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The unwritten rules of trash talk

Draymond may be the one suspended, but who really crossed the line?

Trash-talking goes hand-in-hand with basketball probably more than any other sport. From Rucker Park in New York City to the Drew League in Los Angeles, part of the entertainment is the verbal sparring that even the public address announcer takes part in. Michael Jordan, Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, Larry Bird — all of them took pride in talking trash on the NBA hardwood. It’s been commonplace on blacktops and gyms across America for decades, too.

The first unwritten rule in trash-talking is that whatever happens on the court stays there.

“Trash-talking is part of the game,” Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “You have to give it. You have to be able to take it. It’s just that you don’t want to see it ever cross the line and become personal, because the game of basketball is never that serious in regards to disrespecting people. So you have to leave it on the floor.”

Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, however, felt justified in breaking that unwritten rule. Feeling disrespected by strong words from the Warriors’ outspoken power forward Draymond Green, James went public after the Cavaliers’ 108-97 Game 4 loss in the NBA Finals.

“Some of the words that came out of his mouth were a little bit overboard,” James said. “And being a guy with pride, a guy with three kids and a family — things of that nature — some things just go overboard and that’s where he took it.”

Cleveland is now down 3-1 in the best of seven Finals with Game 5 Monday night in Oakland, California. Green, however, will be sitting that game out because of a suspension triggered by the flagrant foul 1 assessed by the NBA on Sunday for being physical with James in Game 4. The incident took place when James stepped over a crouching Green. Angered, Green responded with a hit to James’ groin and side. The Cavs superstar, who received a technical foul for his role in the play in question said he wasn’t trying to bait the Warriors’ playmaker, nor was he aware Green was one technical foul away from suspension.

“The league handled it as they felt they should handle it,” James said. “And that’s their call. Us players, we got to play on no matter what happens.”

While Green’s suspension was the biggest news on the eve of a possible series clinching win by the Warriors, talk of the trash-talk that bothered James was a hot topic as well.

So what exactly did Green say that made James so upset?

According to sources, Green looked James dead in the face and called him a “b—-.”

One NBA player in earshot of the trash-talk told The Undefeated that James responded by saying that he was the father of three kids and a man.

Green responded back, according to the player, by saying: “You’re still a b—-.”

That actually wasn’t the first time that an NBA player described James that way. During Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, James dunked hard on Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and had words and a stare for him afterward. Noah responded, “[Expletive] you. You still a b—-.”

Warriors guard Klay Thompson explained the second unwritten rule in trash-talking:

“The only time it’s really crossing the line, is bringing someone’s family into it or talking about race or gender or something. But when it’s just bad words or some cuss words, man, that’s emotions. You have to let it go and let it stay on the court.”

Said Curry: “There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of competition on the floor. As long as it doesn’t cross the line, I think everything is pretty much game and should be left on the floor.”

So is the word “b—-” fair game and not worthy of being left the floor?

Hall of Famer Charles Barkley says that five-letter word is crossing the line.

“I’d be mad, also. You can’t call me a [b—-],” Barkley told The Undefeated via text.

The Warriors, however, believe James was being overly sensitive. Marreese Speights tweeted out a picture of a baby bottle that appeared directed at James. Thompson said with a laugh that he was “shocked some guys take it so personal” when asked about James.

“I don’t know how the man feels,” Thompson said. “I guess his feelings just got hurt. We’ve all been called plenty of bad words on the basketball court. Some guys just react to it differently.”

James wouldn’t bite.

“I’m not going to comment on what Klay said,” James said. “I’ve taken the high road again.”

Curry’s wife, Ayesha, even got involved in the trash-talking with a tweet that appeared directed to James.

“High Road. Invisible bridge used to step over said person when open floor is available left to right,” said Ayesha Curry through her Twitter handle @ayeshacurry.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue endured his share of trash-talking as an NBA player guarding Allen Iverson and playing with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. He and NBA TV analyst Dennis Scott say today’s war of words is nothing compared with the barking of the 1980s and 1990s.

“I always tease the young generation, telling them, ‘There is no way you could have played against Gary Payton. There is no way you could’ve played against Reggie Miller. There is no way you could’ve played against Larry Bird.’ All those guys talked trash in a different kind of way. And when all of them talk trash, they tell you to look at the scoreboard and they tell you they have 30 [points],” Scott said.

Lue said the trash-talking today “is lesser now” than his playing days and there’s a great way for James and Cavs, on brink of elimination, to silence it: Win.

“I don’t know what crossing the line is, but you just play the game,” Lue said. “The trash-talking happens. But if you’re winning the game, you should talk trash.

“Do something about it.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.