Sonics legend Gary Payton was recently in Pasco, WA, and had some interesting thoughts on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sonics fans, and the team's potential return to the NBA.
Payton was in the Tri-Cities, speaking to a group of 25 children at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties about setting goals and being responsible. The Sonics all-time leading scorer admitted he struggled with his post-basketball life, but refused to become one of those players who loses all their money.
"When you get a lot of money, you lose your mind," Payton said. "You start buying stuff that you don’t need to buy. You do a lot of stuff that you don’t need to do and it happens. You can enjoy yourself, but you have to understand that you’ve got to plan for the future."
Payton, who has been a staple of numerous rallies in support of the Seattle Arena and the Sonics' return, has expressed a desire to be involved in a group looking to bring the green and gold back to the NBA. Back in 2012, in an interview with Deadspin, Payton was quoted as saying "I think if a team comes back, I want to be very much involved. I want to be one of the guys who goes and helps make decisions with these teams to get great basketball to come back."
During Chris Hansen's pursuit of the Sacramento Kings, there were rumors of Payton taking a job as assistant general manager under would-be GM Phil Jackson. Since then, Jackson has taken a job with the New York Knicks, but Payton - like many fans - remains dedicated to Seattle.
"People are continuing to wear our jerseys and continuing to come and have rallies, and continuing to try to get the team back," he said. "The fans were so true."
That commitment to the cause is what keeps Payton involved, and why he won't let the Oklahoma City Thunder hang his jersey in the rafters of the Chesapeake Energy Arena. "I always tell them I will never raise my jersey in Oklahoma City. They deserve me or Shawn Kemp to raise our jersey in the city of Seattle. We never played in front of Oklahoma."
Earlier this year, the local Oklahoma newspaper The Oklahoman printed an article saying it was time for the Thunder to start using the Sonics retired numbers. It would seem Payton would agree. The numbers have no significance to the Thunder, and as long as Payton and Kemp refuse to hang their jerseys there, there's no reason for them to continue tying their history to our city. Payton, Kemp, and all of us would rather see them hanging in the rafter of Chris Hansen's brand new arena as the new-era Sonics take the court in front of 18,000 screaming fans clad in green and gold, many of them still wearing their #20 jersey.