Trash talking is an art form in the NBA. Considering how basketball relies heavily on how much confidence you have in your abilities, trash-talking your opponent can sometimes be like another form of defense. If you can get in somebody else's head and destroy their confidence, it makes the rim look smaller when they shoot the ball.
Nowadays, trash-talking isn't as common as it once was. Many of the top players in the league are friendly with each other, and while there are some occasional back-and-forths now and then that gets heated, it's not nearly as frequent as it was a few decades ago. One of the most recent great trash-talkers in the NBA, Gary Payton, embodied that mentality of throwing his opponent off their game and making their life miserable, which helped him become one of the best basketball players in the league's history.
Payton's trash-talking helped him achieve greatness
Payton often associated his trash-talking tendencies with mental toughness. He would get to you if you didn't have the mental toughness to brush off Payton's words. While it's often viewed as a solid attribute of an all-time great, it did hurt from time to time, too, as Payton received the fourth-most technical fouls of any player in NBA history with 250 in total.
One player who was on the receiving end of Payton's smack talk was Gilbert Arenas. While Arenas was a solid scorer at the peak of his career, getting acclimated to the NBA took him some time. He recalled a time early in his career when he was matched up against Payton and how his trash talk threw him off his game:
"I remember it was my rookie season, I came in, and he had 14 quick ones. It just seemed like back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. It was just like you are coming down, and I am just going at you, and he scored every single time. When that buzzer went off, I ran off the court and was like, 'thank you, Jesus'.
"And at halftime, when you are coming back out, I was at half court stretching out, he was like 'you lucky I ain't an AI type of n----, I would have scored 50 on your a--'. I am sure you would have; that's how bad it was. I am glad he wasn't an AI type because he probably would have ruined my whole morale." Gilbert Arenas, VladTV
Arenas' story shows how Payton impacted players with his words
It's a quick example, but Arenas' story shows how Payton could single-handedly erase players from games with his tenacity on both ends of the floor and his trash talk. He completely negated Arenas on defense and cooked him when he had the ball. As a result, Arenas' confidence was shot, and it's not surprising to hear him recall his struggles.
Arenas wasn't the only one who allowed Payton to get in his head. There's a reason that Payton was nicknamed "The Glove" for his tenacious defending, which made him the most recent guard to win Defensive Player of the Year until Marcus Smart won the award this season.
It wasn't as if Payton was a menace on just the defensive side of the ball; his prowess on the offensive side of the ball made him that more intimidating. Players knew that if they let Payton get to them, he would go down the court himself and score or find his teammates for an open shot. There's a reason why many folks regard him as one of the most complete point guards ever to play.
That's because Payton mastered the mental side of basketball. He would get in players' heads, make them second guess themselves, and before you knew it, they were ice cold. Arenas certainly isn't the only player who has experienced this, and it goes to show how Payton's talents occasionally transcended the basketball court.