IT WAS THE preseason opener, but one part of Patrick Beverley‘s game was in midseason form.
It was Oct. 6, Beverley’s Sixers debut after signing a one-year contract for this season, when the antagonist point guard rose — or, rather, lowered — to the occasion after a bucket early in the third quarter.
Beverley drove the lane, ball-faked after picking up his dribble on the left block, and pivoted into a pretty jump hook over 6-foot-6 Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown. One stride into his jogging strut back down the floor, Beverley leaned over and extended his left arm toward the floor, his hand parallel to the ground. He stared at his hand, for effect, as it remained about 18 inches from the hardwood as Beverley crossed the Lucky the Leprechaun logo at half court.
At 6-2, 180 pounds, Beverley is often the smallest player on the floor. But Beverley unleashes the “too small” taunt, typically with a snarl, flawlessly — and regularly.
“Man, I’m so lost in basketball, sometimes I don’t even know when it comes out,” Beverley told ESPN. “I think that’s just something that happens out [of] the emotion out there. A big shot or something. Like, you know, if someone wants to do the shimmy after a 3 or a no-look 3 or whatever, I think that’s one of those plays.”
Back in Boston, Beverley’s gesture signified more than a simple, one-time jab: It was a continuation of the most frequent, hilarious taunt in basketball — when one very tall man hits a shot over another very tall man, crouches down, and holds his hand down to the approaching court. Sometimes there’s a yell to accentuate it — He’s too small! Sometimes there is not.
In either case, “too small” has become a go-to celebration for NBA players, broken out by 6-foot guards at least as often as by 7-foot goliaths. And its infiltration extends far beyond basketball. Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. and his teammates have adopted it, nonsensically celebrating hits with the gesture. Acuña even showed up to this year’s All-Star Game wearing a custom chain that featured a gaudy pendant of himself leaning over with his hand just above his ankles.
Perhaps more appropriately, it’s been used as an end zone celebration in the NFL. Minnesota Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson, for his part, was fined $10,927 last month for unsportsmanlike conduct after celebrating a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers with his own too-small crouch.
It has even infiltrated Hollywood.
“It’s just something to have fun,” Beverley said. “Nothing more.”
Some of the NBA’s best “too small” taunters might disagree — with each providing his own spin, tactics and philosophy toward what has become one of the league’s most eye-catching celebrations.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK‘S EYES lit up when he saw a skinny rookie guard defending him on the right wing. It was midway through the second quarter of a Jan. 13, 2018, road game, and the reigning MVP had Charlotte Hornets lottery pick Malik Monk at his mercy.
Westbrook gestured with his left thumb to the other side of the floor, telling two of his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates to get out of the way. He wanted to go one-on-one, bully-ball style.
Once they did, he turned around and went to work, backing down Monk with three dribbles to get to a spot just above the block. Westbrook got Monk to bite on a pump fake, initiated some contact the rookie attempted to avoid, and rattled in an and-1 14-footer.
After the whistle blew, Westbrook strutted past the 3-point line, hollering toward nobody in particular in the sleepy late afternoon crowd inside Charlotte’s Spectrum Center. Suddenly, Westbrook put his right hand parallel to the ground and held it just below his waist.
“He’s too small!” Westbrook shouted.
Westbrook smacked his right wrist and repeated himself — “He’s too small!” — before exchanging high-fives with a couple of teammates and heading to the free throw line.
In that spontaneous moment, a basketball celebration phenomenon was born. “Too small” taunts have become common sights throughout the NBA and have trickled down to all levels of the game, comedically occurring in playground matchups among sub-5-footers who are imitating the stars they watch on TV.
The original inspiration? Simply pointing out the obvious.
“I’m probably pretty strong for my position. There are rarely nights where people that play my position guard me. That doesn’t happen. So, when they do, I’m going to punish them,” Westbrook said at LA Clippers‘ media day in October, a smug smile breaking out on his face as he sat back and pantomimed rocking a baby, the predecessor to “too small.”
“And when I punish them, I let them know.”
“Too small” — and variations of the taunt — is flashed by players of all sizes and shapes throughout the league.
Seven-footer Giannis Antetokounmpo, absurdly, is among the many players who have adopted the “too small” gesture. He frequently celebrates his drives to the basket by holding his hand parallel to the floor, usually around hip level, as he begins to run back on defense. Sometimes, for emphasis, Antetokounmpo incorporates a lean forward to lower his hand below the knee.
Kevin Durant, a near 7-footer, has his own twist on the taunt. On occasion, typically after swishing a jumper over a defender not tall enough to bother him, Durant will pinch his fingers about an inch apart.
Zion Williamson, one of the league’s most explosive leapers despite being listed at 6-6, 284 pounds, mixes in “too small” with his more frequent one-arm flex of his biceps muscle.
A big man might flash the “too small” toward the opposing bench after punishing a guard in the post on a switch — a message that the defensive strategy has been noted as a form of disrespect.
“Sometimes I just do it to get my teammates going or the crowd into it,” Williamson told ESPN. “Because all those little energy moments, they play a part later in the game.”
SOMETIMES, THE MOTIVATION is pure pettiness.
Consider, again, Patrick Beverley: The longtime thorny guard busted out a “too small” after an and-1 drive over Chris Paul during a December game last season, bending over so low his right hand was less than a foot off the floor.
Beverley and Paul have had plenty of beef over the years — pushing, shoving, elbowing and bickering — so Beverley taking the opportunity to taunt 6-foot Paul wasn’t necessarily a surprise. But the timing was; the bucket pulled Beverley’s Los Angeles Lakers within … 24 points.
Beverley also had plenty of premeditated motivation for perhaps his most memorable “too small” taunt, which occurred in his return to Crypto.com Arena weeks after being dumped by the Lakers at the trade deadline. Beverley, who had signed with the Chicago Bulls in the buyout market, pivoted in the lane and hit a floater over 6-9, 250-pound LeBron James for a dagger bucket with a little more than a minute remaining in Chicago’s win.
A crouching Beverley already had his right hand at knee level before the ball went through the net, lowering his hand inches from the purple paint in the lane. Finally, adding emphasis to insult, Beverley smacked the floor.
Revenge occurred a few nights later when the Lakers visited the Bulls in Chicago.
Austin Reaves hit a dagger floater over Beverley, putting the Lakers up 14 with less than three minutes to play, and instantly bent over with his hand parallel to the floor, holding the “too small” pose for the first few steps of his backpedal.
“It wasn’t something I thought about doing all game,” Reaves said after the win, “but I felt [it was the] right time, right situation.”
Message delivered — and it was well received in the Lakers’ locker room.
“AR always got my back. Always,” James said postgame with a big grin.
During the 2022 playoffs, Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant had to wait only one possession to get payback on Beverley for a “too small” taunt. Beverley held the pose after a finish over Morant during crunch time of Game 5 in their first-round series.
Seconds later, 6-3, 175-pound Morant gave a similar gesture after scoring in the lane. Morant’s bucket came over D’Angelo Russell, who switched with Beverley on a screen, but it was clear which player Morant had in mind as he lowered his hand.
Morant took part in a similar sequence with 6-foot New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado in a November game last season, getting hit with the “too small” on defense and then immediately returning the favor on the other end of the floor.
“If I ever get hit with it, more than likely I’m probably coming back down in the situation where most of the time you’ll get the same thing back that next play — but just a little bit lower,” Morant said last season. “Yeah, just a little bit lower.”
Among the too-small taunters and too-small taunteds, Alvarado ranks high in both. Like Beverley, “Grand Theft Alvarado” tends to get under his opponents’ skin, which likely factors into him frequently being reminded of his height after an opponent finishes over him. It also makes it that much more enjoyable when Alvarado gets the opportunity to give back.
“It’s all about having fun with the game,” Alvarado told ESPN. “It’s never about disrespect. It’s about the flow of the game.
“And you too small sometimes. That’s just how it is.”
ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, Andrew Lopez and Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.
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