Q+A: Gary Payton


SLAM: You played 17 years in the NBA, but only missed 20-something games…

GP: [Interjecting] And most of those games came at the end of my career—in Miami, I missed nine games in two years. So really in my whole career I missed only like 12 games. And I missed five of them because of suspensions. I got into fights and stuff like that. So I only missed two or three games due to injury.

SLAM: But how were you that durable? How is that possible?

GP: I was really smart. When I started playing, I was playing a lot of minutes—at one point, for like two or three years, I was averaging 46 minutes per game. So what I did was, I didn’t practice a lot. George Karl would tell me to go into the Jacuzzi, ice up, and come out only when we would have major things on the court. So I would practice for about an hour, and then George would pull me out. Then I would go back into the Jacuzzi and do the whole thing again. I kept my therapy and massages, so when I would play in the game I just left it all on the court for 46 minutes because I had the energy.

I did that routine for a long period of time. And actually, it’s funny. I told Allen Iverson the routine and he went and tried to do the same thing, but he ended up doing it the wrong way.

SLAM: Where did the whole trash-talking thing come from? Did you trash talk more to get inside your opponents head or to get yourself going?

GP: It was intentionally for myself, mostly. If I’m having a bad day, and I come to the game and I’m not mentally there, the only way I would get my game back on track was to talk trash. Coaches would tell their player not to say anything to me to wake me up. But for some reason guys just didn’t listen. A lot of times, I would start trash talking and my game would pick itself up. And then I’d start saying something to everybody, even the referees, to make them say something back. If I got a tech, that pumped me up even more, because that would make me want to show up the referee. Trash talking always got me back into my game.

SLAM: You won a Championship with Miami in ’06. Some would say that it was a big relief for you, that it certified and validated your career, that you got that monkey off your back. Personally, what did the Championship mean to you?

GP: It didn’t really mean anything to me, because I felt that I proved what I could do on the court throughout my career. But, as you listen to everybody else, how do they define Charles Barkley? How do they define Karl Malone and John Stockton? They always say those guys are some of the greatest players ever, but they never won a Championship. So I didn’t want that, and I listened to it, and now they can’t say that. But that’ll never take away from what I did before I got my ring. Because people who actually know basketball will realize what kind of player you are, with or without a Championship.

SLAM: What was the difference between the Miami team that won and your 2004 Lakers team that lost 4-1 to Detroit?

GP: People don’t really understand the complexity of the situation in 2004. First off, the team was banged up. If Karl Malone didn’t get hurt, we would’ve won. Secondly, Shaquille O’Neal was fighting with the ownership of the Lakers.

And thirdly, Kobe Bryant was going through a rape charge. Here was a young man who thought he was going to jail for the rest of his life. He wasn’t really into basketball at that moment, and I can’t blame him. I would’ve been thinking the same thing—you on a rape charge, you don’t know. He had to go to Denver everyday. He didn’t think he was going to beat it. The media and everybody was talking about how he was going to lose the case. And then he had lost his wife. He needed to get in control of his life. So people didn’t understand that his focus, understandably, wasn’t there, and we had a lot of problems.

But what people don’t realize is that when we all played together at the beginning of the year, we were 19-2. Karl was averaging 19, I was averaging 20, Kobe was averaging 17, and Shaq was averaging 18. And then when Karl went down, everybody stopped playing. And we still maintained and got to the Championship.

SLAM: Who is the hardest player you’ve ever had to guard?

GP: John Stockton.

SLAM: More so than Michael Jordan?

GP: By far. Michael Jordan was athletic and had the ability to do things based off his athleticism. John Stockton wasn’t athletic like that. John Stockton would have to use his head, and set picks and beat you with precision and IQ. He couldn’t create shots for himself, but he was just way smarter than everyone else. Nobody in the NBA could guard the pick and roll with Stockton and Malone. We would know exactly what was going to come, but we still couldn’t stop it.

SLAM: Best player you’ve ever played with?

GP: Shawn Kemp. Me and Shawn made our dynasty with each other. That’s my dude until this day. I played with a lot of guys in my career, but me and Shawn came up together in Seattle.

SLAM: Speaking of Seattle, you recently led a pep rally over there and are still heavily involved in the efforts to bring back an NBA team. How’s everything going with that?

GP: It’s going great. We got the new arena deal, and the NBA has already given us an OK to go look for a team. So the pieces are in place to make moves now, and we’re working on having a team for next season. In 2015, the new arena is gonna be ready. So if everything goes as planned, we’re going to revamp Key Arena and play there for one year, while the new arena is being finished.

SLAM: Do you plan on being involved with the organization?

GP: Yes, definitely. I’m planning on having a front office position within the organization. I can’t wait, man.