NEW YORK — Lost in the bluster of this potential one-on-one pickup game between Kobe Bryant and Kyrie Irving is the way it all began: Two confident, arrogant guys who couldn’t shut up. Irving seemed to initiate it by firing at Bryant first, and one of the league’s best smack talkers certainly wasn’t going to back down from a kid.
It was funny, playful and most certainly rare by today’s NBA standards.
“Trash talking is a lost art, especially with this generation of players,” Bryant said recently before the Cavaliers’ game against the Lakers. “Everybody grows up around everybody, so nobody wants to trash talk each other. I’m kind of from the old school. I was happy to see Kyrie get into it a little.”
One reason for the reduced banter is the league’s crackdown on anything controversial. Officials simply won’t allow it. Players are now assessed technicals and fines anytime they open their mouths to say anything other than “hello” and “thank you.”
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott believes the brawl at the Palace eight years ago triggered the crackdown. The brawl reportedly began when the Indiana Pacers’ Ron Artest warned the Pistons’ Ben Wallace, “I’m going to (expletive) you up” on the next trip down the floor.
Sure enough, Artest hammered Wallace, who retaliated by shoving Artest. Soon both benches cleared, and the fight eventually spilled into the stands when Artest went after a Detroit fan. That was enough. The league immediately began cracking down on players’ on-court behavior.
It certainly has cleaned up the league from Scott’s playing days of the 1980s, but it has also stripped away a colorful component of the game. Scott jokes it wasn’t called trash talking 25 years ago, it was called “s — talking.” And no one was better at it than Larry Bird.