Smith on Payton: The Glove deserves the love

Seattle SuperSonics' Gary Payton drives to the basket to score against Indiana Pacers' Jonathan Bender. (AP/John Froschauer)

When conversations pop up about the greatest point guards to ever play the game, you’ll hear names like John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, Bob Cousy, Isaiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson. But on that list as well, amongst those greats, is a trash-talking, defensive stud who could burn you on either end of the floor.

His name is Gary Payton. On Monday morning, the nine-time NBA All Star was elected to the Hall of Fame.

It should come as no surprise that Payton made it to the Hall in his first year of eligibility. The long time Supersonic is the only point guard to ever win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award (1996) and he made the league’s All-Defensive First Team a whopping nine times as well. Payton also won a championship with the Miami Heat in 2006 after stints with the Celtics, Lakers and Bucks. He also claimed a pair of gold medals with Team USA at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.

But it was his time in Seattle — 12.5 years — where Payton made his mark on the game and entrenched his spot in the history books.

“He’s one of the toughest guys, mentally and physically, that I’ve ever been around”, said Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey who served as an assistant coach to George Karl in Seattle from 1994-2005, Payton’s prime years with the Sonics. “Everybody talks about Kobe (Bryant) being a winner and a competitor, well being around Gary every day was unbelievable as far as how competitive he was.”

Over the 10-year span “The Glove” and Casey were together, Payton only missed a mind-boggling four games. That’s it.

“He was there every night; injured, hurt, or bad ankle. Whatever it was,” Casey said. “Gary was a competitor and back in his prime he was one of the best defenders – one-on-one — I’ve ever been around.”

During his 17 years in the Association, Payton missed only 27 games. His durability and will to win was simply incredible according to Casey.

“He was wiry strong and tough-minded,” he said. “Most of all, he was a winner. I think we average about 50 wins per year during our time in Seattle. He would compete and play hurt. He would play through (it all).”

Payton averaged 16.3 points, 6.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.8 steals over the course of his career, totals that were nearly matched in very category during his 15 years in the post-season as well. The Oakland, Calif. native scored over 21,000 points and tallied just under 9000 assists too, and when he retired in 2007, he was the only point guard in NBA history to tally 20,000 points, 8000 assists, 5000 rebounds, and 2000 steals in a career.

“He wasn’t a great shooter,” Casey said. “He was a scorer more-so than a shooter. He was left-handed but he shot with his right hand. He got a lot of left-handed scoop lay-ups because become forgot that he was left-handed. And he would get a lot of points off his defence. In pick-and-roll situations he would get to the rim and get to the basket and became a better shooter the older he got.”

He also became more of a leader as he got older — and he mellowed out a bit too. He was still brash and could jaw-jack with the best of them, but the image of the trash-talking, cocky kid that came into the league was replaced with one of the talkative, experienced veteran.

“Gary had a way of getting on guys,” Casey said. “We would tell young players to not listen to how he says it and the cuss words he uses around it. Listen to the content of what he’s saying because the message is very important.”

Payton, along with the rest of the Class of 2013, will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Face during a ceremony on Sept. 8.

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