As someone gifted with a freakish amount of height and who experienced a growth spurt that started when I was in second grade and lasted until I topped out at around 6’10” by the time I reached the end of high school, basketball was a huge part of my childhood. I eventually walked away from the game after realizing there was a good chance I might not be able to walk normally for much longer thanks to the toll it took on my knees (and accepting I didn’t possess a level of coordination or commitment that made me destined for greatness) but I still have fond memories of that time in my life.
I grew up in an era where kids wore arms sleeves because their idols did despite having no idea what their purpose was, bought shoes with springs in the heels because they were convinced it would help them add a few inches to their vertical, and relied on this classic trio of songs by Fort Minor and a couple of members of the Dipset crew to get amped in the lay-up line before games.
If you’re a part of that basketball-playing generation, then I assume you’re also intimately familiar with AND1, the apparel company founded by a few buddies at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1990s. Over the course of the next decade or so, the brand would experience a meteoric rise and leave an indelible mark on basketball history thanks in no small part to the Mixtape Tour, an ESPN2 staple where legendary streetballers like The Professor, Escalade, and Hot Sauce did their thing while the emcee at half court reacted to big plays by waving a towel and repeatedly yelling “OH BABY!” into his microphone.
AND1’s endgame with that particular endeavor was to ultimately convince people to buy their stuff, and while the company sold a wide variety of apparel, there’s one particular arm of the business that it will forever be remembered by: it’s “Trash Talk” line of shirts.
The guys who started AND1 have a classic origin story that involves them selling their wares out of the trunk of a car and they first managed to make a name for themselves with the iconic shirts featuring a mysterious figure known only as “The Player,” a fictional character built upon a foundation of condescension and sarcasm who was brought into the world for the sole existence of talking smack (he and the kid from one of the best anti-drug PSAs of all time probably would’ve gotten along pretty well).
Every sport is home to its fair share of trash-talking but the nature of basketball—a game where you’re in close proximity to your opponents throughout the entire contest—makes it a breeding ground unlike any other when it comes to using your words to get into someone’s head. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Kevin Garnett are just one of many players who understood the mental facet of basketball was almost as important as the physical one and prided themselves on their ability to throw their foes off of their game by talking constant amounts of shit.
AND1 eventually lost the momentum it had on its side around the turn of the millennium, but by embracing this aspect of the game by producing a diverse array of shirts emblazoned with The Player accompanied by the wide variety of disses he dished out over the years, the company ensured it’ll always be remembered.
In recent years, I’ve spent more money than I care to calculate on eBay thanks to a slight obsession with vintage shirts from the 90s, but sadly, these AND1 tees are few and far between. The ones that go up for sale are usually in youth sizes, presumably because they were popular before irony became all the rage and there aren’t many self-respecting adults out there who would’ve actually bought one for themselves when they were all the rage with middle schoolers.
As a result, I don’t have any in my personal collection, but over time, I’ve become pretty familiar with these relics of a bygone era and decided to put that otherwise useless knowledge to use by taking the time to rank the 10 most brutal disses to ever grace them.
10. Get Off The Court. You’re Embarrassing Yourself.
While doing some research for this article, I was surprised to discover that A) AND1 still exists and B) is still selling Trash Talk shirts on its website. However, this is inexplicably only one of the two options available for purchase, which makes absolutely no sense when you consider the treasure trove they’re sitting on.
If they really wanted to put themselves back on the map, they’d announce a retro line featuring the designs that top this list as opposed to one you’d expect from the kind of guy who’s had season tickets to their alma mater’s games for 37 years and has a tendency to yell at a player because they celebrated a bit too much after a big play—like the dude in the quarter-zip who was quite displeased when Marshall Henderson taunted Auburn fans following a win (he probably wasn’t thrilled with how big his shorts were either).
C’mon, The Player. You can do better than that.
9. Don’t Laugh. You’re Next.
Unlike the guys on the AND1 Mixtape Tour, we have basically no way to evaluate the skill level of The Player but we can use the shirts to attempt to piece together what he’s all about. If I had to guess, he probably played D-II ball or rode the bench at a school that saw its program peak when it reached the second round of the NIT at some point in the 1980s.
As a result, I like to think he has the talent to back up most of the trash he talks but largely manages to do so because he doesn’t really face much competition at the YMCA open gyms he relies on to cling to his glory days and feel better about himself for an hour or two. As a result, this is a solid comeback to lob at someone who called next and couldn’t help but laugh after The Player crossed up a 55-year-old dude with a two knees braces and a pair of New Balances, but at the end of the day, it’s simplicity isn’t enough to allow it to measure up to what’s to come.
8. I’m Sorry. I Thought You Could Play.
As I mentioned earlier, The Player seems like the kind of guy you meet at a party who spends the night trying to insert as many snarky comments as possible into every single conversation he has. He prides himself on how witty he thinks he is and probably devotes way too much time attempting to make jokes on a Donald Trump parody account with 47 followers on Twitter.
This is the only other shirt that’s still up for grabs directly from the source and I still cannot get over the fact that this is the case. Be the change you want to see in the world (and that the world wants to see), AND1. I promise you won’t regret it.
7. Give ‘N’ Go! Give Up The Game And Go Home!
As I once mentioned in an article that led to someone tracking me down on Facebook to yell at me for mocking their favorite show without watching it in its entirety, I’ve never seen a full episode of The Big Bang Theory. Consequently, I don’t actually know what “Bazinga!” means but that’s the first word that comes to mind when I see this.
This is a slightly more sophisticated version of the “Not!” joke Borat was introduced to when he took Humor 101, as it initially seems like The Player is being encouraging but—get this—he’s actually encouraging you to go home and never play basketball again, you big, dumb failure.
6. I’m The Bus Driver. I Take Everyone To School.
You know when you play a sports video game that allows you to name your character anything you want but also forces you to pick a generic nickname the announcers will use to refer to you because the developers decided trying to figure out a way to have them say actual names was too much work?
This is like something you would find on one of those lists only it would never make the cut because it doesn’t make any sense unless you know the backstory—which I presume involves The Player trying to take some inspiration from Karl Malone and Googling “list of professions” to figure out something that sounded as cool as “The Mailman.” This doesn’t, but with that said, I acknowledge the effort.
Fun Fact: This would appear to be the AND1 shirt Matthew Perry once rocked on an episode of Friends.
Chandler Bing, take that damn And1 shirt off right now before someone dunks you into oblivion. pic.twitter.com/gH2D45TmWg
— Jeff EgnAaahh!!! Real Monsters czyk (@post406) March 29, 2019
You learn something new every day.
5. I Saw A Picture Of Your Game On A Milk Carton
In the mid-1980s, dairy companies across America started throwing pictures of missing children on the side of milk cartons in an attempt to reunite them with their families. The approach actually managed to solve a few disappearances but the practice was largely phased out by the time the end of the decade rolled around.
I don’t know why, but this shirt really tickles my funny bone, which has less to do with the diss itself (which is pretty solid) and more to do with the fact that AND1 decided to reference this phenomenon in the first place. I don’t know when this shirt came out, and while I do know the idea of “Milk Carton Kids” had a fair amount of staying power after the program ended (Notorious B.I.G. referenced it on a track that was released two years after the company was founded), I’d love to know how many of the people who wore this were even alive when it was still a thing. Hell, aside from school lunches, I don’t know if I’ve ever even purchased milk packaged in a cardboard container in my almost 30 years on the planet.
If someone at AND1 ends up reading this and realizes it might be time to bring these back (which is really why I’m writing this in the first place), I do have one note: it’d be funnier if there was nothing on the carton as opposed to the silhouette that’s featured, as it would imply the game in question doesn’t even exist.
There’s no coming back from that.
4. My Game’s Butta. You’re Toast.
There’s a fair amount to unpack here—like why AND1 decided to stylize “butter” the way it did—and I have more than a few questions.
For starters, isn’t it kind of weird that The Player never wears a shirt despite being famous for appearing on them? What happens when he cooks bacon for breakfast? Does he just deal with the inevitable burns resulting from the mini-eruptions of fat? Sure, he’s only preparing toast here, but it’s hard to imagine someone with that kind of physique doesn’t incorporate as much protein into his diet as possible (tangentially, I find it hard to believe he’d be a frequent consumer of bread, as carbs won’t do you any favors if you’re trying to achieve the absurdly low body fat percentage he has).
Also, I know you can buy toasters that allow you to burn certain images onto bread but I’m curious how he got his hands on this one. I doubt he just stumbled across it at a Home Goods, and while I know you can find just about anything online these days, part of me feels like he had this custom-made so he could throw shade in this particular manner.
As someone who spent way too much money for the sake of a joke, I respect the hell out of him if that’s indeed the case.
3. Call Me The Surgeon. I Just Took Your Heart.
I assume this was also the result of The Player scrolling through names of jobs that resulted in the creation of the previously mentioned”Bus Driver” shirt. This one makes so much less sense, but that’s why it’s so much better.
I think I get what AND1 was going for: The Player balled so hard that he broke someone’s spirit and ripped out the metaphorical “heart” that keeps their love of basketball pumping. However, AND1 opted to communicate that by going a much more literal (and fairly disturbing) route that I absolutely adore.
I can only assume they couldn’t get the Indiana Jones licensing rights because the only thing that could’ve made this better (albeit slightly clunkier) is if the opening was replaced with “Call Me The Creepy Cult Leader From Temple of Doom.”
2. What’s Wrong? Momma Forget To Pack Your Game?
I KNOW YOU DIDN’T JUST BRING MY MOMMA INTO THIS!!! YOU KEEP HER NAME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!!!!!
This is just an objectively good insult and I’d like to thank it for reminding me that MTV once paid Wilmer Valderrama to host a show that revolved around comedy battles devoted almost exclusively to “Yo Momma” jokes that managed to run for three seasons before eventually running out of gas.
Simpler times, man. Simpler times.
1. Here’s $5…Go Buy a Game
I can’t tell you how much I’d spend to get my hands on what has become my white whale in the AND1 Trash Talk collection but it’d be a hell of a lot more than $5. At this point, I don’t even care if it’s in my size or not, because I’d probably just end up framing it like an autographed jersey so I could hang it on the wall in my office.
It’s hard to articulate exactly why I love this as much as I do but I think it comes down to the sheer absurdity of it all. This is a combination of the scene from Arrested Development where Lucille gives Annyong money to “go see a Star War” and the one where she guesses a banana cost $10. It makes no sense whatsoever, but at the same time, if someone ever did this in real life, I guarantee you every single person in the gym would have a reaction straight out of a David Blaine street magic video, and as a result, there was never any doubt this was going to take home the gold.