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Garnett's Cancer Jab Hits Close To Home

Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics is making headlines. But, unfortunately for both him and his team, they're not the kind that will bring any accolades from his coaches or Celtics ownership. During yesterday's 109-86 win over the Detroit Pistons, the Boston forward called his Motor City counterpart, Charlie Villanueva, a "cancer patient."

The jab was a reference to the fact that Villanueva lives with a condition known as alopecia universalis, which inhibits the growth of hair throughout one's body. Here in Chicago, many Cubs fans have recently become familiar with alopecia because the North Side team's new manager, Mike Quade, also lives with it (though Quade's condition has typically been referred to in the press as alopecia areata).

This and the general jaw-dropping nature of the insult, has sports fans all over the country thinking about the, for lack of a better term, "ethics of trash talking." What's particularly interesting is how we all learned of Garnett's slam: Villanueva himself told us on Twitter.

Ah, sports in the year 2010. There was a time when an abuse like this would have been fired off on the court and then drifted away like so much gun smoke, unbeknownst to the vast majority of attendees in the arena much less the public at large. For better or worse, that's not how we roll anymore.

Nowadays, thanks to social media, we fans get first-hand glimpses of the way athletes interact with their teammates and react to competitors. And there's a couple interesting questions in play here:

  1. Did Garnett cross the line with his cancer comment?
  2. Did Villanueva commit a faux pas by tweeting about it, instead of dealing with Garnett face-to-face at the game or the next time the two run into each other?

The first question is clearly the more obvious. Anyone who's ever had a friend, family member or even acquaintance suffer or die from cancer would likely agree that Garnett embarrassed himself with his vicious remark. He should apologize and probably cough up some cash to the cancer-related charity of his choice. Or maybe you'd argue that anything goes while it's game on and if comparing an opposing player to a sick person gets in his head and helps you win, so be it. Fair enough (pun possibly intended).

The second question, however, is a little thornier. Old school sports fans would likely say that Villanueva shouldn't have been commenting publicly on something like this -- particularly on Twitter where anyone on the planet with an Internet connection can see it. They'd probably say he should've at the very least gotten up in Garnett's grill or perhaps thrown an elbow at an opportune time. Of course, that could've led to an ugly brawl that might have resulted in injuries and suspensions. But that's the way many sports, including basketball, used to be played.

Meanwhile, other fans might applaud Villauneva's vengance by tweet. He's made Garnett the bad guy with just a few keystrokes. No one got hurt. Presumably no one will get suspended. And now we have an example of just what NBA players are muttering as they post each other up and clamber for rebounds.

It's an interesting situation, to say the least. And, in case you're wondering, the Celtics and Pistons don't meet again until Dec. 29 in Detroit. (Set your DVR.) The Bulls, on the other hand, will face Garnett and his cohorts in just a couple of days: On Friday, Nov. 6, in Boston. Wonder whether Kevin will say anything to Joakim Noah about his hair ...