Nothing But Glove

I’ll be breaking out the covers of SLAM 124 tomorrow, but before that I wanted to give you all one more bonus from SLAM 123: a great Old School feature on Gary Payton. I’m not sure what side of the generational divide you readers fall on, but it sure made me feel old to call GP “Old School.” But it’s true. Dude’s best days were almost a decade ago, and now, after dabbling with Fox’s Best Damn Sports Show, he’s cashing checks from NBATV (I still find Ahmad so annoying, but Gary is the man) and enjoying it. (By the way, if clips of GP in a studio are not your cup of T(V), peep these YouTube reels instead: NBA (that one borderline gave me goosbumps) and college (classic).

Anyway, scroll below the great picture to read how the story ran in the magazine, with some bonus quotes tacked on at the bottom.

By Gregory Dole

Gary Payton, the pride of Oakland, CA, didn’t give an inch from baseline to baseline. There were no easy buckets and no easy defensive stops as long as the man they called “The Glove” was on the court. He was one of the most dominant combinations of offensive and defensive skill we’ve ever seen. And he let his opponents know, taking trash-talking to a whole new level.

There are so few players in NBA history who have the physical ability, will power and concentration to sustain the effort needed to dominate for 40 minutes on both ends of the court. Payton did that for the better part of 17 NBA seasons. Looking back on his career, one realizes just how special he was.

His stats tell only part of the story. Payton ranks 21st all-time in scoring (21,813), seventh in assists (8,966) and third in steals (2,445). He is the only player in NBA history to have notched 20,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 8,000 assists and 2,000 steals in a career. He’s also got two Olympic gold medals and a championship ring.

SLAM: June, ‘96. The NBA Finals. You were at the top of your game. Perhaps only Michael Jordan was playing at a higher level, going on to win regular-season, All-Star Game and Finals MVP awards that season. For a brief moment though, His Airness seemed mortal. In Games 4 and 5, you were the kryptonite to the Chicago Bulls’ Superman.

GP: We were down 3-0 in the series, so I went to Coach Karl and said, Give me a shot at covering Jordan. What did we have to lose? I would have picked up Jordan on defense earlier in the series, but I had a half-torn calf muscle, an injury from the previous series against the Jazz. It wasn’t reported at the time but I was really slowed down by the injury. I made Jordan guard me, made him play both D and O. I knew he was pissed that I was given the cover of Sports Illustrated before the Finals. He hoped to avenge the SI snub by showing me up, so he wanted to cover me to try and stop me. And I was scoring. Covering me took a toll on him. And Jordan wouldn’t get all the favorable calls if I was covering him—I would get some respect from the referees being an All-Star myself. The strategy got us to Game 6, but that was as far as we went.

SLAM: That Finals represented Jordan’s lowest shooting percentage and scoring average in his six trips to the Finals. What was the secret to stopping him in a way no one had ever done before?

GP: The truth is, I just forgot about how he was the greatest to ever play the game. As I said to Coach Karl at the time, Let me do this and I will find a way to get it done.

SLAM: Which was your best year in Seattle?

GP: 1996 was the best year. I was the Defensive Player of the Year. I was rewarded with a big contract. I won the gold medal at the Olympics in Atlanta. We beat the Utah Jazz to win the Western Conference championship. I was a first-team All-Star. I was averaging some 20 points per game. I was on top of the world. It was one success after another.

SLAM: Eight years later, and you’re back in the Finals. The Lakers had assembled a “dream team,” bringing in yourself and Karl Malone to join Kobe and Shaq. How was that experience?

GP: I think that team could have won. I think I would have rather won with that squad because of the group of Hall-of-Famers that had been put together. And I think we would have won if Karl Malone had not gotten injured. It was incredible for me to be part of the careers of three of the greatest to lace ‘em up, Kobe, Karl and Shaq. And it was a difficult season altogether. Kobe had his situation all year, Malone had his injury that wasn’t looked after properly, and the media was making a big deal out of the Kobe-Shaq conflict which made it bigger than it was. There were a lot of distractions. At one point I remember being the only one of the four that was out on the court, wondering if the others would ever get healthy and back to playing with me. I think we were lucky to have gotten past a very tough San Antonio team in the Western Conference Finals. We then met a really tough Detroit team that was coming together much like the Miami Heat team that I won with two years later. It proved to be too much. I just felt like we had a great team and it would have been a great ending to the careers of Karl and I.

SLAM: A couple months later you were traded to the Boston Celtics and the Lakers had quickly dismantled their “dream team.” What happened?

GP: As far as Boston was concerned, I have nothing but love for the city, the fans and the players. How I ended up there is a little more confusing. Mitch Kupchak did some stuff that I didn’t understand. I don’t know why he did it. I would never have picked up my option with the Lakers if I was going to get traded, and everyone knew that. I was at the end of my career and I wanted to choose where I went, but as they say, things happen for a reason.

SLAM: One thing that happened is that in ’06, you got to the Finals again. You were down to one of your last shots at the title when you joined Miami. How sweet was winning in the twilight of your career?

GP: It was really satisfying. It was a relief. I had won gold medals and all kinds of awards, but I had not yet won an NBA championship. Now that I have won, it is something to tell the grandkids. You never know if you will win a championship. I had the chance twice before and not won. It would have been nice to win when I was at the top of my game, but it didn’t really matter when it happened.

SLAM: What was that team’s most special characteristic?

GP: Pat Riley had put the team together for Stan Van Gundy. For whatever reason, we started really slow. I think as a group we always knew we could become a great team, but it just took a while. As far as the team itself was concerned, I have never been with such a united group of players as that team was. Normally you have groups of three or four that hang out. On that team, we were 12 guys wherever we went. We all ate together, we all went out together. We were a family in the best way.

SLAM: What was the turning point of the season?

GP: The team stayed in the locker room after one loss earlier in the year and talked about what had happened. We were in the room for about two hours. I took it upon myself as the oldest in the group to take charge. I took a stand. I basically asked everyone why we weren’t winning and what we needed to do to start winning. We all talked about what we needed to do to win, and right after that, we went out and won some 10 games in a row. Shaq started playing well. Wade started raising his game to what would eventually make him the Finals MVP. James Posey started playing great, hitting his shots. Antoine Walker started hitting his shots and understanding what he had to do on this team to be successful. We all changed after that night. We all got on the same page.

SLAM: In Game 3 of the Finals, you hit a dribble pull-up, considered by many the most clutch shot of the series. Is it something that you remember well?

GP: I watched it on SportsCenter the next day, and then I never saw it again. What had happened on that play was that JWill and me had gotten close during the year. During a timeout on the bench he told me, I know you are going to be open to shoot because the Mavs are all expecting Wade to get the ball. You haven’t shot all game so they aren’t going to be looking for you to shoot. I am going to get you the ball and you are going to be open. And I hit the shot.

SLAM: You never watched the highlights again? Do you go in for collecting trophies and memorabilia?

GP: God gave me a great talent. That’s just how it is. I was blessed but I am not going to make a shrine to myself at home. I could go and hang up trophies and pictures and whatever else. I could do all that but that part of my life is over for me. I don’t even really watch basketball anymore. I was lucky enough to do what I did and I am thankful. I was lucky to have a coach like George Karl who gave me the support and opportunity to grow into the player I was. Now I am looking forward to the future, I don’t look back on what I did.

SLAM: So was Karl the most significant figure in your career?

GP: No, my father. He was the main reason I made it. He was my coach until I got to college. When I was 6 or 7, my father saw that I had it in me. He then said to me that I was going to have to work at it if I was going to make it anywhere. He himself was a hard worker, managing three restaurants and a janitorial service. He also had a catering service. He would work from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. I saw how it was to work hard.

SLAM: Who were your favorite guards to watch while growing up?

GP: I used to watch Magic, Calvin Murphy, Tiny Archibald and John Stockton. Stockton could just do everything. I really admired his game. Tiny Archibald was more of a playmaker, and I preferred the offensive style of Calvin Murphy. But none of the guys I patterned my game on played much defense. I decided that I was going to be different and that I would make my name with defense. That attitude came in my first year at Oregon State with Coach Ralph Miller. He took me aside in practice and told me that I could become the best defensive player because of my quick hands and feet. I worked on my defense from that point on.

SLAM: What are the goals for you and your foundation (The GP Foundation) as you move further away from the game?

GP: I had friends who weren’t able to get ahead because they didn’t have the support. Today, I see that kids aren’t as strong as I was. They might very easily take the road of drugs and that sort of thing instead of perhaps taking the harder road to success. We have bright kids in the ghetto. I want to help those kids. If there is a kid living in the ghetto with a 3.8 average, maybe they can’t go to college because they don’t have enough money. I want to help them get through their first year of college and make the honor roll so that the colleges take notice and give them the financial aid to complete their degree. That is the sort of thing that I hope to accomplish for these bright kids.

SLAM: At the Seattle SuperSonics final home game last April, the crowd gave you a lengthy standing ovation. How special was it to be there?

GP: I can’t find the words to explain it. I really wanted to be there. And I really wanted to attend the Save the Sonics rally. It was the least I could do. I wanted the fans to know that I support them. For the fans to give me that love, it is one of the best things I have experienced. These are the reasons that I want to have my jersey retired in Seattle. To have my jersey retired in Oklahoma will probably never happen because it would be an insult to the fans in Seattle who saw me play and supported me throughout my career. Seattle became my second home. My foundation is located there and I own restaurants there. I go back all the time. I hope to some day retire my jersey in Seattle. The fans showed me so much love. They are the ones who made my experience in Seattle as great as it was. I took less money to stay there because I knew it was the right city for me. I think that sealed the bond between the city’s basketball fans and myself. I bleed green and gold.

Bonus questions that didn’t run in the mag:

SLAM: Shawn Kemp also had a great series in 1996. Describe his impact on the game back then.

GP: Shawn and I are still great friends. He was an amazing talent. To come out of high school and junior college and do what he did at that time in the NBA was unheard of at the time. We started the alley oops and the highlight dunks. I can’t say enough about how great and unusual he was as an NBA player. Those days in Seattle, it was the Reign Man and The Glove. It was an amazing time in my life and I was so happy to share the time with a friend like Shawn. He could post up, he could shoot the mid-range. He was much more skilled than he was given credit for, and that is because he was really was known for being the hardest dunker in the league.

SLAM: What happened to him after leaving Seattle?

GP: It was foolish to have broken that up, that combination of myself and Shawn. After Shawn left Seattle, it was all downhill for the franchise. He was one of the greatest athletes to have ever played the game, but he didn’t show much of that after Seattle. I wish we could have stayed together. I think his career would have been a bit different. I think I could have helped keep him going in the right direction.

SLAM: Playing alongside Germany’s Detlef Schrempf, did you foresee the days when so many international players would come to the NBA?

GP: Detlef was great. We played the two-man game as well as anybody. He was a very smart player and we had great success together. I certainly learned to respect the European game by playing with Detlef. I also had experience against Europe in competitions like the World Junior championships. I saw Kukoc drop 55 points on us at that tournament. So yeah, I knew there would come a day when the Europeans would start coming over in big numbers to the NBA.

SLAM: At the Olympics in both Atlanta and Sydney, you were commended for having been the leader of the teams, both of which won gold.

GP: In general, I took everything so seriously because I was surprised by how cocky the foreign teams had become by 1998. They were telling everyone how the had gotten better and how the US team was not as good as 1992, without stars like Jordan and Barkley and all them. In my mind, I had to make sure the USA won and nothing else was going to be acceptable. In 1999, we had to play ten games in a row to qualify. I told the team at the time that we have to jump on and beat up on every team in the tournament so that the Spanish, Argentines and everyone else would realize that they didn’t have a chance. In my mind, that was the difference with the 2004 team. They didn’t take the other teams seriously enough. You have to understand that in international basketball, there are no star calls. We don’t even get the types of calls that we get in the NBA. International basketball is a much rougher game and the refs let so much slide. The other national teams know this and just play. They don’t pout when they don’t get calls that they might get from NBA refs. Instead, the other national teams come right back down the floor after a questionable play and treat their opponent even rougher.

SLAM: Who were the top point guards of your generation from Oakland, CA?

GP: Being from Oakland, there are all kinds of guards going at it for the bragging rights as the top guard. The best guard of my generation was Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell. He was better than all of us. There were others who I think were better than those of us that made it, but they chose the streets. That is what they felt they had to do. For many reasons, the guys that made it were myself, Brian Shaw and Jason Kidd, but there was such amazing competition in the city from the different neighborhoods. You could walk onto any playground and there were so many guys who would challenge you. And if you lost, you just looked forward to the next time that you could go up against that person. In that environment, you had to come with your best game every time. It was a great training ground because the talent level was so incredible.

SLAM: Gary Payton and Jason Kidd are forever linked. Two of the greatest pgs of all time. What was in the water in Oakland to produce the two of you?

GP: I raised Jason. He played for my father’s teams. I remember taking him to CAL to play ball. The first time I played against Jason, I sent him home to his mother crying. I was tough on him and kept on him until he could take it. It had nothing to do with the water.

SLAM: You were the one of the most durable players in league history. What was your secret? Were you just blessed with great health or were you more of a warrior, playing hurt when most others would have taken the night off?

GP: It was more of a warrior type of thing. I got that attitude from my father. I just played through injuries. Tape it up and play was the way I saw it. My father taught me that playing basketball had to be looked at as a battle. I would be playing my brother, but he said I couldn’t look at him as my brother when we were on the court.