NBA Legends Series: Gary Payton Played at the Right Time

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Certain NBA players embody the era that they played within. Gary Payton, aka “The Glove”, was a symbol of that fabled 90’s era of toughness and trash-talk. When you talk to old NBA legends, Gary is often brought up as one of the league’s greatest roasters. I love this one particular segment on the show “Open Court” where Shaq talks about how Gary Payton was such an avid trash talker, that he was the kind of guy to keep bringing that heat even if he happened to run into you at the mall. You can find that video here. His trash talk may have been the greatest ever, but he earned some notable accomplishments in his playing days that distinguished him as one of the top guards in NBA history. For instance, he’s the only point guard to ever win the Defensive Player of the Year award. His nickname “The Glove” harkens back to his ability to stay glued onto his target air-tight like a gove. He also accumulated nine selections on the NBA All-Defense First Team, tied with all-timers like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett. GP is mostly known for his time with the Seattle Supersonics in the 90’s. His supernaturally athletic running mate Shawn Kemp was always right by his side, ready to wreak havoc on rims and unsuspecting big men.

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Gary Payton would bring the ball up, handle it, then lob it to Shawn Kemp for the fiery finish. Little guy to big guy! The original incarnation of “Lob City” that we saw with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Kemp and Payton are one of the greatest one-two punches in NBA history, but unfortunately, they never captured a ring in their time together. This is a great resource to re-live the Payton/Kemp dominance. Before Gary laid waste to the league on both ends of the floor, he grew up in the rugged neighborhoods of Oakland, California. On top of that, his father was always incredibly hard on him when critiquing his play, thus earning himself the nickname “Mr. Mean”. After Gary matured into adulthood, he attended Oregon State University where he played alongside Greg Foster, another guy who made it into the NBA. He stayed all four years at OSU, where he set school records for most points, field goals, assists, steals. In 1990, he was selected by the Seattle Supersonics with the #2 pick of the NBA Draft. The New Jersey Nets messed up big-time when they took Derrick Coleman over Payton with the first pick. He struggled during his first two years in the league, but when he partnered up with Kemp, Payton and the Sonics really started rolling. Gary was selected to the All-NBA team nine straight times, garnering First Team honors in 1998 and 2000. He stayed with the Sonics until 2003, then bounced around to the Lakers, Celtics, Bucks, and Heat, where he eventually won a ring in Miami with Shaq and Dwyane Wade.

Gary wasn’t the physical force that he was in the 90’s, but the players from the Miami championship team distinctly remember the psychological toughness that Gary brought when their backs were against the wall. He even hit a game-winning shot in Game 3 of the NBA Finals to prevent Dallas from pushing the Heat down into an inescapable 3-0 hole. That game-winner was the start of one of the greatest come-from-behind efforts in Finals history, where the Heat eventually prevailed in six games. He’ll always be remembered for the brash confidence that he brought to his team and the game. Michael Jordan still remembers being guarded by Payton in the 1996 NBA Finals. He was one of the only people to really challenge Jordan with his defense. You can only stop him so much, but Payton’s defense led to Jordan averaging 27.3 points per game in the ’96 Finals, compared to the average of his first three Finals appearances which was 36.3. He took a God and made him human for a short while. I’m glad that Gary got to play out his prime in an era that allowed hand-checking, which was the defensive technique that was outlawed in 2004. Hand-checking allowed defenders to place one outstretched hand on the dribbler, which could in turn control the direction that the offensive player was going. Since the rule change, quick points guards on the perimeter have run amok in the league, and slowly molded the game to revolve around them. If only we could see a prime Gary Payton D-up against guys like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and Kyrie Irving with hand-checking allowed. Then we would see what they are really made of!

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