Gary Payton made some waves earlier this week when he said that John Stockton was the hardest player he ever had to guard, and was a tougher matchup for him than even Michael Jordan.
Many recognize Jordan as one of the greatest of all time, of course, while Stockton is remembered as more of a pass-first point guard, given his place in history as the game’s all-time leader in assists. Stockton also is the career leader in steals, but to the casual fan, his game simply doesn’t resonate historically the way Jordan’s does.
Payton caught a lot of grief for his statement, but defended it at the beginning of his Hall of Fame induction speech in Springfield, Mass. on Sunday.
“Everyone’s been asking me why [Stockton] is the toughest person to guard instead of Michael Jordan,” Payton said. “First of all, it’s my opinion. So that’s the way it’s gonna go.”
That moment of defiance was followed by laughs and an applause break from the crowd, before Payton gave a more substantial reason behind his remark.
“[Stockton] is the only guy, when I got in the NBA and I wasn’t as good as I thought I was going to be for the first two years, I watched him,” Payton said. “And when I watched him, he’s a player that all kids should watch right now. I might have been more athletic than he was, but he did it the same way every night. Every night.
“For him to only play 32 minutes, come in and shoot the ball 12 times, make nine or 10 of them shots, shoot eight free throws and make seven of ’em, and then have 15 assists and four steals, that’s the reason why he’s the hardest person I ever had to guard. And that’s why I respect him very much.”
Stockton, along with George Gervin, was on stage with Payton during the speech as one of his Hall of Fame presenters.