A "no-taunting" order was recently issued by Coach Jim Harrick to his UCLA basketball players, who were told to quit trash-talking opponents and concentrate on playing ball.
Maybe now they see why.
One person taunts another, then another, then it escalates, and next thing you know, someone like Coach Seth Greenberg from Long Beach State is welcomed to an opponent's arena with an anti-Semitic slur.
In turn, the angry coach makes accusations that his players also were subjected to racial bigotry at the game, which infuriates administrators and alumni from the opponent's school.
Because nobody is sure who said what.
Another day, a football player from a local high school punches an official, not over a call, but over something he allegedly said.
Yet nobody is sure who said what.
There was some chaos in North Carolina the other night at a small-college basketball game, where fans spilled out of the stands. A fight began somewhere and ended up on the court, while the players stood by, wondering what caused it.
And nobody is sure who said what.
One of these days, a full-blown riot is going to bust out somewhere. It will begin when a basketball player says something about another basketball player's shot, or shoes, or school, or mother, or face, and it will turn into something so nasty, so violent, that every player on that court and every person in that gym will regret being in that room, for the rest of their lives.
There have been incidents at basketball games in the past that have haunted people for years. Rudy Tomjanovich getting punched in the face by Kermit Washington. An ugly scene at a game between Minnesota and Ohio State. Charles Barkley trying to strike back at a fan, but accidentally spitting on a child.
Basketball players had better cool it, before some innocent victim gets hurt even worse.
Smart-mouthing became an art. It became cool to get in someone's face, taunting and teasing and telling the guy you're guarding that his game was no good. For a while there, a popular line of sportswear even carried confrontational messages, such as: "Who told you YOU could play?"
We aren't talking here only of punks. We are talking about some of the greatest players in the world.
Larry Bird was an all-time taunter. He ran his mouth all night long. Michael Jordan is an absolute master of psychological warfare. Jordan needles with the best of them.
Reggie Miller could teach taunting.
The things he and John Starks of the Knicks said to one another, they are lucky nobody got decked. Miller says Starks started off by calling him a word often used to insult women. Reggie retaliated by saying that Starks was hand-checking him because he secretly liked touching Reggie. Then it got worse.
It is supposed to be harmless.
It's supposed to be funny, as in that "White Men Can't Jump" movie where one guy says to another: "I looked up 'basketball player' in the dictionary, and it said, 'Not you.' "
Trouble is, not everybody laughs.
Athletes should have enough trouble with fans, without taking it out on each other. Basketball players usually say that what they want most is respect, but then they forget to give it back.
Verbal abuse from fans, including particularly nasty ones such as the late "Leon the Barber" at Detroit Piston home games or that jerk who always comes to Washington Bullet games, the lawyer, can be pretty terrible at times. Players try to tune it out, or laugh it off. But not everybody can.
They are playing with fire.
Two guys got into it on the court at the USC-UCLA game the other night, and both were ejected. One of UCLA's players said the trash-talking "got ridiculous."
It's always ridiculous.
This is why UCLA's coach took action. Now that he is coaching a championship team, Harrick would like people to think of them as a classy championship team. So, he instructed his players to zip up their lips.
Not only did Charles O'Bannon obey, but the Bruin forward has taken to running down the court after a basket, pantomiming the actual zipping of his lip. Now that's funny. Charles is showing class, showing leadership, and, you know what else? He has never looked better.
The best way to shut up an opponent is by shooting the basketball into the basket. Be a jock, not a jerk.