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Trash Talking

Back in the day, when I was no more skilled at playing basketball than I am now, but far more deluded about my lack of ability, I used to be a rabble rouser. I'd throw elbows in anger, yell at my teammates and generally freak out on the court. I'd also talk trash mercilessly, taunting the other team and making the kind of gestures that would normally warrant a thorough ass-kicking. It's not that I was a bad guy or anything. I was just working on the challenges of frontal lobe functioning and emotion regulation. In psychological parlance, I'd learned to rein in my high-affect tendencies in every situation, EXCEPT for on the basketball court–when I became a raving lunatic.

For a very brief moment earlier today, this long-dormant part of myself peeked out. I was getting whistled for the most ridiculous calls in the first half of my men's league game. Already saddled with two fouls with less than a minute left in the half, I grabbed an offensive rebound, then immediately got hacked by three defenders at once. I pivoted to my left and gathered myself to go up for a putback...only to see the other team's big man, who's about 6'7", 290 pounds, flop on the ground like he'd been shot with an Uzi. Tweet! Offensive foul. The flopper in question is actually a very pleasant guy, and if I were being honest with myself, I'd say it was a savvy move given today's refs were by far the most whistle-happy pair in the league (think Chargers-Colts game, times 10). 

Still, I vowed revenge. As soon as I checked into the game six minutes into the second half, I made it my mission to exact revenge by getting the Great Flopping Behemoth in foul trouble. On the other team's first possession with me back in, one of their perimeter guys missed a long jumper. I boxed out the GFB violently (almost back to the foul line), causing him to lose his balance and fall on me as I grabbed the rebound. Foul #2 on GFB. With our team now in possession, I did something I very rarely do in this league, given how good the scorers on my team are: I called for the ball. Demanded it. Yelled for it. Got the entry pass, up-faked GFB, then dribbled around him. Jumped into his right arm, knowing what was coming next. Foul number three. Frustrated and annoyed, GFB immediately motioned to the bench for a sub. As he ambled away, I turned away from the foul line and...waved at him.

#4 on opposing team: "Did you just wave at him"
Me: "Yup!"
#4: "That's terrible."
Me: "He stops flopping, I'll stop waving."

It was a really childish, ridiculous thing to do, especially for someone my age (mid-30s). It was rendered more childish and ridiculous by the fact that no one in our league ever does stuff like that. Even in the most heated games, the competition is intense but very respectful. There's no woofing, no shoving, and certainly no waving goodbye. It was the context more than the act itself that made waving such a bush-league move.

That got me to thinking: Is it just because I play in a random 18-35 men's league with no actual stakes that everyone behaves? Certainly at higher levels of competition, there's a ton of trash talking and objectionable behavior that goes on. The NBA is full of it, every night, in every city, on every highlight show. Then again, so's college hoops. And based on what I've seen, high-level high school hoops too.

So is it just the stakes? Is it a specific age group issue? Is it a cultural/racial thing? (I would note on that front that the biggest trash talker I ever watched play was Larry Bird.) Is it a case of grown men going through their entire lives never having anyone stand up to them, for fear of cheesing off and scaring away top talent?

And while we're here: What constitutes entertaining trash-talking, and where do we cross the line into Carmelo Anthony-style slaps?

I need to know these things. Especially after we won by 27.