Hall of Fame
Throughout the 1990’s Kevin Calabro may have been the voice of the Seattle SuperSonics, but it was Gary Payton whose voice was heard the most throughout the Emerald City. On Sunday, the final chapter in GP’s storied NBA career was written, as he was enshrined in the NBA Hall Of Fame.
Born and raised in “The Yay” (Oakland for those unfamiliar), Payton paved the way for fellow Oakland point guards, Jason Kidd and Brian Shaw, through their respective NBA careers.
Following an award winning four-year career with the Oregon State Beavers (1986-1990) in which “The Glove” was awarded the Pac-10 Player of the Year (1990), Payton would hear his name called by Commissioner David Stern as the second overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft by the team that many fans and players, including Payton himself, feel should have been his one and only, the Seattle SuperSonics.
Growing up in Vancouver, the Sonics were BC’s “home team”, and while the LA Lakers always and forever have been my squad, you couldn’t help but support and cheer for the Seattle franchise.
Throughout the 90’s the Sonics were one of the winningest (yup, I just made that a word) team’s in the NBA, reaching the playoffs in 9 of 10 years, led by a roster filled with cool nicknames such as: The Glove, The Reign Man, Mac10, Big Smooth, Grand Teuton, and Chef to name but a few.
It was almost as if fans had a personal relationship with these players (which was hugely influenced by Calabro’s ability on the mic). Led by Payton and Shawn Kemp, the 90’s Sonics were today’s LA Clippers, just better.
You want to talk swagger? If it wasn’t Kemp throwing down one of his redunkulous (yup another grammar gem) slams, then it was Payton yapping and bobbing his head for 48 minutes a game to anyone and everyone that would listen (and even those who wouldn’t).
While there are numerous highlights that have filled volumes of video, one of the best Sonics and GP memories that I have comes from the 1996 NBA Finals, when I was an extra on the basketball film “The Sixth Man”, when the producers and directors wanted to get the film going but all of the extras and the actors (Marlon Wayans, Kadeem Hardison etc) were huddled in the locker rooms of GM Place watching the games instead of being on set.
Only fitting for a series with two of the greatest trash talkers in NBA history, that locker room was filled with grown men, some of who didn’t even know each other, talking junk that would make GP and Michael Jordan proud. While many were on the Bulls’ wagon, I was proud to stand up and defend the yellow and green.
While there were and will always be many who mimic the skills of MJ’s circus shots, or Hakeem Olajuwon’s footwork, or Iverson’s crossover, part of the fun watching GP was his playground passing, many of which connected with Kemp for crowd pleasing finishes (don’t lie, you all went out and practiced the underhand scoop ally-opp pass!)
It was during his 13 years in the Northwest that Gary Payton would become a household name. While he would be rewarded with the ultimate team award as a member of the 2006 Miami Heat, Payton’s achievements in Seattle became legendary.
Nearly a decade on the NBA All-Defensive First Team made his nickname fitting.
As a nine time member of the NBA All-Star game, Payton was also acknowledged as a member of the All-NBA team (1st team x 2, 2nd team x 5, 3rd team x 2).
While the Sonics failed to clinch a NBA Championship during Payton’s tenure with the team, he did manage to capture Olympic glory as a back-to-back gold medalist in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic games as a member of the US national team (or for those who really want to, may refer to them as Dream Team II and III).
For Payton and Seattle basketball fans, hopes and wishes for a Sonics return are strong and one day down the road may come true. Unfortunately for all, one of the great sports legends in Seattle has one void remaining on his illustrious resume. Following the trade to Milwaukee for Ray Allen, he may have been part of a Lakers quartet that disappointed and may have been a shell of his former self on a veteran Celtics team hoping for one more ring.
Yes, he has the personal awards. Yes, he has the championship ring. Yes, he now has his name among the Hall Of Fame.
Yet sadly the one acknowledgement that has remained unfulfilled is seeing Payton’s #20 Seattle Sonics jersey hanging in the rafters.
As the only NBA player to record over 20,000 points, 8,000 assists, 5,000 rebounds and 2,000 steals, no matter which end of the court he was on, chances are Gary Payton would let you know about it.