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Friday, September 12, 2014

One of the Best Brings It Home to Vegas

One of the best defensive players in NBA history brings it home to Las Vegas

Story by Brian Hurlburt 

Gary Payton wants his fellow Las Vegans to not worry about approaching him if they see him out and about in local neighborhoods or basketball gyms. That might surprise many who are reading this because during his basketball career, Payton appeared to be as approachable as a porcupine when he was playing the game. He was one of the toughest guys to ever play basketball, but was always much calmer off the court. The off-the-court Gary is the one who now lives in Southern Nevada. He moved to the area a few years ago and feels a part of the community.

“Everybody always says, ‘I don’t know if I could live in Vegas’ and this and that, but we have neighborhoods just like any other city and I love this community,’” says Payton, sounding like a true local. “I have a nice house here in Summerlin and I am very happy. A lot of people say it is too hot in the summer, but you don’t have to choose to go out if you don’t want to until the nighttime. Then it’s perfect. It’s 90 degrees and you can have dinner on the patio and sit out and drink a beer or have some wine and look at the stars. If you want to catch a show you can catch a show here and there or do other typical Vegas stuff. That’s why I live here. It’s great for me.”

On the court, Payton was known for being a brash, arrogant, non-stop talker who pretty much pissed off every basketball player from his hometown of Oakland to far-off Australia where he won a second gold medal in 2000 while playing for the United States. There’s a saying in basketball that a good defender will seemingly “get in the shorts” of the player he is defending.

Gary Payton got in so many shorts he could start a clothing store.

His fierce play on the court and a defensive intensity, maybe not matched by anyone in the history of the game, defined him. His nickname, “The Glove,” fit him, well, like a glove. He played the game with an edge from day one. He persevered—and prospered—at every level of basketball, culminating with an induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame along with fellow Las Vegas resident Jerry Tarkanian.

“Every day I stepped on the court I thought, ‘this is my job and this is what I have to do’,”
 says Payton. “I had no friends on the basketball court. Even if I did know someone on the other team he wasn’t my friend during the game. He could be my friend after the game but never during it. That was my mentality. I knew guys were trying to take care of business so I had to go back at them even harder.”

Payton’s chip on his shoulder is boulder size and tracks back to a youth spent balling in Oak-town. Payton survived the hard streets and drug-infested culture to reach the pinnacle of his chosen sport. Payton grew up being friends with drug dealers and in an area that was “parceled out” to dealers and gangs. One friend, Little D, is now in prison where he brags about his friendship with Payton and how good his friend was as a player.

Payton survived the challenging environment with the help of basketball and his family. He credits his father, Al, for keeping him humble and motivated to get better, and for keeping him in line. Al coached Gary and other area kids and earned the nickname, “Mr. Mean.” Al was a no-nonsense coach and even stellar performances by young Gary didn’t earn much praise. “My father kept me motivated because when I had a great game he would tell me that it was just okay,” says Payton. “That drove me to try even harder and continue to work on my game.”

Al, who played college basketball at Alcorn A&M, knew his son had special talents on the court, but also understood the value of an education. After a student was stabbed to death in the school yard at Fremont High School—where Gary was supposed to go—Al lobbied the school district and received permission to enroll Payton at Skyline, a school known for academics, but not basketball.

That soon changed when Payton joined the team. After struggling in school early in his career, Payton turned his life around in the classroom and led the team to two championships in the tough Oakland Athletic League. It was the first time Skyline had ever won a title.

“When Gary first came up, he was the cockiest mother—you just wanted to kick him in the butt,” said his former high school coach, Fred Noel, in an article for the Seattle Times. “But I learned that he will do anything necessary to play basketball.''

Following high school, Payton took his talents to Oregon State where he played under the legendary Ralph Miller. He basically re-wrote the record book during his time as a Beaver and solidified his reputation as a competitor who loved to talk while he played.

Payton, during his Hall of Fame induction speech, boasted that he was the best trash talker in the history of the sport, but also gave people a reason why he talked so much. “All of that was for my crazy love of the game and due to my lack of maturity to be able to express my passion any other way,” he said. “I don’t regret the way I went about it and I am a stronger man today as a result. But I realize I could have given more to the game that gave so much to me.”

After college, the Seattle Supersonics drafted Payton where he would play for 13 years before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. He also spent a year each with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Payton retired from the NBA in 2006 after a 17-year career. He went out in style as a member of the Miami Heat and a teammate of Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’ Neal. The team won the NBA Championship. While he won a title with the Heat, it was his career with the Seattle Supersonics that defined him.

His former head coach with the Seattle Supersonics, George Karl, knows “The Glove” as well as anyone and once told Seattle Times writer Jerry Brewer, “Gary didn’t persevere quietly. He persevered angrily. He demanded winning. He demanded it in himself first. Then, he demanded it of his teammates. His strength was his ability to demand winning. It was off the charts. Gary’s passion was to kick your ass. Sometimes, people got offended with how Gary got in your face and portrayed his anger, but his intentions were never misplaced.”

Payton’s first affiliation with Las Vegas might have come during his time with Seattle when he met former UNLV assistant coach Tim Grgruich. “Grg” coached with Tarkanian during the Rebels’ glory years and is known by true hoop aficionados as one of the best coaches in the game. When Payton was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he profusely thanked Grgurich for helping him as a player.

Like Grgurich and all of the other coaches who helped him, Payton is now trying to pass on life lessons to his family. Payton has four children: Julian, Raquel, Gary Payton Jr., and Gary Payton II. Payton II will be playing basketball for Oregon State this fall.

“The advice I gave Gary II and my other kids is that you have to work hard for everything,” says Payton. “My kids didn’t have to go through what I did as a kid playing on the playground and jumping the gates trying to get in a game. We didn’t have the AAU games to play in like they do and all these high-priced shoes and everything, and teams sponsored by Nike and adidas and all that. I just tell my kids to work hard and stay humble. Gary II is very humble. He took a long route to get where he is now. He went to prep school and then to junior college. He is now following in my footsteps at Oregon State. I told him to think about himself and not think about what I did there. I also told him, ‘don’t try to be like your dad.’ Nobody will ever be like me. There will only ever be one Gary Payton the basketball player. Make your own name. Every day he walks in and sees my jersey in the hall of fame. He looks up there and he wants to put his name up there and make his own reputation.”

These days Payton is talking about the game but in a positive way as a commentator with Fox Sports. And as Payton looks back on everything, words from Miller resonate even more than they did when he first heard them.

“I have always gone by something Ralph Miller told me,” says Payton. “He said, ‘Once you think you have accomplished everything and worked as hard as you could work, then hang up your shoes.’ So that’s what I did. I worked as hard as I could and when I thought I had done as much as I could possibly do, I hung up the shoes.”

Mr. Mean—and Mr. Miller—are proud.

Gary Payton File

Oregon State Honors
- Selected national Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1990.
- 1990 consensus All-American first team pick.
- 1990 Pac-10 Player of the Year.
- Other 1989-90 honors: Billy Packer’s U.S. Army Reserve Player of the Year, L.A. Gear Unstoppable
- Player of the Year, Bill Hayward Amateur Athlete for the state of Oregon, MVP of the Japan Classic All-Star Tournament.
- Three-time All-Pac-10 selection.
- Pac-10 All-Tournament selection in 1988 and 1989.
 - 1987 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
- Pac-10 Player of the Week nine times in his career, more than any player in conference history.
- Three-time MVP of the Far West Classic and the only four-time all-tournament selection.
- Selected to the Pac-10 All-Decade Team for the 1980s.
- OSU jersey (#20) retired during 1996-97 season.
- Inducted into the Oregon State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.
- Named to Pac-10 Conference’s inaugural Hall of Honor class in 2002.

Oregon State Highlights
 - The Pac-12’s all-time leader in assists (938) and steals (321).
 - Sixth all-time leading scorer in the Pac-12 and all-time leader at Oregon State (2,172 points).
- His 58 points vs. USC on Feb. 22, 1990, set the Oregon State school record and is the third-most ever in Pac-12 history.
- Led Oregon State in scoring in 1988-89 (20.1) and 1989-90 (25.7).
- Ranks second for single-season scoring at Oregon State with 746 points in 1989-90 and seventh with 603 points in 1988-89.
- Finished his Oregon State career with 16 30-point scoring games.
- Led Oregon State in assists and steals all four seasons.
- Holds the top four spots on Oregon State’s single-season assists list.
- Set the school record with 15 assists vs. Arizona State (Nov. 30, 1989).
- On Oregon State’s all-time leaderboard, holds 10 career, seven single-season, six single-game and five consecutive-game records.

NBA and Team USA Career
- Second overall selection in the 1990 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics
- He played one season each with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
- Ended his 17-year NBA career with the Miami Heat where he won an NBA championship in 2006.
- Nine-time NBA All-Star and nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection
- All-NBA First Team selection in both 1998 and 2000
- NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, becoming the only point guard to ever win the award
- Ended his NBA career ranking third all-time in steals (2,445), seventh in assists (8,966), eighth in games played (1,335) and 21st in points (21,813).
- Won Olympic Golf Medals with Team USA in 1996 and 2000.


Payton at leisure

“People will always say that because we are ex-athletes it is easier for us to stay in shape, but we are like everybody else. We get older and we get lazier, and don’t work out as much as we did when were young. I think what athletes have to do, and everybody has to do, is make time to work out to keep in shape so that we don’t have heart attacks or other health problems. Our body does change as we get older and it doesn’t matter if we were an athlete because if we don’t stay in shape we are just like anybody else and we get out of shape if we aren’t active. What I say is, go to the gym 2 to 3 times per week and ride the bike to stay active.”

For inquires about Gary Payton, contact Lana Howard by Email at Lanah02@gmail.com or call 702-234-3788.

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