Trash talking among professional athletes is something few people can probably relate to, the concept of telling one of the best on the planet at what they do that you are better than them, then backing that up often with brute physical force. Who does that?
In professional sports, it is of course quite common, though the prevalence and tone varies by league. In the NBA, for instance, it is not nearly as common as it used to be. It isn't necessarily a lost art, but the players agree there are specific reasons why you don't see it as often anymore.
"You get technical fouls, so you can't," Wizards guard John Wall said. "Now if you even dunk and turn to yell at somebody, you get a technical. Back then they were yelling in people's faces, pointing at them and all type of stuff with no technicals. It's a lot different era now."
"Nowhere near as much as it did back in the day. That comes with technical fouls… That's what kills it, right there," Wizards forward Markieff Morris said. "They're giving out techs left and right, man, like they are regular fouls. If you get a certain amount then you're suspended for a game. They fine you so much that you just kinda keep the talk to yourself and play. That's the type of league that it is now."
For Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, Jr, it is a different dynamic now that he is in the pros.
"In AAU and high school, I was a big trash talker," he said. "But as I got older, I started to see the level of competition changing and the respect growing. I respect a lot of the guys I’m playing. I’m not going to talk trash to you unless you talk to me. Then, I kind of get that little switch on. It’s like ‘okay, he likes to talk trash.’"
Plenty of trash talking still goes on. Younger players, for example, often hear it from veterans. Wizards rookie Tomas Satoransky came over to the NBA this past summer after seven years in professional basketball overseas. He knew he would hear it some from NBA players and he ultimately did from one in particular.
"To be honest, I thought it would be worse. You don't talk that much trash in Europe. Maybe between some rivals or between the players you know, but I thought it would be worse," Satoransky said. "The only guy who really talked to me was Brandon [Jennings] when he used to be in New York. Other than that, it has been fine."
Satoransky pointed across the locker room at the Verizon Center when he said that, as he and Jennings are now on the same team. Jennings was signed by the Wizards as a free agent on Feb. 28.
When informed of Satoransky's story, Jennings burst out laughing.
"For real? I remember that, too," Jenning said. "I think I was guarding him full court and I was just talking mess to him like 'yeah, rook, welcome to the league.' Things like that. That's funny. Now we're teammates. I do a little bit of trash talking."
Jennings admits he likes to talk trash and can pinpoint where and when he learned how. It all came from a player others mentioned when asked who was the best they had ever come across.
"I kind of got it from [Kevin Garnett] a lot in my rookie year when I first came into the league," Jennings said. "I remember me and KG, we got into an incident when we were walking back to the locker room. I think we had just beat Boston in Milwaukee and KG was talking crap and I was talking back. I guess some of his trash talking rubbed off on me."
Wall also mentioned Garnett.
"He would be talking to himself, but sometimes he would talk to you, too," he joked.
Wall has been known to do some talking on the court, as evidenced by this highlight against the Hornets where he gave Marco Bellinelli an earful:
But the Wizards' All-Star insists he and others are held back by the refs.
"Ain't nobody, really," he said when asked who is the best trash talker in today's game. "I used to be a pretty good one until I started getting techs."
Wall may downplay his ability to talk and use words to get inside the heads of his opponents. But his teammates have noticed his abilities over the years.
"John is a little crazy, man. He's a little crazy," guard Bradley Beal said with a grin. "He's a little hothead. It's cool. I don't mind it. That's his competitive nature."
"He doesn’t really talk to anybody unless they talk to him. That’s the thing," Oubre said. "If they try him and try to rip him or do different things, he’ll give you a flex. He’ll give you a ‘I’m too strong for you.’"
Of the four major sports, the most trash talking goes on in the NFL. Watch a game on television and that much is obvious. It is such a physical game and there are many one-on-one matchups. That gives way to constant conversations after the play.
That trash talking goes on in football should not surprise anyone. But as Redskins defensive lineman A.J. Francis explains, it is worse in some games than others.
"It's not a big part of every game, but there can be games where it takes over every play so it really depends on how well the teams and players know each other," he said.
Francis said the best trash talkers in the NFL are mostly those who people would expect: Richard Sherman, Richie Incognito, Bruce Irvin and Robert Ayers. He also mentioned Tom Brady as being one of the best.
"Brady is a great trash talker," Francis said. "He can give it to anyone, and 95 percent of the time he backs up everything he says."
In hockey, there are plenty of words exchanged throughout the game. It is, after all, the only major sport where fighting is allowed. Often players come to blows after a quick conversation.
Capitals forward Tom Wilson is known for fighting and admits he likes to talk.
"I'd say I'm probably one of our more vocal guys… The regular season is usually pretty tame. The playoffs is fair game for anything. It gets pretty emotional. The Philly series last year got pretty ruthless," Wilson said.
"Any dirt you have on a guy, or whatever. There's always a line. At the end of the day, the nature of the game is play really hard and tear your opponent's head off and then afterwards go have good sportsmanship. You put it behind you, so you never want to cross the line too much so that you're going to regret something you said on the ice. I always think you play within the whistle and if you need to get the upperhand with a couple of words, then so be it."
Wilson said that sometimes he plays his best hockey when he is talking often to the other team. That means he is playing with emotion and is locked in to the moment.
But this year Wilson has made a concerted effort to make sure he doesn't go too far.
"I'm trying this year to talk to [head coach Barry] Trotz and just keep it down a little bit and show it in my play and not necessarily in my words," Wilson said. "Sometimes the best response is nothing. You can get another team pretty frustrated if they are trying to bully our team and get our team disheveled and you just don't see a response, all you see is us going out line after line. "
Baseball has the least trash talking of the four major sports and the reasons why make sense. Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer says it's the fact success is so fleeting.
"It just doesn't work in this game," he said. "It's because everybody goes through failure at an unreal rate. There are two types of baseball players: humble ones and ones that are about to be humbled. Any time in baseball that you start talking trash, it just takes one bleeding hit to completely change your whole outing."
Nats shortstop Trea Turner thinks it's more about how the game is policed. There is a certain type of danger in baseball that the other sports don't have.
"It's hard doing stuff in baseball because at any point in time the pitcher can throw a ball at your head. Nobody wants that. Then, if you throw it at somebody's head or whatever it may be, then the other side may respond with the same thing. You've gotta be more careful in baseball than you do in football. In football, you know the contact's coming and you're expecting it. In baseball, you're not expecting somebody to throw at you," he said.
Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman just doesn't see the point, given the dynamics of the game.
"Me talking trash at first base would do nothing because the guy's already gotten to first base," he said. "We play so many games. We play every single day. It's so hard to get that fired up to try to talk trash to another grown man… Baseball's pretty lame in that way."
Nats right fielder Bryce Harper has been known to do some talking on the field. After hitting a home run off Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland in the 2014 NLDS, he was caught on camera shouting to Strickland from the dugout. Harper also famously blew a kiss to an opposing pitcher after hitting a home run with Single-A Hagerstown.
That side of Harper can be brought out, but he says it is not normally in his nature.
"I never really trash talked. I just wasn't into it," he said. "I would knock your head off if I was playing football, but I'm not going to knock somebody over and then talk crap to them. I'm just more about going out there, having fun and enjoying the game. The guy that's going to win is going to win. If you're on the losing side, then that sucks for you."
Trash talking happens more in the NBA and for the Wizards, it all depends on their opponent. Not surprisingly, the Boston Celtics are one of those teams.
The Wizards and Celtics have had several run-ins this year. Wall was ejected from a game for a flagrant foul on Celtics guard Marcus Smart. Wall and Jae Crowder were fined after a postgame altercation in Boston. And then on Jan. 24, both sides did some talking ahead of their matchup and the Wizards wore all black to the game.
Put the Wizards and Celtics on a court and naturally, some words will be exchanged.
"That's Boston. We get into it with them a lot," Morris said. "You want that. It adds fuel to the fire. It makes the game more exciting, I think."
"We still jibber-jabber, especially with Boston," Beal said.
Celtics All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas will readily admit that. He says he's the best trash talker in the NBA.
"Talking is a part of the game. I love talking," he said. "I grew up on the best trash talker ever in Gary Payton. I know how to do that and I can continue to play while talking. As long as we keep it hoop, we can talk all we want."
The Celtics are known for their talking and so are the L.A. Clippers. Oubre said the Clips have a reputation around the league for being very good at it. Having Paul Pierce and Alan Anderson, whom Oubre said is one of the best in the NBA, on their bench doesn't hurt. Much of NBA trash talking comes from the bench, anyways.
Don't count out the Wizards, however. If another team starts it, they will gladly play along.
"I think we all are [good at it], to be honest," Wizards guard Trey Burke said.
"We can be pretty good if y’all test us. We’re gonna kill you on the court and then talk to you," Oubre said.
Tarik El-Bashir contributed to this report