Last night, the Boston Celtics' "heartbeat" Kevin Garnett allegedly called Charlie Villanueva a "cancer patient". This was reported by several news services, particularly ESPN's NBA website and Villanueva's side of the story has been confirmed today by both the player and his club, the Detroit Pistons.
These allegations surfaced when Villanueva, who suffers from a form of alopecia meaning he loses the hair from his head & body, tweeted them last night. Charlie V suffers from a form of alopecia, a condition meaning he loses the hair from his body. Should these allegations prove true, then Kevin Garnett should be sanctioned harshly. As someone who has a friend currently battling cancer, using this horrible condition as an insult or as a means of obtaining a mental edge over another person is misguided and in extreme ill-taste.
Whether it's true or not is another matter. We have no reason to doubt Villanueva and Garnett's reputation as one of sport's unmatched trash-talkers only makes one think it is eminently possible. But as Des Headland and Adam Selwood "proved" in the AFL two years ago, sometimes one player's words are misheard by another. As someone who's made his last decade one of near-unmatched intensity and will-to-win, KG has been known also to overstep the bounds of common sense before - reportedly injuring rookie Rick Rickert with a punch during practice in 2004. Should Villanueva's tweets be accurate, then it also makes a mockery of Garnett's 2006 NBA Citizenship award, which is given to the person who "shows outstanding service and dedication to the community". It must be stressed though that these allegations have yet to be proven or admitted and neither the Celtics and Garnett have commented on his verbal jousting during the Pistons game.
Trash talk, whether effective or not, has an exalted place in today's pro basketball. Actually, it has an exalted place in all basketball, from the NBA to your local pickup games at the YMCA. Special reverence is attached to those who are able to talk and then back it up wither with wit or performance. But the major problem is that there are no bounds to what is acceptable and that what is acceptable varies with each person. But no matter what, there are some things that Trash Talk should never encompass - chiefly other people and especially those who have no control over the condition they are endure.
No matter what comes of this issue, one thing has become clear to me. Verbal stoushes will always play a role in sports. We all do things to increase our chances of winning from time to time. But if "mental disintegration" is part of your armoury, there are a few topics which may strike home but you don't use anyway: illness, disability, death - you just don't do that stuff, it's part not only of common sense but simple human decency as well. And if it's worth you effectively selling that decency for a win, then it appears we have completely different ideas about what makes a person admirable.