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Mean Mugging: What Is It And Why Does It Matter? 

Publish Date: 03/16/2023
Fact checked by: Allan Howe

Basketball player dunking in a hoop

Imagine for a moment that you’re playing a friendly but competitive game with some friends. It could be basketball—that’s certainly the example I’ll use here—or any other sport. You see an opportunity for a fast break, a killer move that’ll earn your team the lead and get you some style points to go along with it.

You execute the move to perfection, burning your friend’s defense and scoring a quick basket for your team. For good measure, you throw your friend a mean look: something between a scowl and a frown. Some might call it a “stank face.”

Now elevate that moment to the highest level of the sport, and you’ve got mean mugging.

What Is Mean Mugging In Basketball?

Mean mugging is pretty simple. It’s the act of making a mean or grouchy face after you do something good in a basketball game. Usually that “something good” is a play that leaves the defender shaken, unable to process what’s happened. An incredible dunk, an alley-oop, a tip-in, and similar moves have all been cause for mean mugging in the past.

Now that we’ve covered what, exactly, mean mugging is, we can move on to a more important question.

Why Does Mean Mugging Matter?

If you’re like me, you probably thought mean mugging was just a thing that happens from time to time, without any real impact on a basketball game’s outcome. I soon learned by watching games that this is most certainly not the case. Mean mugging can have a very real influence on games at the college and professional level.

Mean mugging can result in a foul, if officials deem it so. The official NBA rules state: “A technical foul(s) may be assessed to any player on the court or anyone seated on the bench for conduct which, in the opinion of an official, is detrimental to the game.”

In simpler terms, an official can decide if and when mean mugging is worth doling out a technical foul. Mean mugging is generally considered unsportsmanlike on the court, and officials can call it as a foul when they deem it egregious. Audiences, however, tend to love it, as we’ll discover below.

Let’s Admire Some Mean Mugging

Sure, mean mugging may be frowned upon (pun intended) by NBA officials. But as viewers, we can absolutely appreciate it.

After all, there are entire YouTUbe compilations dedicated to mean mugging. This one collects some of the best in NBA history, and oh boy, there are some doozies in it. The first one alone is legendary.

Video: Best Mean Mugs In NBA History

Best Mean Mugs In NBA History

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Center for the Milwaukee Bucks, is known for his mean mugging prowess. Two years back, he earned a technical foul for a particularly vicious dunk against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Turns out Giannis takes pride in his mean mug skills. According to Slate, his dunks come naturally, but the mean mugging he whips out on the court requires locker-room practice.

One thing to note: mean mugging has its time and place. One can’t simply mean mug for a ho-hum field goal. It has to have flair and panache. LeBron James earned the ire of sports columnist Skip Bayless in 2021 for mean mugging after a run-of-the-mill three-pointer during a preseason game.

What does Skip’s criticism of LeBron mean? Well, audiences and viewers enjoy a good mean mug, but you’ve got to earn it. You can waltz around mean mugging after any old scoring play. It needs to have some pizzazz, some showmanship. Just be careful with how often you do it; officials could call you, much to the chagrin of your teammates.

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