Walk it like I talk it: For the fans who talk and the NBA players who shut them up
Trash talk from the stands is part of the game, but sometimes fans are better off keeping their mouths shut
There’s a Jay-Z lyric for any situation in life. Just ask Damian Lillard, the Bay Area MC who moonlights as the Portland Trail Blazers superstar point guard. Do not bark up that tree, Jay-Z once warned his foes on the classic 2001 diss track “Takeover.” That tree will fall on you/ I don’t know why your advisers ain’t forewarn you/ Please not Jay, he’s not for play. Lillard carried that same energy with him after a 41-point masterpiece, including 34 in the second half, in Orlando, Florida, last week. The Oakland, California, native and first-team All-NBA selection last season is one of the league’s premier talents and big-time scorers. So it’s not like he needed any sort of extra motivation. But one overzealous fan decided to offer it to him anyway.
“[The Magic] had a guy behind their bench that just kept running his mouth. I told him, ‘You gon’ get them in trouble. I’m here for this,’ ” Lillard said of the heckler. “He kept on talking, and in the second half I ain’t hear a word from him.”
Fans chastising athletes is nothing new and is as old as competition itself. On any given night in any given city, fans ridicule, troll and mock players. It’s part of the culture of the game. A part that has come under fire repeatedly over the years, with the most infamous of such being 2004’s “Malice In The Palace.” Yet, while fans sometimes take their roles far too seriously, it’s usually kept on the floor — often to the detriment of their home team. “Typically, I would’ve ignored him,” Lillard said. “But he was just so loud, [saying] some crazy stuff. … I addressed it how I should and I handled it on the court.”
With his performance, Lillard joined a long list of NBA players serving up warm slices of humble pie to fans with batteries in their backs. The following is a glimpse into games within games. When two egos enter an arena, but only one leaves with his pride intact. Who else handled it on the court? We’re glad you asked …
Reggie Miller vs. Spike Lee (1994)
Of course, if one is going to embark on a list such as this, it must start with the greatest player-fan beef in the history of modern sports. Their spat is so renowned that an ESPN 30 For 30, Winning Time, was made about it — and, to be quite honest, both Lee and Miller have benefited greatly from the tizzy’s aftermath. Lee’s “chatted” with many a hoop star over the course of his quarter-century-plus sitting courtside in Madison Square Garden. Yet, it’s his undeniable chemistry with Miller that gave the rivalry a legendary aura.
In June 1994, Indiana Pacers shooting guard Miller pieced together an all-time virtuoso performance, going for 39 points (25 in the fourth quarter alone) in the teeth of a bloodthirsty Madison Square Garden. With each backbreaking basket, Miller made it a point to stare Lee down. More than that, it’s the game most (in)famously remembered for Miller giving Lee the “choke” gesture. Lee and the New York Knicks would eventually get the last laugh, as they’d win the series and go on to lose to the Houston Rockets in seven games in the 1994 NBA Finals — which may or may not be O.J. Simpson’s fault.
Meanwhile, a year later at Madison Square, Miller would again terrorize the Knicks in what is still, to this day, a moment quite like none other in NBA history, which is saying something in today’s hoops. Miller scored eight points in nine seconds, capping off another classic Broadway performance. This time, Miller’s Pacers would defeat the Knicks in seven games before losing to the Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway-led Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals.
Scottie Pippen vs. Spike Lee (1994)
Let’s get one truth squared away. This is the single greatest poster dunk in NBA history. Followed by Vince Carter dunking over Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympics. Then Shaquille O’Neal on David Robinson in the 1996 All-Star Game — then throwing the hooks up to Michael Jordan in honor of their fraternity Omega Psi Phi. After that, it’s a battle royal of Dominique Wilkins over Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant on Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan baptizing Brandon Knight, LeBron James eulogizing Jason Terry and countless others.
This isn’t to say Spike Lee actually caused this dunk to happen. It was Game 6 of a hotly contested and, per usual for teams playing the Knicks then, very physical series. Scottie Pippen’s 1993-94 campaign, his first without Jordan, proved he was more than an uber-talented wingman. Game 6 was also the final game in the old Chicago Stadium — the Knicks would take the series in Game 7. But needless to say, Pippen gave Chicago Bulls fans everywhere a parting gift with no expiration date. But of course, moments after he dunked on Patrick Ewing and stepped over him (some seven years before Allen Iverson did the same to Tyronn Lue), Pippen walked right over to the acclaimed filmmaker and professional hoops pest and pointed in his face.
“I said something I don’t wanna repeat. If you can get a professional lip reader, maybe she can figure it out,” Pippen said jokingly, reminiscing on what he calls the best dunk of his career. “I actually think I said those words directed to Spike Lee.”
Michael Jordan vs. the fan who hated his shoes (1995)
Believe it or not, Michael Jordan still had hecklers a decade into his career. Granted, it was the fall of 1995. No one knew Jordan and the Chicago Bulls would go 72-10. No one knew how he’d look in his first full season back from retirement. And the last anyone had really seen of Jordan was a 4-2 defeat in the previous postseason by the Orlando Magic. By that logic in real time, perhaps Jordan was falling off.
That had to be the mindset of some Cleveland Cavaliers fan when the Bulls came to town in early November 1995. Jordan scored only six points in the first half. The fan wasn’t to be trusted. Not because he spit into the wind, aka talked junk to Jordan. But because he called the Jordan XI’s an ugly shoe. The 11s!
Twenty-three second-half points (and a plethora of stare-downs and finger-pointing) later, Jordan looks at the fan while sitting on the bench and shushes him. Rule of thumb: Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house. Or provoke the most sadistic competitor in basketball who just happens to torment your favorite team. Over and over and over again.
When Darrick Martin told Michael Jordan he wasn’t the real M.J. (1995)
Teetering outside the rules for a moment because it’s such an incredible tale, Darrick Martin wasn’t a fan who heckled Michael Jordan. He was a 24-year-old guard for the Vancouver Grizzlies. And had he kept his mouth shut, the young franchise could’ve been the reason the Bulls went 71-11 instead of 72-10. Chicago arrived in the western Canadian metropolis on its sixth game of a seven-game road trip — just three weeks after the Cleveland game. The Bulls looked at peace with conceding a loss and charging it to the game. Until Martin decided to open the gates of basketball hell.
“I told you we were going to beat you tonight,” Martin said to Jordan after hitting a shot. Coach Phil Jackson turned to look at his megastar, asking him what he wanted to do. Jordan checked back in, dropped 19 points in the last six minutes and eked out a 94-88 win. But that’s only part of the lore of the story. What most people don’t know is Martin and Jordan’s backstory. In a 2015 interview with the Vancouver Sun, Martin revealed he first met Jordan the previous summer while playing pickup games with him while the then-three-time champion filmed Space Jam.
At the request of Magic Johnson, Martin gathered a group of childhood friends and squadded up against Jordan. Martin’s team defeated Jordan’s 7-6 one game, with Martin hitting the game-winner. “Get off my court!” Martin taunted Jordan to his face. “This is my town! My city! You aren’t even the real M.J.! Magic Johnson is! And he’s not saying anything. Everybody’s looking around like, ‘Is this guy really killing M.J. like this?’ ” Jordan eventually gave Martin his L and a trash-talking soundtrack to boot. Fast-forward to the night in Vancouver and Martin once again learned his lesson the hard way.
“As soon as [Jordan] checked back in, he stood beside me at the free throw line,” Martin recalled. “He said, ‘I told you to leave me alone, right?’ ” But this wouldn’t be the last time Martin would get an all-time great riled up only to have it blow up in his face.
LeBron James, Toronto’s biggest bully (2008)
This entry is the most hilarious because of the number of parties at fault. In the grand scheme, it’s remembered as the “Chris Bosh’s ex-girlfriend” game. Bosh was dating Allison Mathis at the time. Described then as one of the most enthusiastic fans who regularly attended Raptors games, she had done so before without incident. LeBron James and the Cavaliers traveled to Toronto and, up until the fourth quarter, had put on a rather lethargic performance. According to reports, what set James off was Mathis trolling him after a missed layup.
The four-time MVP has dealt with his share of hecklers throughout his career. James unleashed holy hell north of the border in the final frame, going for 24 of his 39 points and nearly taking home a triple-double with 11 rebounds and eight assists. Toward the end of the game, James is seen on camera talking directly to Mathis, telling her, “It’s your fault! It’s your fault!” There’s even a hilarious moment at the end of the game as James stands beside future teammate Bosh smirking, as if to say, “Get your lady, fam. She’s got you out here taking an a–whuppin’ you weren’t mean for.”
Here’s the thing, though. Mathis absolutely lit a fire under James in the fourth, but she wasn’t the only guilty one. Raptors T.J. Ford (drafted seven picks after James in 2003) and the aforementioned Martin were yapping at James from the sideline. “He was glaring down Martin and Ford, but once he got hot, they started telling everyone to leave him alone, but it was too late,” CBC sideline reporter Elliotte Friedman said. “He was already mad and [the talk] had really fueled him, obviously.”
None of it was taken to heart. Bosh introduced James to Mathis’ mother and brother after the game. And the two would go on to have massive success together in South Beach just a few seasons later. As for James and Toronto? Let’s just say there’s perhaps no franchise happier that James relocated out west than Drake’s hometown squad.
Jason Terry makes a fan leave a game early (2010)
Here’s what most fans tend to forget. Just because a guy isn’t a “superstar” in the league doesn’t mean he’s not very, very, very good. Nearly any dude on the bench can go into most gyms and look like a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Don’t let DNPs and NBA 2K get it twisted. This isn’t some league where dads go to the gym to stay in shape and get away from the wife and kids for a few hours. These are professionals who can and will rip hearts out if given the slightest opportunity. Case in point to Jason Terry on Dec. 27, 2010, versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki suffered a right knee injury in the second quarter and never returned. This turned out to be all the incentive some middle-aged man sitting courtside needed to direct his energy toward the always personable and chatty Terry. “Terry, keep shooting,” the fan told Terry, who missed six of his first seven shots. “You’re with us tonight.”
Well, not exactly. Terry, mouthing a few expletives toward the fan, went 5-of-8 from the floor in the fourth quarter, including a 3 that gave Dallas the lead for good and two crucial assists that kept the Mavericks ahead. Terry admitted that the fan writing a check with his mouth the Thunder couldn’t cash in was the difference-maker. “When you’re having a tough night, you’re looking for anything to get [you] going,” he said after the game. “And I just used that to motivate me.”
As for the fan? Ironically, he left the arena (before the game ended!) looking like Terry.
Kobe Bryant “Count The Rings” (2014)
This entry’s a tad different given that the interaction had no impact on the outcome of the game — but is still legendary in its own right. Between a litany of injuries and a slew of Los Angeles Lakers squads that were anything but competitive, the last handful of seasons in Bryant’s career weren’t always easy to watch. The game’s third-leading scorer of all time sat on the bench in street clothes in a December 2014 game against the Mavericks the day after Christmas. That’s a lot of idle time for a maniacal competitor such as Bryant.
Some fan in Dallas took it upon him or herself to engage with him. As for what they said, it was never reported, although the man behind Bryant seemed to get a major thrill out of the moment. Maybe it was about the pathetic state of affairs in Tinseltown at the moment. Maybe they were reminding Bryant about the Mavericks’ four-game sweep of the Lakers in 2011. Maybe they were even calling Bryant, to quote the late, great Tupac Shakur, “flabby and sick.”
Without saying a word, Bryant responded to the heckler by merely counting to five with his hand. The five, of course, refers to the number of championships he won in his 20-year career. As in four more than the Mavericks won during that same stretch.
LeBron James shows Drake the many “Views” of domination (2016)
It’s no secret LeBron James plays well when high-profile celebrities sit courtside at his games. Drake included. What’s also definitely not a secret is the horror James inflicted on Drake’s hometown during his reign of terror in the Eastern Conference. And it’s no secret James and Drake are more than just business acquaintances who chill in barbershops together. They’re actually good friends. And, as any good friendship will attest to, sometimes good friends talk recklessly to each other. Case in point: The 2016 Eastern Conference finals between James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors.
Cleveland won Games 1 and 2 and Toronto evened the series up before the series shifted back to Cleveland for a pivotal Game 5. During this time, Drake took to Instagram to crack jokes on James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavs. Not exactly Drake’s brightest decision.
LeBron James shouted some stuff to Drake after his massive dunk. Drake continued to drink. pic.twitter.com/MIQD6MOtVj
— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) May 28, 2016
The Cavs not only won Games 5 and 6 by a combined 64 points to advance to the NBA Finals but James also gave Drake an earful in the process. With Drake sitting courtside in Toronto, James unleashed on the Toronto superstar, in essence telling him the same thing he told Bosh’s ex nearly a decade earlier.
Dwyane Wade vs. “The Purple Shirt Guy” (2016)
It’s Game 6 of the opening round of the playoffs and Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat are in a must-win situation down 3-2 to the Charlotte Hornets. Charlotte’s on the brink of closing out at home, while Wade has a respectable 13 points heading into the fourth. Right about then is when emotions kick into overdrive. Michael Gleason, then a season-ticket holder with the Hornets who drove 90 minutes from his home in Greensboro, North Carolina, to every home game, is seen noticeably jawing, standing up and pointing at the future Hall of Fame shooting guard in his now infamous purple button-down shirt tucked into his dad jeans. Throughout the course of his career, Wade’s been one of the more mild-mannered guys in the league. The end result? Wade’s five points (of 10 total in the final frame) and a block in the last minute of the game not only sealed a Miami victory in Game 6 but helped propel the Heat past the Hornets in Game 7.
After the game, Wade was none too interested in giving the courtside jester any more attention than what had already become of the viral moment between the odd couple. Gleason, though, took pride in his heckling, even if it ultimately resulted in Charlotte’s season ending early. He didn’t renew his season tickets, but Gleason and Wade, then a member of the Chicago Bulls, crossed paths again in December 2016. “I didn’t say anything to Wade. I did wink at him, though, and he did see me. We had a moment,” Gleason said. Only there was a catch. “He wasn’t smiling.”
Semi-related: Fan trash talk came back to bite the Hornets in the worst way possible earlier that same season too. In a January 2016 game versus Oklahoma City, a Hornets fan sitting courtside, widely speculated to be Gleason, taunted Kevin Durant. So much so that he received an in-game warning. The Thunder left the Queen City with an easy 109-90 victory behind Durant’s 29 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. But here’s the kicker. In a parallel universe, the Hornets win that game and eventually secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference that year (because the 3 through 6 seeds all finished 48-34 that year). They never play the Heat and, instead, take on the Boston Celtics, who lost in six games to the Atlanta Hawks. The lesson in all this is simple. Stop taunting all-time greats to show why they’re great.
When Dwyane Wade put another crack in the Liberty Bell, thanks to Kevin Hart (2018)
It’s no secret Wade’s glory days are behind him. Which is why this victory lap of a final season he’s on right now should be a far bigger story than it actually is. But people seem to forget Wade is the greatest shooting guard of all time not named Jordan or Bryant. One of those instances occurred earlier this year when close friend Kevin Hart, who occasionally uses the Miami Heat legend as a comedic muse, decided to poke the Wade County bear. The Philadelphia 76ers had just won 16 straight games to close out the regular season and their first playoff game. Many predicted they’d eventually face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. And while Philly eventually went on to win the series, a vintage Wade performance — 28 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in 26 minutes off the bench — in Game 2 prevented the sweep.
“Thank Kevin Hart for that,” he told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne after the game. Wade was hearing taunts from the Philly crowd all night, but Hart’s boasts seemed to turn back the clock, as Luther Vandross once said, if only for one night. “To be able to hush a whole crowd, that’s a great feeling,” Wade said. “That’s a feeling that I hope my son feels one day.”