#20 Gary "The Glove" Payton
Position: Guard ▪ Height: 6-4 ▪ Weight: 180 lbs.
Born: July 23, 1968 (Age 43) in Oakland, California
High School: Skyline in Oakland, California
College: Oregon State University
Draft: Seattle SuperSonics, 1st round (2nd pick, 2nd overall), 1990 NBA Draft
NBA Debut: November 3, 1990
Offensively, Payton was not a particularly strong shooter but was much more physical than most point guards of his era, preferring to use his 6'4 body frame and strength to shield defenders on his way to the basket or posting up his opponent in an isolation play.
He is the only guard to have won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award since Michael Jordan in 1988. Also, he, Jordan, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant share the record for most career NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, with 9. He is currently third all-time in career steals. A strong all-around player, Payton also ranks fifth all-time among guards in defensive rebounds, 12th in offensive rebounds, and 10th in total rebounds for a guard. Among players considered point guards, Payton ranks 3rd in defensive rebounds, 5th in offensive rebounds, and 4th in total rebounds, behind Jason Kidd, Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.
Many attribute his greatness to the tremendous work ethic and courage he displayed throughout his career. In his 17-year career, Payton missed only 25 games, and at one point held the longest active streak for consecutive games played, with over 300. Of those games he did miss, many were due to suspensions or coaches' decisions (particularly in his final season), as Payton was highly capable (and highly willing) of playing through injury. The Sporting News noted in a 2000 article, "Durability always has been one of Payton's strong suits. He has missed only two games in 10 seasons and is generally counted on for nearly a full game's worth of nonstop motion, despite chronic back pain that requires extensive stretching and regular applications of heating packs."
The hard working and well-conditioned Karl Malone was the only player to log more minutes of playing time than Payton in the 1990s. Sports Illustrated labeled Payton's 2003–04 season as the best season ever by a point guard aged 35 or older, with the exception of John Stockton's later years, and Payton continued to play at a high level even as he advanced in age.
In his later years, Payton gained recognition as a clutch performer, hitting several key shots during the Miami Heat's 2006 championship run.
Payton is also considered one of the best defensive opponents of Michael Jordan, and the two players had a high-profile rivalry that culminated in the 1996 NBA Finals. Jordan and Payton are the only two guards to have won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award since 1989, and despite their different positions (shooting guard and point guard respectively), they were well matched for other reasons. Both were prodigious "trash talkers" (Larry Johnson once named Payton, Jordan and himself the best three trash talkers in the league), had legendary competitiveness, and as the 1997 NBA Preview magazine stated, "Payton [was] quick, and strong as an ox", making him the kind of player who could frustrate Jordan defensively. Payton, at 6'4" and with a tough physique, was one of a handful of point guards with the size and body type to guard Jordan.
Midway through the 1996 NBA Finals, Seattle coach George Karl made the decision to assign Payton to play defense as a shooting guard instead of his normal point guard assignment in order to defend Jordan. Though the Bulls won the series, Seattle's (and especially Payton's) defense held Jordan and the Bulls to their lowest offensive output in an NBA finals and "frustrated the best player in the game." In his first three NBA Finals, Jordan averaged 36.3 points per game and had scored at least 30 points in 14 of his 17 games. However, in the 1996 Finals, Jordan averaged 27.3 points per game and scored more than 30 points in only 1 of the 6 games. In a game 5 preview after Payton had held Jordan to a career NBA Finals low of 23, an NBA pregame show described the rivalry of two strong defensive players renowned for their competitiveness.
"[In Game 4, Jordan had his] lowest output in a Finals game, much of it with Payton guarding him. Though afterwards, Jordan refused to give Payton credit, saying 'No one can stop me, I can only stop myself. I missed some easy shots.' The truth is, Jordan finds the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year [Payton] annoying. He views the [young Payton] as impudent, and he would love to have a big game at [Payton's] expense." (NBA on NBC Preview, Game 5)
The Sonics won that game by 21 points and Payton held Jordan to 26 points – Jordan's second-lowest-scoring Finals game in his career up to that point. In game 6, which the Bulls would win to capture the Championship, Payton played 47 minutes and Jordan missed 14 of his 19 shots, getting a career Finals low 22 points. By the end of the series, Michael Jordan had been held under 30 points in 5 of the 6 games, including his three lowest-scoring Finals games up to that point (26 in Game 5, 23 in Game 4, 22 in Game 6). Bill Walton, commentating for NBC at the time, said Payton "outplayed" Jordan during the second half of the series, and that Seattle coach George Karl would "rue" the decision to "hide [Payton] from 'the king'" in the early games of the series. During this series, Payton and his Sonics also held Jordan's Bulls to the lowest-scoring quarter in their NBA Finals history. Michael Jordan would never score fewer points in an NBA Finals game than his 22 points in game 6, and would never be held under 30 points more than twice in a Finals series, which the Sonics did five times.
An NBA Champion, 96 Defensive Player Of The Year, 9x All Star, 9x All Defensive 1st Team, and 2x All NBA 1st Team, Gary Payton deserves to be in the HOF.