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Monson: Only the privileged should talk trash

Published May 28, 2014 8:58 am

NBA • The legends can heap it on, but the Lance Stephensons of the world need to curb it.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There's a time to talk and a time to play. And a time to stuff a wad in it.

Check off that box as a lesson for Lance Stephenson.

Whether he actually learned it is yet to be determined.

We have our doubts. Stupid can be stubborn sometimes, and Stephenson said late Monday night he had no regrets, even as his team was shoved to the brink of elimination. Yeah, what's plain to most can be a mystery to one. And while hearing guys get loose with their lips in the pregame can provide some entertainment, can make everything more fun, this much seemed obvious to nearly everybody, including Stephenson's Pacer teammates:

You don't tug on Superman's cape. You don't spit into the wind. You don't poke the bear. You don't trash talk the best player on the planet.

Might as well slather yourself in honey and swing a 5-iron at a wasp nest.

After applying his own version of logic that was, in fact, absent of logic, Stephenson had claimed that LeBron James' return trash talk at him was a "sign of weakness," and that he had successfully managed to get under LeBron's skin heading into Game 4. The question remained — as James dropped 32 points on the Pacers, hauled in 10 boards, passed out five assists and collected two steals in a double-digit Heat win to put Miami up 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals — how exactly was it a sign of weakness for LeBron to talk trash, but not for Stephenson to instigate it in the first place?

Anybody?

In fact, it's the opposite, because greatness has its privileges.

Nobody climbed Mount Everest by talking his way to the summit. Once there, though, anybody who makes it can yodel away.

Tracking the 23-year-old's warped line of thought took him and everyone else out of bounds and helped push a man who already was duly motivated to an even higher motivational plane. By game's end, players on both teams were essentially telling Stephenson to stop.

Lance, buddy, you are not helping here.

"Lance is young, that's a teaching point," Pacers forward Paul George said in the postgame. "That's a learning lesson for him. Sometimes you have to just watch what you say. You're on a big stage. Everything we say is going to be bulletin-board material. It's really going to have a powerful meaning behind it. We have to be smarter with situations and voicing our opinions sometimes.

"When you make comments regarding trash talking and just being caught up between another player in a matchup, you've got to bring it. You've got to bring it. I'm pretty sure a lot of people were going to be tuned in to see what Lance was going to do because of what he said. Maybe there's a lot of pressure on him, and everybody goes through situations where you just struggle. Just because of what was said and what was done, it just wasn't a good time for him."

Stephenson, after popping off about LeBron and earlier in the series saying he wanted to run Dwyane Wade to the point where the Heat guard's knees would "flare up," was held scoreless until late in the third quarter and ended with nine points, making just three field goals.

George said such comments "weren't very smart."

It could be that some lesser players get messed over by trash talk, but LeBron James wouldn't be one of those players. Some of the game's all-time greats talked, and talked a lot, smack dab in the middle of pressure situations on the court: MJ, Bird, Payton, Reggie, Pippen, Barkley and a whole lot more.

But those guys could back it up in a big way, in a way that didn't make them look ridiculous. They typically talked their trash with some purpose in mind, usually because they stood at that pinnacle of their sport. Everybody remembers Larry Legend asking the other competitors in the three-point shootout, back when that thing mattered, which one of them was going to finish second. But more than helping his team win, Stephenson's talk seemed directed at drawing attention to himself.

Bad idea.

It backfired in Game 4, as that sort of nonsense often does.

"The more we can just be quiet and just play the game, the better off we're going to be," Indiana guard George Hill told Pacers.com.

That's good advice for Stephenson — and just about every other player at any level of basketball, from high school on up, at least until they ascend to elite status, and even then, there's a place and a time.

Asked Monday night about talking too much, and giving an opponent added motivation, Wade answered the question like a vet, saying: "We try to leave that alone. We try to beat you at basketball. We don't go into the back-and-forth talking because that's not what we're here for, and that's not going to win us a game. So, we try to beat you at basketball."

Superman can talk, if he wants, in the middle of a fight. Most everybody else, Lance Stephenson included, had best pipe down.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.