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Does Trash Talking Give Players A Mental Edge?

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Will Hassan Whiteside and Draymond Green be able to deliver the goods on the court?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The recent Twitter feud between Hassan Whiteside and Draymond Green shows the mental head game of trash talk isn't about intimidation, but motivation. In today's NBA, being politically correct is standard operating procedure for average results. Maybe thinking outside the box by focusing on basketball's mental game can elevate a team to go beyond the ordinary and the achieve the ultimate prize of winning the NBA Finals.

The legendary NBA trash talkers were never afraid to play mind games to get an edge any way they could, because they knew the other guys trained and practiced as much as they did. So where would their edge, or advantage come from? An NFL article on the art of trash talking points out:

"Sometimes size, strength and speed aren't the only true measures of how well an athlete can thrive in the NFL. Mind games can mean just as much, if not more, in that intensely competitive environment."

However the NFL sees trash talking as taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct. Per NFL's Jeff Fisher:

"We're going to clean the game up on the field between the players. The in-your-face taunting. The language. It's all in the book. It's all under unsportsmanlike conduct. There's no change in our rule. We're going to enforce the current rule."

The NBA also frowns on taunting behavior during a game by assessing technical fouls for perceived excesses. The league's video rule book for referees cites Dwyane Wade (the "player in the black uniform") for his taunting manner. Michael Jordan allegedly received a technical foul for wagging his finger at Dikembe Mutombo. Interpretations of the rules can be hazy at times, but their clear aim is to avoid inciting a brawl, like the "Malice in the Palace."

Hall of Fame members such as Larry Bird and Michael Jordan knew how to intimidate players mentally and used physical talents to back up their boasts. In early days of basketball, fights happened when rivals took "matters into their own hands," as this story about the legendary Bill Russell shows:

"Constantly provoked by New York Knicks center Ray Felix during a game, he complained to coach (Red) Auerbach. The latter told him to take matters into his own hands, so after the next provocation, Russell punched Felix unconscious, paid a $25 fine and was no longer a target of cheap fouls."

Trash talkers have a long and colorful history in the NBA. Some of the notable ones are:

Michael Jordan Kevin Garnett
Larry Bird Nate Robinson
Gary Payton Paul Pierce
Shaquille O'Neal Chris Paul
Charles Barkley Joakim Noah
Rasheed Wallace Rajon Rondo
Allen Iverson Kobe Bryant
Reggie Miller Draymond Green

In this raucous discussion of trash talk the guys discuss how the fans were far worse than the players in the art of intimidation. Going into hostile territory, visiting basketball players sit right in front of thousands of fans who are rooting for them to lose. The rules are the fan paid perhaps a hundred dollars a ticket for the privilege of yelling at players, while the players signed up to hear it for a million dollars and up. The players soon learn not take criticism personally, if they want to survive.

This upcoming season the Cleveland Cavaliers are the heavy favorites to win the Eastern Conference title. How are the Heat going to beat the odds? Besides staying healthy, their mental game has to be superior to the Cavaliers. The Heat need to be supremely self-confident, but more importantly deliver the goods on the court.

Once the Heat start winning they will have the bulls-eye on their back as teams will do whatever it takes to destroy them. Hassan Whiteside has already a date with destiny in Oakland, where he will be the arch-villain. For whatever trash comes his way here is a funny, but spot-on article on "The NBA Fan’s Guide to Talking Trash During Pickup Basketball."

Today's social media has the ability to take insults to another level, which can easily go over the top when hot-head's sensitivities get the best of them. The season hasn't started yet and lines are already being drawn in the sand by the internet trolls. The Heat can either wilt under the fire, or use it to motivate them. Trash talking and taunting will never go away in pro sports. The question remains the same:

Is trash-talking the same as taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct or is it "part of the game"?