Originally published in SLAM 67
The 6th Man: This issue was in the final days of production when the camel’s back broke. An unnamed magazine for the visually impaired did a piece—tongue in cheek, I suppose—on a six-year-old baller. A six-year-old! The kid could be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 Draft, unless—well, a lot can happen in 12 years, huh? Except for the wonderful vision of Billy Packer reading the same thing and staggering around like Fred Sanford (“I’m comin’ Elizabeth!”), the entire thing was pretty disturbing. I mean, it’s been hard enough reading about LeBron in every publication short of Dog News, but a six-year-old? We were going to see how he felt about it, but he was taking a nap.
Which brings us (well, sort of) to Gary Payton. Gary ain’t exactly young.He ain’t next, he’s now. And sometimes, it seems like the now gets lost in the mad rush to find the next.
And us? Well, this cover is long overdue, really. While other point guards got cover love—JWill (twice), JKidd (twice), Franchise, Starbury, B.Diddy—GP got slept on. His last cover was way back in ’98, back when Bron was in junior high. Some of y’all might have thought that was on purpose. After all, is GP really SLAM? He sure isn’t a dunker—he might be able to, but he almost never does. He doesn’t have Steph’s killer cross, Jason Williams’ death-defying passing ability (although at press time, he was leading the L in assists for the first time) or B.Diddy’s fullback game (check page 72 for more on that). And it didn’t help that he’s always had a rough time in New York—two seasons ago he got double-teched and tossed in the first quarter, and this year he had one assist through three quarters. But the Glove love is real. Gary has something that all those guys don’t—history, with us and with the game—which is too often overlooked in the race to get to what’s next. Even a six-year-old could see that.