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Art Garcia

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Is the trash talk of players like Kevin Garnett a part of the game, or does it sometimes go too far?
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Trash-talking in NBA often a he-said, he-said story


Posted Nov 8 2010 6:48AM

Trash-talking in Dr. Naismith's day might have gone something like this:

"My good sir, would you consider kindly removing your fragile belongings from this area."

Or...

"Accompany that fine fellow to the peach basket."

It's become considerably more colorful and, in many cases, harsher since. Last week's dustup between Boston's Kevin Garnett and Detroit's Charlie Villanueva shed a new light on an element of competition as old as competition itself.

Via his personal Twitter account, Villanueva claimed Garnett called him a "cancer patient" during Tuesday night's Celtics-Pistons game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Garnett countered through a statement that he called Villanueva "cancerous" to his team and the league.

Obviously, trash-talking can go too far. You'd be naïve to think that words of an incendiary nature haven't been spilled over the years between adversaries. Whether it comes from a backdrop of race, religion, gender, orientation or just some deep-rooted hatred, there are some boundaries that shouldn't be crossed.

"Anytime it gets personal," Denver's Carmelo Anthony said, "that gets out of hand."

In the case of Garnett and Villanueva, who exactly crossed that line? Whatever was said by KG, did this notorious and high-volume trash-talker take it someplace it shouldn't have gone by referencing a disease that touches everyone in some form? Or were Villanueva's actions more egregious by going public?

"I don't think me personally I would put it on Twitter," said Miami's LeBron James, a lightning rod himself for second guessing. "If someone said something about me personally, I would approach that person. But you have to approach him right after the game to see if he was really serious about what he said."

Instead of going to the 7-foot source in green, Villanueva shared his thoughts directly with more than 100,000 "followers" thanks to the popular social media forum. His tweets spread like Internet wildfire, as did the opinions that followed.

By taking his beef to the viral streets Villanueva broke an unwritten rule of the conduct, according to a number of players and coaches.

"Everything that's between the lines is between the lines," Indiana guard Dahntay Jones said. "A lot of friendships aren't counted between the lines. If it happens between the lines, it's kept between the lines. That's where those things should stay."

Chicago forward Brian Scalabrine, a former teammate of Garnett's in Boston, echoed those sentiments before Friday's game against Boston.

"I believe that Villanueva broke a code that should have never been broke, what was said out there stays out there," Scalabrine said. "I would never go to you guys and say the stuff that KG's going to say to me tonight. Good or bad."

Players are going to get carried away at times. Fights are going to happen. The NBA is cracking down on complaints this season in an attempt to change on-court behavior. So far, we've seen a remarkable uptick in technicals called.

Banter between guys will get heated at times.

"Sometimes it can get a little personal, but it's all out of competitiveness, it's all out of the emotions of the game," Orlando forward Rashard Lewis said. "But when you're not on the court and you're still trash-talking to reporters, you're kind of stepping over the boundaries."

Dallas forward Shawn Marion shared that thought, while also wondering if the Garnett-Villanueva episode was contrived and media-driven.

"Some of this stuff is getting out of line, but it is what it is," he said. "That's what everybody lives and dies for, this media [stuff], this media ruckus. They want anything they can make a story off of."

There is a legitimate question about the nature of Garnett's taunts by just referencing cancer. Athletes and leagues, in general, have made a concerted effort in recent years to raise awareness and money for a number of charitable causes. It was impossible to watch an NFL game last month without noticing pink cleats, gloves or ribbons on the sidelines.

Using cancer as a trash-talking subject didn't sit too well with Toronto guard Jarrett Jack.

"When you bring in people who suffer from that critical disease into the picture, it's definitely not something to joke about," he said. "I'm sure all of us knows someone or lost someone to it. It's not something to joke about or poke fun at."

Dennis Scott, a former teammate of Garnett in Minnesota, is convinced that last week's comments didn't cross that line. Villanueva has the skin condition alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder resulting in hair loss. Villanueva dealt with taunting as a result of his appearance as a child.

"I never believed that he actually called Charlie a 'cancer patient.' I never thought that for a second," said Scott, an analyst for NBA TV. "In all the years that KG has been talking trash, I've never heard a guy, even under the cusp even among us fraternity guys, say that KG would be that insensitive. I never believed that, so it had to be some kind of miscommunication."

The subject of Villanueva became tired for Garnett as the week went on. "He's a nobody," he said Friday. "I'm not paying attention to nobodies anymore."

When it comes to what Garnett claimed to have said, truth is always the best defense. Scott added that Villanueva's reputation within league circles isn't all that rosy. Calling him "cancerous" is fair game.

"That has been said about Charlie before -- his style of play," Scott continued. "Not him as a person, but his style of play can be cancerous to the team because he may not share the basketball or he may not rebound enough to help a team win."

For some, anything goes in the wide world of trash talk.

"There is no line," New York swingman Bill Walker said. "If a guy can take you out of your game, say something to get you out of your game and it works, you know, it's winning by all means. That's where it comes into it. I don't think there's a line for trash-talking."

Considering the long and lively history of athletes running their mouths, some didn't deem this situation all that unusual or offensive.

"If people knew all of it, they would think a lot of it inappropriate, but it's just sort of business as usual in the NBA," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "It's been going on for a long, long time. Yeah, there are sure some things that shouldn't be said, but at the same time, I'm not so sure the players should be out tweeting everything that is said by another guy on the court."

Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said: "Boys will be boys. It happens. I don't know what went on, but I don't really care. But growing up playing basketball, that kind of happens every once in a while and it's really not that big of a deal."

Reggie Miller, Larry Bird and Gary Payton were among the best trash-talkers in the last generation of NBAers. They were also among the best players. There's something to backing it up.

Garnett is just one in a long line.

"KG does a lot of talking," said Detroit center Ben Wallace, a teammate of Villanueva. "He's always talking about something, whether he's talking to his teammates or the fans or himself, he's always talking. But I don't pay a whole lot of attention, I just play basketball."

Lewis agreed that ignoring the perpetrator, when possible, is often the best route.

"Guys will do it on purpose to get under your skin and get your mind off the game and frustrate you," he said. "Sometimes it works, but I think at the end of the day you have to learn how to overlook that and just keep playing because trash-talking doesn't get the job done."

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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