Posted Sep 5, 2013 11:20 AM
You're not getting soft on us, are you?
Gary Payton laughed.
"Well, you know," he said, "it happens."
Not to Payton, though. Not to The Glove. Not to the guy who inflicted himself on opponents at both ends of the court in a way few guards in NBA history have. Certainly not to a new Hall of Fame inductee.
"People have to understand I'm 45 years old now," he said. "That was when I was in my 20s and my 30s. That's what I did to become the person that I am now and that's why I am going into the Hall of Fame, because that's the way I played basketball. It got me into the NBA and the Hall of Fame and have all the good stats that I got. People are understanding. They understand. They were like, 'Yeah, we understand. That was where you were. We wouldn't have liked you if you hadn't been that guy. You made a mark on the NBA and that was your trademark.' I appreciate that and that's what I wanted. I wanted to make a trademark where people remember me as that person."
Payton will be inducted Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in Springfield, Mass., as the headliner of the Class of 2013, with his image intact. The threat to score or pass and the demon defender who played 17 seasons, nine All-Star appearances and was first-team All-Defense nine consecutive seasons. He played at 6-foot-4 and about 180 pounds, with the giant chip on his shoulder figured in.
But now he is talking about saying a lot of nice things in his acceptance speech. This, Payton said in snarl-less tones, is not the new GP. This is the kinder, gentler GP that has always been there, if mostly hidden away from the public.
He looks forward to paying special tribute to his parents in attendance. His high school coach, one of his Oregon State coaches and at least one of his NBA head coaches, George Karl, plan to be there. And Payton has chosen fellow point guard John Stockton and boyhood idol George Gervin for the ceremonial role as presenters. He idolized Stockton as a player and appreciated the friendship that grew out of their time together with the 1996 Olympic team.
So many nice things to say about an opponent. This is Payton?
"I'm going to say a couple of things to a couple of people," The Glove of old said. "Put some funny stuff in there."
So he will trash talk from the podium.
"I'm going to do a lot of different stuff," Payton said. "There's going to be a little twist to it. Yeah, I might. I might trash talk to a few of the guys, some of my guys that I grew up with, some of the coaches that coached me. I know I'm going to get on Coach Karl. It's going to be a fun speech."
He has been practicing with a speech coach in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas, all the way to getting reps with a podium and microphone. That's how much he wants this to go well. That's how much he wants people to see a side of him that was never let out on the court.
"They will see that," Payton said. "I'm really not like I was when I played basketball. Right now, I'm not a cocky guy. A lot of people like to be around me. That's what most people always do to me when they meet me and be around me and get to know me as a person. They'd be like, 'I never thought you would be like this. We thought you would be [a jerk] or arrogant and all that.' I was like, 'No, that's not really what I am. I'm a fun guy. I like to do fun stuff. I like to laugh, I like to joke, I like to do a lot of things.' It's just when I played basketball, nobody was my friend. That's the way I grew up.
"It's going to be a lot of passion for a minute and then it's going to come from my heart. I'm going to talk very much from my heart and have a love for it. I think a lot of people are going to see the passion's that's in my heart and how serious I am and how passionate I am for what I'm going to say. A lot of people in there are going to be very, very surprised at the things I say and a lot of the people that I thank."
"Gary Payton's got a different side, and that's my side. I'm going to show it and thank people that I need to thank because if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been the way I am now."
Payton believes he would not have made it to Springfield, to two Olympic gold medals, to a Defensive Player of the Year, to a great run as a SuperSonic, without being The Glove, the mouth with the unforgiving personality. That is what he needed.
This -- Sunday afternoon, standing on stage at Symphony Hall, looking out from behind the podium, with the chance to surprise people -- is what he wants.
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