Gary Payton. Chewing gum and talking trash. Never backing down Gary Payton. Brash. Cocky. But able to back it up.
GP is one of the most beloved Sonics players without question. As a long time Sonics fan, I loved getting to watch him come into the league and grow into the role of leader of the team. Recently, Payton wrote an article for The Player’s Tribune titled “O.G’s Only,” where he talks a lot about his father and growing up, both as a player and as a man.
Payton shares about the influence “Mr. Mean” had on keeping him out of trouble as he grew up in rough East Oakland, and the out-sized influence that Al Payton had on the surrounding community where so many young men did not have reliable father figures in their lives. The story is very much a touching tribute to his father, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago.
Payton also shares about a couple of other father figure of sorts in K.C. Jones and Xavier McDaniel, who were part of the Sonics when Gary entered the league. McDaniel in particular had a role in the development and maturing process for GP. Payton is somewhat sparing on most of the details, but does share of a particular time where X-Man all but choked Gary out when he got out of line as a rookie. Seriously. And Gary is grateful for it. Many of us have had to take our lumps to help us grow up.
These strong men helped Gary reach his potential, helped him become who we know him as today. Gary honors them and gives thanks. He then indirectly shares how he has paid that forward in a way through his friend and former teammate Shawn Kemp. Gary continues to hold sway in Kemp’s life, and it would appear that is a mutually enjoyed relationship.
The piece is a fun read. A bit of nostalgia for our Sonics to be found there. A fun story about Michael Jordan punking GP in their first official game against each other in the NBA. And a fair amount about honoring those who have influenced us.
But most importantly, in what I see in it is something that I hope continues to grow in Gary Payton, maturity and self awareness. What role might someone like Gary Payton have as Seattle moves towards getting an NBA team once again? Is there a place for a wiser and more mature Gary Payton, a place he can show he’s learned and grown and can have an impact outside himself? Will he get a chance as coach? Owner?
Feel free to share your favorite Gary Payton memory in the comments.