Gary Payton was one of the most prolific damn players to ever don an NBA jersey. Whether you had respect for the man’s game and the fiercely aggressive way he carried himself on the court, or little time for his tight defence and boastful nature, that much is for certain.
Best known for his 13-year tenure with the Seattle SuperSonics, it’s an open-and-shut case for the storied point guard, who is further regarded as one of the finest defensive opponents of Michael Jordan.
With the 2019-2020 NBA season now in full swing, GLORY had the opportunity to sit down with Payton at the NBA Winners’ Corner pop-up experience in Toronto.
— Nicknamed “The Glove” for your defensive abilities, you’ve been called as complete a guard as there ever was. We’re in legacy territory here, no doubt. But is legacy something that was even a glint in your eye when first starting out?
Growing up out of Oakland, California, I never thought that I’d be this type of player. I was just thinking about playing basketball and having fun. That’s it. And my father kept being on me: “You could be good, you could be good.” Then, all of a sudden, I start being good and colleges start recruiting me. I start training and turning that corner. Then, people start talking about me. I get drafted as the number two pick and start off the first two years a little rocky. Then, I go All-Star nine times and go nine times All-Defensive. I make two Olympic teams. Then, at the end of my career, after 17 years, they start talking about me as a Hall of Famer. That’s crazy.
— Beyond all the stats, awards and accomplishments, you’re recognized and celebrated as perhaps the NBA’s greatest trash talker. Your trademark open-mouth, bobbing-head style is iconic. Where did the gift of gab and those intimidation tactics come from?
Going out on the streets of Oakland and the neighbourhoods, we didn’t have the AAU or real courts. What we had to do was jump over fences, go to other people’s neighbourhoods and play on gravel and ground. You had to talk trash and make sure they didn’t punk you; that they feared and respected you. Muhammad Ali could tell you he was going to knock you out in the third round and I could tell you what I’m going do to you on the basketball court — and do it. That was before all the guns and stuff. You could just bite and leave and go to the next ‘hood.
— Obviously, you’ve played streetball and professional ball. How do you make the difference between the mindset and skill set required for both?
You hear about a lot of street legends. It’s not because they can’t compete in the real game, it’s because their mindset is not where they want it to be. They don’t want to know how to play the game to get out of the streets and get to that level. They go to jail or something, and take valuable time out of their life. And when you sit for a certain amount of time and don’t play on a competitive level, your mind goes away.
It takes a lot from you. You lose your prime. People don’t get that. Then there’s going to be somebody that’s going to be great like you that’s coming up, and they’re going to go at you. So, you have to really be there when it’s your time. Me? I competed when I was supposed to compete.
— You’re among the most complete players of all-time. What does this distinction mean to you?
That I can go from both ends of the floor to do everything. That I’ve mastered everything in the game, I didn’t just master one thing. That’s a compliment. It gives you gratification. If you scored 35 and I scored 35, I didn’t do anything. I just got on the floor and we just played back and forth. Now, if I scored 35 and you scored 12, I did what I was supposed to do.
— Looking back, is it kind of like, Well, that was a ride…?
That was a ride, man! Everybody asks me what I would change in my life to make things different. And I say: nothing. If I changed anything, then I wouldn’t be this Gary Payton. I’d be somebody else.