In my argument concerning the rash of technical fouls in the league, I stated that one of the things I loved about basketball was trash talking.
It was something that defined players I loved, like Gary Payton, who once called the other Earvin Johnson “Tragic.” The best players had supreme confidence, and backed up their boisterous talk with even bigger game. Celtic great Larry Bird famously told Xavier McDaniel where he was going to hit a game-winner, and then did so right in his face. And Michael Jordan frequently did the same thing with a little more vitriol. The best players have a mental edge over their opponent. When you faced Jordan, he knew that he was better than you and he never let you forget it.
Yet, a number of people are up in arms over Kevin Garnett’s comments toward Charlie Villanueva last night. Now, KG has flat-out denied making such comments, and says his words were misconstrued. If he did indeed call Villanueva a cancer patient, it was a lapse of judgment in the midst of the emotion of the game. But I’m here to say it shouldn’t be that big a deal.
Now, I am lucky enough to not have had anyone I know be directly affected by cancer, and I certainly don’t want to diminish the effects it has on people worldwide. But I’m sure a lot worse has been said and will continue to be said on the basketball court. In fact, I’m confident that Villanueva’s looks, which are the result of alopecia, have garnered worse insults sometime during his career.
Obviously KG is a well-known trash talker (the “worst” in the league according to his peers). The history of clapping, walking on all fours, and general absurdity that Garnett displays when on the floor should make that apparent to anyone who has barely watched this team. He is always looking to get in the head of the opposition. And you know what? It obviously worked Tuesday night for Villanueva, as the two were called for double techs in the fourth quarter.
In an increasingly PC world, the whole nation seemed to be up in arms about this issue today. South Park made fun of this idea a few years ago, and I’m going to post the clip below. But I have to admit that when I read about this before work early this morning, I didn’t imagine that it would be front page news on ESPN.com, SI.com, and every other sports site in the world. Obviously I underestimated the buzz that the word cancer can bring.
There’s a reason that trash-talk goes by that name; most of it is in poor taste, just like KG’s comments were last night. But what is said on the basketball court shouldn’t be taken to heart—it’s meant to stay out on the court. But that doesn’t happen nowadays. So now KG is painted as a villain and a “bully,” as Adrian Wojnarowski’s article labeled him. He really isn’t any of those things; he is just a basketball player, and trash-talking is just a part of the game.