Trash talk v.s. Disrespect: Where’s the line?

Fact: LeBron James’ nickname is “King”. James is the best basketball player in the world and is proving it yet again in this year’s NBA playoffs. He walks the walk, so he deserves the moniker.

Question: Have James’ antics in this postseason been over the line?

If you’ve been following Cleveland’s postseason run at all, you know what I’m talking about. It all started when he picked up a beer after getting fouled in Toronto. It then continued when he very foolishly began doing his free-throw routine before pulling up for a three. And finally in Boston he had some words for the Celtics bench after getting a hoop-and-harm on Isaiah Thomas.

There could be others not mentioned, but you get the idea.

These all play into this theme that LeBron and the Cavs control the eastern conference and have just been toying with everyone they play, up until Game 3 – and the first half of Game 4 – against the Celtics.

To be clear, this isn’t about ripping on LeBron James or the Cavaliers, because they’ve been insanely dominant this postseason – James even more so. But it is about accountability, so let’s go through each of the occurrences listed above.

Incident #1: The Beer

As fun as it is to see an athlete interact with a beer vendor, it didn’t have a good feel to it. It wasn’t like he flew into the stands, fell on someone with fries and took one. He grabbed a beer bottle and acted as if he was going to take a sip during a playoff game. So it comes off a little disrespectful in a way and just not the most appropriate thing to do.

However, the bigger question is: what would he say if he watched his son do that? James’ son isn’t even a teenager yet, but use your imagination.

To his credit, James has always been aware that he is a role model for millions of people, but that means you have to constantly think about your actions. Not necessarily be a golden boy, but don’t do anything you probably shouldn’t, because the people looking up to him will copy him.

A perfect example is when NBA players turn back on to the ball before their shot goes through the hoop. Kids mimic that stuff, because they want to be that guy.

Incident #2: The free throw routine

After James did this, it doesn’t matter who you are, the fact Ibaka didn’t clock him the next time down the floor is astounding. It truly is, because that was a new level of disrespect. Jalen Rose – an ex-NBA player and current broadcaster with ESPN – said shortly after the game, had he been in Ibaka’s shoes, it would’ve been a flagrant foul, because that’s not cool.

If you didn’t see the game, it was during the semi-finals against the Raptors in Cleveland. Serge Ibaka had switched defenders and was now guarding LeBron James on the wing.

With all due respect, Ibaka will never stop James on a drive to the hoop if he’s up on him. So he stayed back a few feet with a hand up, making James’ best option shooting the ball.

That gave James a lot of space, so he was comfortable and in that moment he started spinning the ball in his off-hand a few times before taking the shot.

Now, doing what James did was risky and he did hit the shot, so you move on. But had he not hit that shot, that whole scenario would’ve played out very differently – guaranteed. Because, again, that’s not trash talk; that’s disrespect, leaning on the side of arrogance of his own abilities.

Again, kids will see that and mimic it, and that isn’t a great look for anybody.

Incident #3: The Boston Bench

First of all, according to, Isaiah Thomas is 5’9″ and 185 lbs. James has 11 inches and 65 lbs on Thomas – who also isn’t a great defender. If James didn’t score, then he screwed up.

Secondly, James should’ve been hyped. He executed a play he should’ve, but with an opportunity to get an extra point. So be excited, high-five your teammates, whatever. But why are you talking smack to guys who aren’t on the floor and who barely played in the postseason? If anything, James should’ve re-iterated to Thomas that he can’t guard him. That at least would’ve made sense.

Those instances were just LeBron. But he’s also the captain of his team and despite being a bunch of grown men, if your captain gets away with a certain behavior, then the rest will think it’s acceptable.

In the final seconds of Game 1 against the Celtics, the Cavs were well ahead and guaranteed a victory. But Kyrie Irving starts pointing up at the scoreboard and looking at Isaiah Thomas, as if to say, “Look! We won and you lost.”

Irving comes of as a pretty upstanding person, so it may have just been a moment where his emotions got the better of him. But still, now you’re just kicking a guy who’s already down and being a sore winner.


Six years ago, ESPN 30 for 30 did a documentary on The Fab Five – a group that Jalen Rose was a part of. Rose was one of the best trash-talkers of all time and there’s a part in the documentary where Rose and other interviewees talk about that part of sports.

If done properly, trash-talk isn’t about showboating; it’s a mental game of trying to get inside someone’s head to throw them off. It’s a part of sports that this writer personally respects.

But what we’ve gone through in this article, hasn’t been trash-talk. These are instances past that.

And while the Cavs have a lot to be hyped about – despite the playoffs being “boring” – as they’re ready to face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals (again) and looking to repeat as NBA champs, it may be time to return from across the border of trash-talk.

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