You’re going to be hearing a lot about Gary Payton in the week ahead, as he’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2013 class on Sunday. And given his place in the game, his comments about those he played against are worth looking at a little more closely.
We all know who the best players are in any given era; personal biases aside, it’s usually fairly clear who the transcendent players are. (It’s LeBron James over everyone right now, in case you were wondering.)
While no one doubts the impact that Michael Jordan had during his playing days, individual matchups with other players can be far less black and white.
And that’s why Payton saying that it was John Stockton, and not Jordan who he had the toughest time defending isn’t as controversial as it may seem on the surface.
Q: Did John Stockton ever talk trash back to you?
A: “Never. That is the reason I really respected him because you never could get in his head. He’s the hardest person I ever had to guard. I tried to talk to him, try to do something and he’d just look at me, set a pick and cause me [to get mad and] get a tech. And then all of the sudden it was over. There was much respect to him doing that to me. It taught me a lot.”
Q: You say Stockton was the hardest to guard, but what about guarding Michael Jordan?
A: “Those battles were a little easier. I would have Jordan get mad at me and go back at me. He knew he was really talented and could do whatever he wanted to. But [Stockton] was more of a challenge to me than guarding someone that would talk back to me. When you talk back to me and say something to me it made my game go to another level. John was one who wouldn’t say nothing and you couldn’t figure him out. He’d keep going in the pick and rolls and he and Karl Malone would score a big bucket. At times I would guard Jordan and get him mad and into other things.”
Payton is a player that, like Jordan, used trash talk to his advantage. He was energized by the challenge of besting an opponent, and always sought that external motivation to reach his highest levels of play.
The fact that Stockton wouldn’t give it to him, while playing at a Hall of Fame level himself, makes Payton’s remarks easy to understand.