The Most Clever Smack Talk in Sports
Trash talk is an undeniable part of competition. Whether you like it or not, it's a very real part of professional sports. And, barring some unforeseen shift in the culture of sports, trash talk is here to stay.
But not all trash talk is created equal.
The vast majority of trash talk consists of ill-advised guarantees of victory, or juvenile stunts and name calling. The same kind of stuff you'd see being exchanged between kids in a junior high gym class.
Although, there are a select few athletes and coaches who have elevated this childish pastime to a legitimate art form. Trash talk is easy to dismiss when the message is simple and the delivery is clunky. And if it's immediately dismissed, what's the point?
The best trash talk resonates with its intended target, as well as the public at-large, for an extended period of time, if not forever. The only way to make it resonate is to put some thought into it and deliver it with some wit.
Here are the most clever smack talk moments in sports.
Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
At a Seattle home game in October 2012, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was getting in the face of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and running his mouth early and often. And, according to Sherman, Brady was dismissive, telling him "Oh, I'll see you after the game."
Well, the Seahawks won the game and Sherman was sure to pay Brady a visit in the immediate aftermath. He also revisited the promise later on Twitter, tweeting his famous "U mad bro?" photo out, to the delight of Patriots-haters everywhere.
Shaquille O'Neal, Retired NBA Player
Mythical big man Shaquille O'Neal on longtime nemesis Kobe Bryant:
"Kobe always tried to be a hero. But, you know, as the saying goes, a hero ain't nothing but a sandwich."
Shaq's diss taken from the title of a 1973 young adult novel by Alice Childress. Benjie, the protagonist, is an urban youth who alienates everyone in his life after getting hooked on heroin.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Coach
(Then) University of Florida coach Steve Spurrier "making light of" the rumors that Florida State offered recruits additional incentives to commit to the Seminoles:
"You know what FSU stands for, don't you? Free Shoes University."
Spurrier has always made a point to "make light of" situations, rather than confront them directly. Can you even imagine what would come out of his mouth if he was being outright mean? I don't think we could handle it.
Chad Johnson, NFL Free Agent
In late 2009, the career of free agent wide receiver formerly known as Chad Ochocinco was officially in decline. But his ability to ruffle feathers with high profile stunts was peaking.
Before a game against the division rival Ravens, Ocho generously sent all their defensive backs gift baskets filled with deodorant so "they don't sweat."
The following week they were set to play the Steelers and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis forbid Ocho from pulling the same stunt. Instead he posted a photo of a sign to Twitter which read:
It is against NFL policy to cover Chad Ochocinco man to man. It has always been a rule but with the events of last year we must have forgotten who he was. Please note that he is still the most uncoverable receiver in the league. This rule is for the safety of embarrassment to all defensive backs.
Ocho claimed it was Rule #1059, an often overlooked NFL bylaw. Definitely clever. Would have been even more clever a few years prior, when he was actually good.
Mike Ditka, Retired NFL Player and Coach
Retired NFL player and coach Mike Ditka isn't someone that would ever be mistaken for a 'warm and fuzzy' guy. He's got the grace of a monster truck and the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Ditka, ironically now a football analyst for ESPN, has an opinion on everything, including sports reporters:
"What's the difference between a three-week-old puppy and a sportswriter? In six weeks, the puppy will stop whining."
Big surprise. The guy who thinks public hangings are what today's society is missing, doesn't like whiners.
Hey! What's the difference between Mike Ditka and a junkyard dog foaming at the mouth, unhinged and delirious from rabies? At least the dog can't yell at you.
Mike Tyson, Retired Boxer
Boxing great Mike Tyson on his physical dominance over potential opponents:
"My power is discombobulatingly devastating, I could feel his muscle tissues collapse under my force. It's ludicrous these mortals even attempt to enter my realm."
Tyson, the man who twice threatened to eat Lennox Lewis' children, is probably thought of as more deranged than clever when it comes to trash talk. But he's actually delivered his share of hilarious zingers as well.
Charles Barkley, Retired NBA Player
NBA legend Charles Barkley has never been one to mince words or hold back his opinion on anything. Remember, he never said he was a role model.
During the 2007 NBA All-Star Game, Barkley had this to say about 67-year-old referee Dick Bavetta:
"Dick Bavetta and Moses Parted the Red Sea together."
The mark of a truly talented comedic mind is finding new and inventive ways to deliver tried and true insults. Calling someone old…old…is always going to be funny, as long as you find a clever way to say it.
Rex Grossman, Washington Redskins
When Steve Spurrier was coaching at the University of Florida, his Gators made a habit of embarrassing the division rival South Carolina Gamecocks. And it didn't stop on the field either, the hits often kept on coming straight through post-game press conferences.
After a particularly brutal 54-17 beat-down in 2001, (then) quarterback Rex Grosman mocked the home fans "blackout" as a feeble intimidation tactic. Said Grossman of "Black Out Florida" strategy/battle cry:
"It was fun. It was like they weren't even there. They were blacked out. Then we drove them out, they left."
See…that works on two levels. 1. Despite the noise, which died down early, the dark color was like a blanket that cancelled out the entire crowd. 2. It was like the players weren't even there, because they obviously didn't show up to play football.
Aside from a national championship he won in Florida, that was pretty much the highlight of Grossman's career.
Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
NBA reporter Craig Sager, TNT's resident fashion victim, has been distracting people with his flamboyant suits for years.
Some people enjoy his fearless use of color, while others find his fashion sense to be a personal affront to everything they hold dear. Count Celtics big man Kevin Garnett among the latter group.
After a game in 2009, KG unleashed what was obviously years of pent up aggression on Sager:
I've never in my life tried to go at you and your suits and such…Tonight, I am stressing: You take this outfit home and you burn it. We don’t want to see this. I know you don’t double-back with your outfits, I’ve never seen you in an outfit twice…but you take this right here (grabbing his suit)…I don’t care if it’s Versace… name brand…Saeed...no, I don’t care…You take this home and you burn it.
So when you get done with this…you should be butt-ass-naked and burn it. It’s good to see you, like always. And the shoes too, just burn them. Okay? Just burn them. Don’t ask no questions, just burn them…the red socks which people can’t see at home…take all this handkerchief… lime thong…all that...burn it...okay?
Burn it…Vaseline…kerosene…whatever…burn it.
Jeez, KG—tell us how you really feel. You just know that he had been practicing that in his head for years. And it really paid off.
Kudos to Craig Sager for taking that tirade on the chin and smiling through the whole thing. I would have cried.
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers Coach
In October 2011, first year 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh rubbed Lions coach Jim Schwartz the wrong way with his overzealous post-game handshake and celebration.
Schwartz grabbed Harbaugh and tried to address it right there on the field, in full view of television cameras, and the result was a very awkward confrontation.
"It was a very emotional game, I was just really revved up. I shook his hand too hard, kind of a slap-grab handshake and that was on me. Just a little too hard. And then there was some chest-bumping…I think…I don't know. But as I say, that was on me, the too-hard handshake."
That's right Jim Schwartz, Jim Harbaugh is very sorry. Sorry that you weren't man enough to handle his handshake.
Sorry that that profanity makes you uncomfortable.
Sorry that chest-bumping is too macho for you.
Get it? He's so very sorry.
Shannon Sharpe, Retired NFL Player
Broncos' Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe has always been as quick with his mouth as he has been with his hands and feet.
In January 2013, he took Patriots coach Bill Belichick to task for dodging the media after losing to the Ravens in the AFC Championship—but that wasn't the first time Sharpe took aim at the franchise.
On the sideline during a Broncos blow out of the Patriots in 1996, Sharpe had this to say:
"Mr. President! Call in the National Guard! Send as many men as you can spare! Because we are killing the Patriots! They need emergency help!"
Ouch, dude. Shaming your opponent with clever world play is a double slap to the face.
Diego Maradona, Retired Footballer
Controversy-courting legend Diego Maradona and the legendary Pelé may have been jointly named the FIFA Player of the 20th Century, but there's no love lost between them.
They've been taking shots at each other for years, but when Pelé questioned Maradona being hired to coach the Argentine national team in 2010, he shot back:
"Pelé should go back to the museum and stay there."
Equal parts dismissive and mean. Calling the great, bordering on mythical, Pelé a fossil who has no business commenting on the game today? Only Maradona.
Bill Parcells, Retired NFL Coach
Coaching great Bill Parcells on the socialization habits of like-minded people:
"Creatures of similar plumages habitually congregate in places of closest proximity."
That is the fanciest and most dignified way possible to say "bad people attract more bad people and they're too lazy to travel." Parcells has a particularly masterful way with words when talking about people he doesn't think will understand him.
Patrick Roy, Retired NHL Player
During the 1996 Western Conference semifinals, Blackhawks' Hall of Fame trash talker Jeremy Roenick trolled the Avalanche's Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy after losing the game in triple overtime.
Roy stopped a breakaway shot by Roenick, as he was being dragged down by an Avalanche player, and he was very salty at the referee for not calling a penalty shot. Said Roenick:
"It should have been a penalty shot, there's no doubt about it. I like Patrick's quote that he would've stopped me. I just want to know where he was in Game 3—probably getting his jock out of the rafters…"
"I can't really hear what Jeremy says because I've got two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears."
Roy went on to win the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche that year, and again in 2001, brining his career total to four. Roenick, on the other hand, retired with zero and has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Game. Set. Match.
Shaquille O'Neal, Retired NBA Player
Retired Hall of Fame big man Shaquille O'Neal is a legendary trash talker. There are entire pages on the web dedicated to the plethora of memorable jabs he unleashed over the course of his career.
No player, team, or coach was off limits for Shaq—including Duke coach Mike Kryzewski, a legend in his own right. When the Lakers were courting coach K to replace Phil Jackson in 2004, Shaq had this to say about it:
"Phil took us to the finals three out of the five years and you want to fire him and want to bring in Mike Krzyzewski? Come on, man! That's like being married to J-Lo, then dropping J-Lo for a girl that's 5'10, 480 pounds."
Well…I don't know if it's exactly like that. But you have to appreciate the originality and timely cultural reference.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Coach
University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has a way of saying the meanest thing possible, in the nicest possible way. Which probably makes his unending barrage of verbal barbs all the more painful to their recipients.
In October 2011, Spurrier's Gamecocks absolutely demolished SEC foe Kentucky 54-3. The Old Ball Coach demolished the Wildcats all over again in the post-game press conference. When asked about the score of the game, Spurrier had this to say:
"Kentucky has a heck of a punter, I know that…We could have picked up 70 or 80 points today. But 50 was enough."
Naturally he delivered the line with his trademark smirk, adding insult to injury. Nobody but Spurrier would hang 50 on an opponent and then compliment their punter.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers great Kobe Bryant has never been hurting in the confidence department. But trash talking on the basketball court is one thing, giving it back to the President of the United States is another.
Barack Obama met with the Lakers at the White House in 2010 after their back-to-back championships. Obama, a well known Bulls fan, joked to Kobe that "Derrick Rose may have (his) number."
Without missing a beat, Kobe retorted "If he calls that number, I'll be sure to pick up after the fifth ring." Ziiiiing! I'm not sure if he thought that up in advance, just in case, or came up with it on the spot. Either way, it was epic.
Wes Welker, New England Patriots
The Patriots have had a longstanding ban on public trash talking, which made wide receiver Wes Welker's famous "foot press conference" prior to the 2011 AFC Championship game against the Jets all the more surprising.
Welker was obviously tired of Rex Ryan, the notoriously big mouthed coach of the Jets, doing all the talking in the division. So he decided to have a little fun at Ryan's expense, referring to the embarrassing foot fetish mini scandal that broke a few weeks prior to the game.
Welker managed to work an impressive 10 foot references into his press conference, including:
- On Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis: "He's got great feet."
- Again on Revis: "He's very patient, has good feet."
- On practice: "You just want to make sure you're putting your best foot forward…"
- Again on practice: "Us going out there and being good little foot soldiers…"
- On Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch: "He's another guy with great feet that can really move around."
The real crime here isn't that Welker (and likely a few teammates) decided to do this, it's that he was forced to give a halfhearted apology for it. Sometimes you gotta just let the boys be boys.
Scottie Pippen, Retired NBA Player
During Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Bulls great Scottie Pippen was feeling pretty confident. And why not? He was playing next to future Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman and already had four championships to his name.
Jazz great Karl "The Mailman" Malone was, understandably, feeling a little less confident. When Malone went to the line for two late-game free throws that would have given Utah the lead, Pippen psyched him out by saying:
"Just remember, the Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays, Karl."
He really doesn't. The Mailman missed both free throws before Michael Jordan hit a quick three to win the game—and eventually the series.
Muhammad Ali, Retired Boxer
The rivalry between boxing legends Muhammad Ali and "Smokin" Joe Frazier is, without a doubt, one of the best sports rivalries of all-time. The two of them fought in three historic bouts, including the famed "Fight of the Century" and "Thriller in Manila."
The only thing more epic than the blows they exchanged in the ring, was the ending barrage of trash talk Ali directed at Frazier over the years. Some of it was mean. Some of it was funny. All of it was clever.
Ali on/to Frazier:
"Joe Frazier is an Uncle Tom. He works for the enemy."
"I went to the hospital for 10 minutes. You went for a month."
"Joe Frazier should give his face to The Wildlife Fund! He's so ugly, blind men go the other way."
Ali changed his tone over the years, but he took so many shots at him over the years that Frazier hated him to the very end.
After Ali light the Olympic torch in 1996, Frazier openly expressed his fires to "push him in" to it. Frazier died in 2011, never once giving the impression that he had forgiven Ali.