“I’d prefer your whore of a sister.”

The stage, at the time Zinedine Zidane heard those words come out of Marco Materazzi, was much bigger than the almost meaningless mid-season game where Carmelo Anthony allegedly heard Kevin Garnett tell him that his wife “tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios.” But still... a brotha (even one that is Italian) is always gonna do what a brotha feels he gotta do.

In Zidane’s case, his headbutt to Materazzi’s chest in the second period of extra time in the 2006 World Cup Final in Berlin (which wound up being the last game of Zidane’s Hall of Fame-status soccer career) was necessary.

Even at the cost of his country losing the most coveted, revered, honored, cherished trophy in the world of sports.

“There are evil people and I don’t even want to hear those guys speak,” Zidane said in the aftermath. As for an apology to the man that insulted his sister, (or mother; the BBC reported Materazzi as allegedly saying to Zidane: “You are the son of a terrorist whore.”) Zidane only said this: “Never, never. It would be a dishonor to me. I’d rather die.”

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Manhood doesn’t have a meaning. Much like pornography, it is impossible to define, but you know it when you witness it and are in its presence.

When KG crossed the line by verbally sexualizing Carmelo’s wife, the first thing my wife said to me was, “KG needs to grow up.” To which I couldn’t counter or even respond. Couldn’t argue with it, couldn’t disagree.

But there’s so much more to this! I wanted to say. I wanted to go all deep into the cultural dynamics inside the art of sh*t talking. The gender dianetics involved, the rights-to-passage that are connected to it. I wanted to play George Stephanopoulos and roundtable a two-person discussion about the psychological warfare that remains at the root of all verbal battles in sports, that occur between opponents when they are on the job. The ability some people have to make other people play themselves. I wanted to tell her stories of how Larry Bird, during his career, (probably, assumedly) said far worse things to players on an every game basis, but he was so surgical with his words and jump shot that players were scared to say anything back – let alone go to the Celtics team bus to “talk” to him afterwards.

But none of that mattered, because the point was made. Not the point of immaturity, the point of manhood. How one lacks it in the way they decide to challenge someone else’s; how someone else’s can be defined and determined by their response.

Did KG cross the line? No doubt. But culturally and in the culture of sports, this is nothing new. Materazzi did it when he said what(ever) he said to Zidane. Bill Romanowski did it when he spit in J.J Stoke’s face on MNF. Michael Jordan did it to Kwame Brown in 2001 when (again, allegedly but somewhat confirmed) he called the then 19-year old “a flaming f****t.” I watched a fan do it to Vernon Maxwell once in Portland when he yelled to Maxwell, whose baby had just died of sudden infant death syndrome, “That’s why your baby died.” Muhammad Ali, legendarily and maliciously, did it to Joe Frazier to the point that it ended their friendship and Frazier took the pain with him to his grave.

To just say “it comes with the territory” is too simplistic. Of course it does. But, like a Shawty Lo reality show, that doesn’t necessarily make it right, acceptable or excusable. And if used as a tactic to get under someone’s skin or to throw them off of their game and it works, then it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be over once the buzzer sounds or time runs out. Or that consequences – legal and possibly illegal – shouldn’t be expected to follow.

What it does mean is that Garnett – in this instance, in this area of the game – is a genius. Reckless, but still genius. It also means that he’s been doing this – verbally disrupting other player’s minds – so long that he’s run out of clever and innovative linguistics and is resorting to words and ways that are beneath him.

Or beneath the man he is supposed to be.

Just because Carmelo took what was said personal – and the fact that Melo was the one fined/suspended by the League for his actions – doesn’t mean that Garnett succeeded in winning the war or the battle. Because, although Carmelo was stopped from a post-game “talk” with Garnett, the next player might not be.

Like R.Kelly ran the risk of being “shot, stabbed, killed or hurt” by running up in the wrong underage girl whose father or five older brothers could care less that he was the “Pied Piper of R&B,” KG is running the same risk of testing the wrong player by playing those types of mind games on the court.

Tho shalt not covet another man’s wife is in the bible. All’s fair. Don’t think that “covet” in a brotha’s mind isn’t the same as someone putting their wife in the same sentence with a bowl of cereal and claiming they taste alike.

Try it on the wrong person at the wrong time... night-night. I’ll just say this: Thank god it’s not 2009 and it wasn’t Gilbert Arenas that Garnett said this to.

Because manhood is not defined by who wins, who loses or who is left standing. Nor is it defined by competition or impulsivity. It’s defined by the call and response of a man’s behavior.

So when a man reduces himself to calling out another man’s wife and that man responds by stooping to that person’s lowest common behavioral level, that’s not manhood. That’s adult childhood on two-way display, while being trapped in the bodies of men.

Because, unless KG actually has first-hand knowledge to back up his proposed claim, then his words to Anthony are actually meaningless. Just like Zidane knows his mother or sister is not a “puttana” and Joe Frazier knew that he was not a gorilla or an Uncle Tom, athletes must know when confronted by childish stunts not to be the victim.

The power Anthony (or anyone) has in incidents like this is to render the person powerless by ignoring the untruths that are spoken. Either that or respond with: “She actually tastes like filet mignon. Your daughter on the other hand... ”

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It’s the game inside the game.

Always has been, always will be. As long as man is in direct competition with others and himself, there will forever be games played to give one the upper hand over the other.

The ability to manipulate someone’s mind has always been the fastest and most effective way to establish an advantage in sports. Hell, in life.

In professional athletics, where the laws of the game are different than the laws on the streets where the games -- and the game inside the game -- began, the key is and will continue to be to never allow another man to see or expose your weakness. More important, never let another man create a weakness in you that you never had.

As Ice Cube philosophized, “You knew the game, but you still ended up on your back.”

Just ask yourself...