Elected to the Basketball Hall Of Fame earlier this year, Gary Payton turned 45 years old today. Unbelievable. As a kid growing up in the Northwest, the Sonics of the Shawn Kemp/GP/George Karl era were my favorites for reasons I couldn’t have detailed at the time. But they played fast, Kemp was like a video game character come to life and Payton carried an attitude that was unmistakable, even at age 8. Too young to remember the Portland Trail Blazers’ glory years, the Sonics ran the Northwest as far as I was concerned. Payton was their ring leader and it’s obvious why.
It would be interesting to ask a fan 15 years old or younger what they know about Payton’s legacy. I’d be willing to bet that his legendary trash-talking — the kind that gave former Sonics teammate Ervin Johnson the “Tragic Johnson” nickname and told a teenaged Jason Kidd he wouldn’t get a shot off — would come up before a mention of his defense, the kind of defense that spawned “The Glove” nickname. He was just that good at running his mouth… remember, he made our list of the 20 best trash-talkers of all time.
In honor of Payton’s birthday, here’s a trip down trash-talk’s memory lane, with one of the best point guards in NBA history — and a guy who let anyone who doubted that fact know all about it.
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5. PAYTON AGAINST THE PAC-10
GP went from Oakland to Corvallis, Oregon, for college — about as disparate as two cities could be from one another. He brought his game, and his peculiar level of discourse, with him. From a 1990 Seattle Times feature:
As a freshman, Payton hit a male Oregon cheerleader between the eyes with a wad of gum. The cheerleader, who’d invoked the inner-city fighting words, “hookhead,” against Payton, had to be restrained. Payton was not; to his relief, Pac-10 officials never invoked a code of silence against him.
With such impunity, Payton was his trash-talkingest best with the homeys in the Bay – Cal and Stanford. “Get someone out here who can guard me!” he screamed at the Cardinal bench when Stanford’s physical tactics “got under my skin” last year. He maintained a running verbal feud with Bear fans during visits to Berkeley.
“I started talking back, and it was like thousands against just Gary – who’s going to win?” Payton says. “It hyped me up. If somebody talks to me from the crowd, I can talk back because I can back it up. As soon as I do something good, they’re going to shut up.”