A little over a year ago I was at an event where Mayor Mike McGinn and County Executive Dow Constantine announced a historic labor agreement for the proposed Sonics Arena. The deal was a great one, hard-working arena vendors had been given generous terms in non-contentious negotiations with the cities private partners. It was a great day worthy of a lot of positive attention.
Positive attention however does not drive media hits. Midway through the event one of McGinn's staffers shook his head and pulled out his phone to show me a disappointing message from twitter.
The tweet, which I candidly have not had time to look up for the purposes of this article referenced one of Shawn Kemp's embarrassing run-ins with the law and satirically praised the labor agreement as a great way to employ children born out of wedlock..
The comment was not only inappropriate but also prejudicial and just plain mean. The source was not some fan, but rather an actual journalist employed by the Seattle Times.
"That's unfair." The staffer said. "Shawn should not have to deal with that and somebody should stand up for him."
That night I called Shawn and offered to go after the writer. Sonics fans had a lot of momentum at the time and Shawn has always been there for us. We could and would take up arms to defend him.
"Brian I appreciate that." he said, "If you want to do something about this and are going to talk to that writer you just tell him that Shawn Kemp is a human being. Tell him I read those comments and have two words for him..."
That moment hung on for a bit and I had a pretty good idea of what those two words were going to be. We were going to give the big "F*** YOU!" to the Seattle Times and it would feel good!
"Tell him to BE WELL" said Shawn. "Tell him Shawn Kemp has grown up. Tell him I recognize my mistakes and have learned from them. I've moved past negativity. They can attack me if they want but I don't wish ill upon anyone. I only want him to be well."
I've never had more respect for Shawn Kemp.
Today Jerry Brewer of the Times dropped a wonderful article highlighting Gary Payton's life as he prepares to enter the NBA Hall of Fame. In the article he delves deeply into Gary's character and makes a clear case for re-evaluation of the fiery PG's antagonistic reputation.
Having heard some of the stories about Gary as well as having spoken to him at pretty good length about his public perception I understand that Gary's unwavering self-confidence is an integral part of the drive that made him so great. People doubt his about ability to acknowledge areas where he may have fallen short and instead expect him to blame circumstances or make excuses as to why someone as capable as he perceives himself to be would fall short of perfection in any way.
This article however makes me believe that the contrition is sincere and that Gary has reconciled his young swagger into a more mature form of confidence. I was particularly impressed with the recently divorced father's comments about his ex-wife and former high school sweetheart Monique.
"I wasn't the best guy in the world," Payton admits when talking about Monique. "I had a lot of money. Women were after me. I did a lot of things I regret. And ultimately, she couldn't take it no more. So, she left. I don't feel anger about what she did. She wanted to stop her heart from hurting. If I could, I'd change the hurt I caused my ex-wife. She was there before all the fame. She helped me buy my suit for the draft. She was with me when I was sick, when my back was hurting, when people were down on me. She did so much for me. She deserves to be a part of this."
Payton's candor on such a personal subject should force people to re-evaluate their long ingrained perception of him. He appears to be setting aside his pride, making statements of complete and total accountable for marital problems. While I do not know the details of their divorce I do know that circumstances are never as cut and dried as this statement would make it appear. It takes a tremendous amount of maturity to take full ownership of a negative situation without adding some type of caveat or disclaimer to share the blame or excuse your own behavior.
I find myself feeling extremely proud of Gary Payton and agreeing with Jerry Brewer's conclusion, "Gary Payton, Hall of Famer, pales in comparison to Gary Payton, Redeeming Soul."
Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp have grown from wild youth into better and more mature men. I hope that the honesty and introspection that they have practiced will set an example for the younger generation.
BE WELL Shawn and Gary. We love you.