To put it simply, Gary Payton was the most dominant defensive player in the history of the NBA. Even a vicious choke from his own teammate could not stop the 6’4″ shooting guard from being named to eight All-Defensive teams and one All-NBA First Team. But a new book by David Halberstam, the author of “The Breaks of the Game”, chronicles a story that Payton didn’t know about until after he was already a star in the league.
If you’re not familiar with Gary Payton, he is a former NBA All-Star, who was on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team and the “Dream Team” that won the 1996 Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. He is a four-time NBA All-Star, a five-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection, and a 13-time NBA All-Star Game participant.He may not have had the star power of a Michael Jordan, but Gary Payton has earned a place in the memory of almost everyone who has seen him play. Glove was known in the league as a tough defender, ready to take on any challenge. As a rookie, however, that tendency led to the defender getting in the way of one of his teammates.
During his freshman year with the Seattle Supersonics, Payton decided he was tired of being bullied by Xavier McDaniel. But the veteran didn’t like that and decided to give him an unexpected reprimand.
It goes without saying that professional athletes are very confident in their abilities. Throughout his NBA career, Payton never doubted himself.
For example, in a pregame for his rookie year, Payton walked past the Chicago Bulls’ bench and threw a few words in Michael Jordan’s direction. Though he paid the price afterward – MJ straightened out the Sonics during the regular season and then went to their bench to welcome the glove in the big leagues – the guard didn’t quit.
Even after that first encounter with his air, Payton didn’t stop laughing. On one occasion, he made comments about Lamar Odom’s mother, not knowing that she had recently passed away. After the game, the goalie found out about this and apologized to his opponent. On another occasion, Glove went even further and threatened to kill his teammate’s family during a heated argument.
While some of those comments crossed the line – in the incident with Odom, the defender admitted he said a lot of bad things on the field – the consequences were clear. If you are unlucky enough to play against Gary Payton, you are in for a long night.
Gary Payton in the game for the Seattle Supersonics. | Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
While self-confidence can help an athlete excel, there is a fine line between believing in yourself and being arrogant. In his first year, Payton found himself on the wrong side of that dichotomy and paid a physical price thanks to Xavier McDaniel.
Xavier – I was his recruit, so I had to do everything for him, Payton told The Players’ Tribune. One day of training and I’m done with this shit. I said to him: Dude, no, don’t do that, I’m not doing what you say. Xavier looked at me and said: Young man, you haven’t done anything in this league yet and you’re trying to tell me what to do? You have to do your part, like I did.
Even as a rookie, Gant had no intention of backing down. He challenged McDaniel and told the veteran he would not pay anything. Needless to say, Man X did not like it.
That’s what Xav did, Payton continued. He grabbed me by the neck in the middle of training. And they put me in one of those rooms, right in front of everyone and everything. I was about to leave when he let me go. He said to me: If I have to kick your ass every time, you’ll listen to me.
Given his confidence, it’s safe to assume Payton wouldn’t appreciate being strangled in front of all his teammates. The rookie, however, sees the incident as a turning point rather than a humiliation.
It was a realization, Glove wrote. After that, I did everything he told me. The funny thing is that Xav and I have a close relationship to this day. Honestly, I’m not going to lie, my career wouldn’t have worked out if I had been hired by a team with all these kids my age. I have it from a reliable source. Most teams these days don’t have a guy like Xav to legally sue you. The kind of man who takes care of you.
It’s impossible to predict what would have happened if Payton had come in with a team full of youth and inexperience, but it all worked out in the end. He played 18 seasons in the NBA, averaging 16.3 points, 6.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game. In addition to his eccentric reputation, the defender was known as an explosive striker and reliable defender. He also added Hall of Fame honors to his resume in 2013.
And if Xavier McDaniel hadn’t given such a sleepy welcome, things could have been very different.
statistics provided by Basketball-Reference
COMPARED TO: Gary Payton started his own cannabis business thanks to his mother