry beat his mark of 229 triples in 2013), is perhaps best known for the trash-talking fuelled incident between himself and Spike Lee who, as you are no doubt aware, doesn’t even play, during a 1995 playoff game between Indiana and the Knicks. In Game 1 of the Eastern Semis, in New York, Miller scored eight points in 8.9 seconds, overcoming a six-point deficit, all while taunting the courtside Lee with smack talk and his infamous choke sign, in becoming the “Garden’s Greatest Villain”.

Eight years earlier, Miller got his first lesson in trash talk from Michael Jordan when he tried to dress down MJ as a rookie during the 1987 pre-season. Miller, had outscored Jordan 12-4 in the first half, and egged on by team-mate Chuck Person, decided he would tell the basketball god “Michael, who do you think you are? The great Michael Jordan? That’s right, there’s a new kid in town.”

So an unimpressed MJ went out and outscored Miller 40-2 in the second half, before scolding the rookie thus: “Be sure, and be careful that you never talk to Black Jesus like that. OK?”

A muted Miller said “OK. I’m so sorry, Black Jesus. I’m so sorry.” Miller never talked any sort of crap to Jordan again (although he did fight him). Instead, he focused on the rest of the league, and film directors, for the 18 seasons which followed.

Staying in the Chicago realm for one more moment: honorary mention to Scottie Pippen, who during Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals, walked up to Karl Malone prior to his crucial foul shots and said “the mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays”. With the game tied and under 10 seconds to play, Malone, who had been announced as the Most Valuable Player, proceeded to botch both shots, leaving Jordan to hit the winner. Naturally, MJ reminded him after the game that “that’s what MVPs do’.’

6) Richard Sherman

Before @richardsherman25 took on Tom Brady, he was relatively unknown.
Before @richardsherman25 took on Tom Brady, he was relatively unknown. Photograph: @richardsherman25

Sometimes trash talk can be used to show opponents a team or player has no fear. In 2012, the Seahawks Richard Sherman, then a second year pro, broke through the cage in a major way back by taking on Tom Brady – and laying down a marker for a Seattle team that would back down from no one (not even the NFL’s golden boy). After a Seahawks come-from-behind victory over New England in October, he infamously tweeted out a photo with the caption “u mad bro?”

And when you do that, you get out there and sell, sell sell.

#fanfriday to all the lady 12s! Giving away You Mad Bro gear to 15 who use code FF15YMB at

— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) November 7, 2015

And, of course, when you do this...

“Don’t you ever talk about me!” become the NFL’s most well known cornerback, and star in YouTube trash talk videos.

Sherman is in his fifth NFL season. His self proclaimed status as the best corner in the NFL is now being tested by Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, but the Cardinals corner has a long way to go in the trash-talking department.


David Lengel

The GuardianTramp

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