The Barkley v. Draymond thing is all reflex. There’s no conscious processing going on there, just one loquaciously ornery dude seeing something and making a noise at it, and another dude who wouldn’t let a falling leaf graze his skull without going nose-to-bark with the offending tree returning more noise. We’ve all seen this sort of thing, usually out in the drinking world: men who live to get screwfaced and angry threatening violence that never arrives. This is more embarrassing for Chuck, who’s 55 years old and has now been famous for being fat and cantankerous for much longer than he was famous for being a great basketball player, but Draymond’s permanently keyed up kayfabe turned stale a while ago and is mostly exhausting at this point. Rumble or don’t, boys. But please stop bothering the rest of the bar.
Drake doesn’t want it with Perk. Truly: Perk is seven feet tall, hasn’t smiled since the sixth grade, and is essentially employed these days as the bodyguard of LeBron James. You grant an ogre-sized being like that some deference even if he’s a Quaker, and Hard Drake has always been the least convincing of the Canadian’s vast array of unconvincing personas. The ski mask does not fit comfortably over his well-moisturized skin. Also, standing in the tunnel a guy you supposedly want to fight has already matriculated through and yelling for him to come out and assault you in front of a sold out arena is not a thing you do if you’re actually interested in throwing hands.
Sports, functioning as they sometimes do for two guys or groups of guys trying to beat each other up, can inspire actual violence. Soccer has a long, disgraceful history of hooliganism—big gangs of opposing fans rumbling outside of venues, stadium seats and flares flying into away sections, riots that need to be broken up by police—that various governing bodies have curbed somewhat since the turn of the century, but the sport still struggles to control. (Hell, there’s nothing UEFA or the English or Italian FAs could do about this, but just early Wednesday morning, some Roma fans attacked visiting Liverpool supporters with iron rods at a Roman pub.) When the action of a modern NBA game halts and turns ugly, it’s usually merely for some minor scuffle in which nobody gets hurt—about half of these are instigated by Lance Stephenson, I’m pretty sure, without doing any research—but we’re not quite fifteen years away from the Malice at the Palace and Jeff Van Gundy was hanging off Alonzo Mourning's ankles a little over 20 years ago. In baseball, there’s bean-balling and mound-charging. In football, every once in a while, a receiver and a corner come to blows and sidelines converge.
Some of this can be fun and some of it is bad in deadly serious ways, but most of it—the aggravated jawing and threats and possible haymakers that follow—is annoying. There are many places on this earth you can visit if you’re interested in seeing guys posture and yap. There are exceedingly few human beings who can do what Draymond Green does on a basketball court, or what Charles Barkley used to be able to do. Without that ability, they’re ordinary bullies lobbing boring insults and trying to make themselves feel big. As for Drake and Kendrick Perkins, neither of them have ever had a jumper and Perk is barely a professional athlete at this point in his career, so they have even better reason to pipe down.
This is a topic that would need to be explored at book-length to do it justice, but one of the reasons we like sports—both playing them and following them—is the hostility of it. We take an essential human competitiveness that leads to awful things like war and famine and political campaigns and apply it toward this frivolous, immensely difficult and entertaining enterprise. Maybe in the course of actual contests, tempers inflame and an elbow or two gets away from us, but at the end of it, we say good game and everybody walks away with their limbs and cheek bones intact, if not their pride. We have perspective enough, in other words, to work out our aggression on each other but not let it get out of hand. This is otherwise known as being an adult.
There are lines and they’re not well-drawn. What’s trash talk and what’s buffoonery and aren’t they sort of the same thing? What’s defending yourself and what’s unnecessary escalation? What separates a character from a lunatic? Your definitions of what’s wrong and what’s not quite over the line will vary from mine depending on what you have a taste for. Hemming and hawing over this stuff—condemnation, outrage, umbrage—are typically the tools of lower tier sports talk: radio and TV people killing time by saying stuff they only half-mean. I don’t think Chuck and Draymond, Perk and Drake have done anything worthy of censure, though perhaps Aubrey shouldn’t have courtside seats simply for his own safety. Particularly in this cultural moment, though, dominated as it is by infantile men with planetoid egos getting mad and hurting others for stupid reasons, it’s deeply exhausting to watch people lose their heads over a game.