HALL OF FAMER Gary Payton is arguably the best trash talker in any sport, ever.
His biting put downs and incessant noise on the court have become a thing of legend and part of a wide skill set that allowed Payton to become one of the best point guards in NBA history – as well as one of the most feared defenders ever.
Thankfully, When we meet in central London none of that trash talk is directed my way and Payton turns out to be a charming and engaging interview.
But Payton, nicknamed The Glove for the way he would stifle defenders and pick their pockets, still burns with that same competitive desire that took him to the top and refuses to concede even an inch when asked to compare generations.
In this era of high volume scoring, three-point shooting and flagging defensive effort, Payton admits he’s not sure how he’d get on.
But he also concedes that the current crop of point guards would have struggled to hang with him back in the day.
Payton on his top five point guards
- Russell Westbrook
- Stephen Curry
- John Wall
- Isaiah Thomas
- Chris Paul
“It’s not an age factor [with Chris Paul]. This era has changed where we want more scoring.
“Paul (pictured) can score but them guys [above him] are scorers.
“It’s not about all around point guards anymore.
“Now if you wanna say all around who’s the best, it’s gonna be different.
“You put Chris Paul at No 1 and John Wall at No 2.
“Then you go down the line because they are facilitating and good on the defensive end.
“If you said it that way it would be different, but best point guards in the league right now, in terms of production, that’s the way they were doing it.”
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- NBA Champion (2006)
- Two time Olympic gold medallist (1996, 2000)
- Nine times All-Star
- Two times All-NBA first team
- Five times All-NBA second team
- Two times All-NBA third team
- 1996 Defensive Player of the Year (only point guard ever)
- Nine times NBA All-Defensive first team (most ever, tied with three others)
- Fourth on all-time steals list (2,445)
- Eighth on all-time assists list (8,966)
After naming his current top five (above), I ask Payton where he would rank himself in that group.
He says: “Now? I don’t know, you can’t say, I’m not playing in this era.
“If they came to my era, none of them players probably would have been in the top five at all.
“Chris Paul or Westbrook could have – but they wouldn’t be in the top five.
“We had John Stockton, Kevin Johnson, myself, Tim Hardaway, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, a lot of guards that were really good.
“It’s very different, they’re scoring more, we were more leaders and distributors.”
Opening night in the NBA is just five days away and by a small twist of fate the summer’s biggest shock – Kyrie Irving demanding a trade away from the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James – will face an immediate resolution.
Irving wanted to step out of James’ shadow, despite winning a Championship and heading to the Finals three years in a row, to run his own team.
He ended up moving to the Boston Celtics – who come to London to face the intriguing Philadelphia 76ers on January 11 – the team that were destroyed in the Conference Finals by the Cavaliers.
Irving now faces his former team in his first game for his new one.
From the outside, Irving’s trade request to move AWAY from the best player on the planet right now made no sense.
“[Irving] got drafted to cleveland,” says Payton, “Did he win anything before LeBron got there? No. Did he go to the play-offs? No.
“LeBron comes and he makes them a team. But he brings a lot with him. He’s the best, he brings a lot of baggage, that’s what you do.
“Now [Kyrie is] maybe thinking ‘OK, I don’t want to be around this anymore, I want my own team. I did what I had to, won the championship,went to the All-Stars a lot. So what do I want now? I want my own team again.’
“Kobe asked for the same thing, ‘get Shaq [O’Neal], get Gary, get Karl away from me in 2004, let me start my own thing’.
“It took him a while, but what happened, they got Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, in the mix and got him the help.
“No one superstar can win a championship by himself. You’ve got to have help. Kyrie wants to try that.
“He thinks he’s capable of doing it, he wants to start his own legacy, he’s already won a chip, he’s done a lot.
“Let him try what he wants to try. That’s the era.
“These kids are thinking I’m young, I want to go somewhere I can start something.
“Boston probably wasn’t his pick, but he’s gonna try make it happen. They have a lot of players there, [Gordon] Hayward, [Marcus] Smart, [Marcus] Morris. They’ve got a lot of young players that are gonna be good.
“[Kyrie] thinks he’s going to be the top player, the guy, so let’s see how he works with them.”
Pre-season predictions have LeBron’s Cavaliers falling down the power rankings – Irving’s replacement Isaiah Thomas is injured, while James is another year older – but Payton believes the negative talk will only fire James.
“He’s gonna come out with a chip on his shoulder after this trade,” adds Payton.
“He’s gonna want to blow the East out. He’s gonna make a statement when they play on the 15.
“Last season cleveland struggled before the play-offs – for a reason.
“They were resting, they didn’t care about being the No 1 seed, they went into Boston in the play-offs and took them apart.
“With [Jae] Crowder and Isaiah, if Isaiah comes back healthy – he averaged 29/30 points, Kyrie averaged 25, they both had 5 assists. There’s not much of a difference [between them].”
In his prime Payton, a nine-time All-Star, nine-time all-defensive first team player and the only point guard to ever win the Defensive Player of the Year award, was known for his stifling defence – he is also fourth on the all-time steals list.
He led the 1996 Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals and facing the then-record breaking Chicago Bulls, pushed Michael Jordan and Co all the way.
Payton did as good a job as anyone ever did defending Jordan, forcing His Airness into his worst series in the Finals, even if the Bulls did have enough to win the title.
Payton, who was also an excellent scorer, rebounder and passer throughout his career, thinks today’s players are forgetting too much about the defensive side of the game.
“They think they’ve got to keep that trend going so people just give people names. They just think of something and give it to them, when we were coming up it was good. I think mine is the all-time greatest. You had some good ones, but nobody could come up with something better than ‘The Glove’ and really put it with what I was doing [as a player]. and explain it. Then you add all the accolades to verify it. Nowadays, everybody is just trying to keep it up without anything behind it. Like OK, I’m gonna name you… Octopus. OK, you Slinky. It’s just names.”
Gary Payton on The Glove nickname
“I don’t think [playing soft defence] was the case with us. In my era you had the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, the Knicks, they took pride in that stuff.
“The rivalries of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston… they wouldn’t let you get to the bucket without killing you or putting you on your back.
“I didn’t ever go into a game saying that if I guard MJ or whoever…. if I give him 30 and I score 30, it’s no use.
“[My mentality was] Even if I can’t stop him, I can contain him, I can make him have a bad game. I can put him off his game, slow him down.
“If he’s averaging 25 points and I can contain him to 17, then I’ve won the battle.
“If he averages 12 assists and I kept him to seven, I’m winning the game.
“I can’t think ok, I got 35 points, he got 35, I did something good.
“But that’s what the thinking is right now and that’s not good.
“You’ve got to buckle down and stop somebody, and that’s what I liked, stopping somebody.”
- Tickets for the NBA London Game 2018 will go on general sale Friday, Octtober 20 at 9 am at theo2.co.uk/nba2018. Fans can register their details at NBA.com/London to gain early access to a limited number of tickets via a presale to be held on Wednesday, October 18 at 9 am