Basketball may have been born in a gym, but it matured on the street. In the urban jungles where a player’s reputation was as important as his crossover, streetball evolved into its own self-sustaining culture across the decades and playgrounds, with effects still felt throughout organized play today on all levels: High school, intramural, professional, it does not matter, the orange ball has passed through the fire of the streets and emerged all the stronger.
Part of the vicious competition of basketball lies in psychological warfare, primarily through the act of trash talking: Giving disparaging remarks to a specific target opponent in order to disrupt their game and get inside their head. Basketball is uniquely suited for this tradition, since the players are in close quarters and nearly always in play, unlike other major sports. And whether on the court or as a spectator in the stands, there are a few classic cheers and jeers that have been breaking players for years.
Shouted when a player’s shot completely misses the rim and backboard, this is especially effective when the shooter was hoping nobody would noticed. Although it can seem childish and primitive as a verbal tactic, it gains an especially brutal effect when chanted by a crowd, in a slow, deep lull: Air-ball! Air-ball! Done well, it can be humiliating and devastating, exposing the worst of players for everyone to ridicule.
This line is a bit more cerebral; although it is not as popular as the Airball! taunt, the Scoreboard! shout is an absolute attitude-breaker when used properly. It is best saved for a game in which your team is winning, yet the other team just did something spectacular, or one of their players just did something notable. When they begin to taunt, flaunt, show off, dance, or otherwise proudly emphasize their latest highlight, cut them off and point out, Scoreboard. The point this makes is that it does not matter how spectacular your latest move was, you are still losing. And in the game, there is no more disheartening revelation than the truth of the scoreboard. The score rules all, and sometimes a cocky player can use a reminder.
Yes, it is immature. Yes, it is not just a basketball taunt. Yes, it is old, and everyone knows it. But it still makes the list for one dark, twisted reason: This is the two-word combo that can shift a player from merely timid, hurting, disappointed, or underperforming, to straight-up crying. Like any other good one-liner, it is not to be overused, but in the right situation, can tear even a hardened baller’s soul in two and create an insurmountable emotional rift. Wait until they have made a terrible mistake, and have already heard other taunts then, just when the court has gone silent, try getting right in their face and shouting it like you hate him or her. This is potentially devastating, and can change the entire atmosphere of a game.