Basketball, like most other sports, is a game of strategy. In the NBA, a league where the average height of a player is 6-foot-7, much of the strategy is related to size advantages, or disadvantages, depending on how you view them.
On any given night, you’re guaranteed to see NBA teams attempt to exploit these size-related mismatches. And with size-related mismatches comes one of the most disrespectful signs of trash talk: the “too small” taunt.
How did this taunt even come to be? Let’s take a look back at its history and some of the more notable instances in which it has been used.
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‘Too small’ taunt, explained: Origin story behind NBA’s trash talk phenomenon
The taunt itself is pretty straightforward. When a player scores on a defender that they deem to be too small to stop them, they lower a hand to the ground to make sure everyone in the arena and everyone watching on television knows that their opponent doesn’t measure up.
Jose Alvarado hit Ja with the “too small” and Ja immediately answered back 🤏😳 pic.twitter.com/PJcs1cSCFf
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 16, 2022
Trae Young got a tech for telling Jevon Carter he’s too small 🤏 pic.twitter.com/clUydso6gN
— Taco Trey Kerby (@treykerby) November 15, 2022
In the above examples, the taunt is pretty ironic. Jose Alvarado is generously listed at 6-foot, while Ja Morant is said to stand at 6-foot-2. Neither Alvarado nor Morant tower over their competition, which tells you everything you need to know about the taunt itself not being completely size related.
6-foot-1 Trae Young doesn’t exactly tower over the 6-foot-1 Jevon Carter, either, but Young seems to go to the “too small” taunt with regularity. Perhaps it’s a response to the criticisms of his size coming into the league.
With all of this in mind, the most accurate translation of what the taunt means would be this: “He can’t guard me, try someone bigger.”
It’s unclear who exactly did this first, but the list of players to employ the “too small” taunt includes a who’s who of NBA stars. If you go back to January of 2018, Russell Westbrook, still a member of the Thunder, brought out a variation of the taunt after finishing through Malik Monk’s contact.
Westbrook lowers his hand to talk to it, which is admittedly a uniquely Westbrook way to do things, but an example from five seasons ago is a great place to start.
— Carson Cunningham (@Carson_OKC) January 13, 2018
Just over a year later in the same arena, Chris Paul brought it out against Kemba Walker, yet another hilarious example involving two small guards.
CP3 hits the fadeaway over Kemba and says he’s too little. 🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/PztuSrZCQQ
— House of Highlights (@HoHighlights) February 28, 2019
Or how about Morant employing the taunt just 11 games into his NBA career?
Ja hit Mudiay with the “too small” flex 🤭 pic.twitter.com/rWWSdfVQ3C
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 16, 2019
Somehow, the Grizzlies seem to be involved in a lot of these.
In a tightly-contested game early in the 2020-21 season, LeBron James passed the message along to Dillon Brooks.
Under 1 minute on NBA TV pic.twitter.com/jsVTsQeFg3
— NBA (@NBA) January 6, 2021
The best part about this taunt is that each player has room to put their own individual spin on it. It’s quite hilarious to see players under 6-foot-5 bring it out and even funnier when players do it despite being at a size disadvantage.
Case in point:
PJ Washington really called KD “Too small.” 😂 pic.twitter.com/rzBWkKtUxy
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 28, 2022
Kevin Durant, who probably has a size advantage over his defender at least 95 percent of the time, has even employed his own variation of the “too small” taunt.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 21, 2022
Ouch. I’m sure he and Royce O’Neale have patched that up since becoming teammates.
From smaller guards like Morant and Paul to matchup nightmares like Durant and James, you could very well see this one at any time in any game. Add Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic as two more matchup nightmares that remind you that you can’t hold them.
Giannis vs. Simmons 👀 pic.twitter.com/ESdVrfHPgW
— NBA TV (@NBATV) October 27, 2022
— Dallas Mavs Slovenia 🇸🇮 (@dallasmavsSLO) May 8, 2022
And in case you want someone to reiterate the message, the Mavs bench is more than willing to do so.
— r/Mavericks (@redditmavericks) May 7, 2022
From coast to coast and guards to bigs, the “too small” taunt is a phenomenon that you’re sure to see during an NBA game.
If you didn’t know before, now you’ll understand just why players are lowering their hands to the floor when they get a bucket. It appears the taunt is here to stay.