December 05, 2008
Gary Payton never stops talking. The future Hall-of-Famer spent his entire career trying to get in the heads of his opponents. Now, in retirement, the Seattle legend is using his gift of gab in a different way.
Payton has teamed up with Chris Webber and Ahmad Rashad as part of a new studio show for the revamped NBA TV, and as you'll see, he's as passionate as ever.
This is the first interview in a series of Q and A's with the show's personalities.
Ball Don't Lie: Did you always know that you wanted to get into television when your career ended?
Gary Payton: Yeah. That's what I went to school and majored in at Oregon State. I was always a talkative guy anyway, and I was pretty good in front of the cameras. I always thought after basketball, [broadcasting] is what I wanted to do.
BDL: You were always known as a great trash talker, do you feel like talking trash actually helped you get to this point?
GP: Yeah, I think talking trash makes me feel more comfortable while saying stuff, and [adds] more fun with what I do. [The producers] want me to be the life of the show, they know how my personality is, they know I'm a more outgoing guy, and everybody knows me as that, so when they see the show, they say: "OK, Gary is being Gary." He's adding a little funniness to it, and saying what he has to say. (Smiles) It gets fun because I can do that.
BDL: In the beginning, everyone is going to compare your work on NBATV to the work of the Inside the NBA crew. Do you feel like you were brought to NBATV to play the "Barkley role," or do the producers just want you to do your own thing?
GP: Well, I think it's both ... They knew they needed a guy who was just like Barkley or similar to Barkley. But, I think they brought me in because they knew I would say what's on my mind.
BDL: What's the hardest part of this whole experience been for you?
GP: The traveling [from home in Las Vegas] really. But, it's fun. I don't think nothing is really hard because NBATV has given us a lot of free run [in terms of] what we have to do. They didn't have us get on the set and give us rules ... As we get to [work with each other] more and more, we start feeding off each other. We've been together now for about a month and we're starting to get each other real good. In about another month or two I think we're going to know what each other is going to say before it comes out of their mouth. (Smiles)
BDL: Switching gears, what's the biggest difference you've seen in the game, since you first came into the league?
GP: The toughness. Basketball has reverted over to, "Let's just score points." Let's make our fans see that our NBA is entertainment. [The NBA] is more entertainment now. When I came in [to the league] we had the Xavier McDaniel’s, the Charles Barkley’s, the Isaiah’s, the Laimbeer's ...
BDL: The Charles Oakley’s.
GP: The Oakley’s. Them guys were rough guys coming into the league, and they wanted to make basketball a rough sport, a serious sport. [The game] was more about defense and that type of basketball. Now a days [league executives] want it to be a show. After the strike, things went down in the NBA. David Stern wanted to bring [the league] back up, to bring fans back in, so he started changing rules, so the fans saw more of a highlight [based game] than a rough and grind game, because he doesn't want that to be the image of the NBA.
BDL: Do you think the game has gone stale?
GP: I don't think stale. Like I said, it's more of an entertainment. I wish some of the rules would come back, so that you could touch them [without being called for a foul] ... It's very hard to control Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, if you can't touch 'em. They're too good ... I think the only old-school player left out there is Tim Duncan.
BDL: Is there a point guard in the game who reminds you of yourself?
GP: (Pauses) No. I don't think anybody reminds me of me, because I did it on both ends of the floor. I played defense, I posted up, point guards don't post up [anymore] like I did, and guard somebody end to end, and get steals and stuff. Most point guards now, what they're doing is playing passing lanes, and some of them always talk about why they haven't been on first-team defense. Like Allen [Iverson] and Chris Paul, they're both my buddies, and I like them both, but that's not defense right now. Defense is more like an on the ball type of guy, like Bruce Bowen, but I don't think any point guard plays like that right now.
BDL: Who in your opinion is the best point guard in the game right now?
GP: Chris Paul.
BDL: Not Rondo?
GP: (Smiles) Nooo. No Rondo. Nooo Rondo. Chris Paul and then a close second would be [Deron] Williams.
BDL: You said recently that you believe Seattle will have another team by 2011, what makes you so sure?
GP: A lot of people don't know why the city took the deal ... the NBA guaranteed [Seattle] that they can get a team back in 2011. They can keep their colors, keep their tradition, and they can keep their name, and gave them 75 million dollars. Most people don't know what was in the deal, and that's why the city took the deal because they knew they're gonna get a basketball team back.
BDL: You sound convinced.
GP: Yeah, [by] 2011, they will. It's kind of hard for the NBA not to have a basketball team out there, with so many fans and a great city. [The NBA] wants their market to be like that ... even if they start a new team or a team moves [to Seattle], I think it will be [by] 2011.
BDL: You've said you want to take a more active role in the Seattle franchise, do you mean as an owner, a GM, a president?
GP: As everything. I want to try to do everything. Right now, we've got a couple of guys who are looking into it. We're trying to do a couple of things ... [find] some people that can put some money into [the team] ... whichever way I can possibly to get back to Seattle and be around more of the Seattle fans. If a team does come back there, I want to be more involved with the team, because I think the fans want to see [former Sonic players] around there, [being] more active. That will bring more fans into the stands, you will not have a problem with the stands not being filled, and then we'll talk about a new stadium, and that [discussion] can be happening if you've got a sellout all the time.
BDL: I take it you're not following the team in Oklahoma City at all.
GP: No. Oklahoma City is really not Seattle. [The team] is not called the Oklahoma City Sonics, they're the Oklahoma City Thunder, they're a whole new basketball team. They just took a team from Seattle, and took their players. [Those] guys played one year in Seattle, some of them only played a couple of years in Seattle, so they're really not Seattle. I don't consider them as Seattle [players], they're going to Oklahoma City, that's what their name is the Oklahoma City Thunder. We can just say they were never Seattle.
BDL: You're not close to anybody on that team?
GP: Yes, I am. Earl Watson and [Kevin] Durant.
BDL: Your old teammate Shawn Kemp is playing over in Italy. Any thoughts of going over to Italy and playing with him one more time?
GP: (Laughs) No. I talked to Shawn about the situation about two months ago. He called me [because] we are forming some camps back in Seattle. We're going to start camps back in Seattle next summer ... then the question came up, I asked him "Why did you want to go back and play?" He said he missed basketball. It was a great opportunity for him to come over [to Italy], stay in shape, and play, and show people that he could still play basketball. With me, I don't have anything else to prove. [Playing in Europe] would be something that's just recreational, a fan thing, let somebody see "The Glove" Gary Payton, whatever. Over in Italy, they'd have me as a show, and I'm not into that, I'm not into being a show ... in 2006 when I won my championship [with the Heat], that's all I could ask for and accomplish, I got everything else.
BDL: When you're watching games now, do you ever think back to the days of "The Reign Man" and "The Glove?"
GP: Matter of fact, me and my little son, we watched some tapes of me and Shawn from '90-'94. When I came in, he was in his sophomore year, and I was a rookie ... we watched that tape, and I used to see us, and we were pretty good. (Laughs) We were pretty good. We were the ones who started that alley-oop and lob stuff, and got really good at it ... Then we watched some of the tape of the '96 [Western Conference Finals] where we beat Utah, and we dethroned Stockton and Malone, and they called us [one of] the next best duo in the NBA, and that was a good accomplishment for us.
BDL: You were one of the most durable players of your time. Do you laugh most of the time now, when guys sit out of a game?
GP: (Smiles) I laugh when they say they've got a hangnail, or they say they've got a toenail that's hurtin' ... I'm like, "What are you talking about?" I played with a broken finger, a severely sprained ankle ... In [the Finals], [I was] trying to play Michael Jordan with a pulled hamstring muscle, and a calf muscle ... In my day, it was just mandatory for me to play basketball, because my coach, George Karl gave me so many responsibilities to go out there and make us win ... The only way I couldn't go out there is if my leg was amputated, I [only] had one leg, and I was going to hurt my team ... Now a days, it's just a little bit different. [The players] are making a lot of money, you can say, "Well we got 82 [games], we'll catch you in the end, if we can stay in it." That's just the way basketball players are thinking now.
BDL: On a lighter note, I saw some of the guys giving you some heat because the Oregon State football team lost, how much heat did you take when the basketball team lost to Howard?
GP: The basketball team is just turrrrible. Golly. Listen, I've been taking too much heat from [the other studio guys], so I'll just tune out the basketball [team]. The football [team] I was really hurt by this weekend. [Oregon State] basketball really hurt me last year, when we were the first Pac-10 team to ever go 0-18 [in conference play]. I just see how the basketball program is going down. We have a good coach, in Coach Robinson, he is trying to get [the program] back. He is trying to bring [the program] back in a way, with Obama, because he is [the President-Elect's] brother in law. As a matter of fact, I had a conversation with [Coach Robinson] about a week ago, and we're going to have a meeting [about the future of the program] ... Obama's going to come to Oregon State to try to pump that up a little bit ... I'm going to go to Corvalis and meet with [Coach Robinson] and see what kinds of things we can do to get the program back.
BDL: Can't you just get Obama to do something to get the program back on track and help out his brother-in-law?
GP: (Laughs) He's the President. He loves sports, he loves basketball, and he's going to do a good thing for Oregon State when he goes that way, and makes an appearance, like I've heard. Hopefully, he can get people to understand that Oregon State is a good school, and we can get it back on the map.
BDL: OK, to wrap this up, if an NBA team comes to you tomorrow and says, "Gary, we need you." What would you say?
GP: I would say no. There's nothing that can make me come back to basketball, unless they say, "We're going to give you 15 million dollars!" HAHAHA!
BDL: What about the 100 million dollars you said you would take to have a sex change operation and play in the WNBA?
GP: (Smiles) Oh, I'll do that. I'll sex-change for a year. I can change back. I'll take the 100 million, for one season and I'll come right back ... I don't even think coaching would entice me right now, I like television so much, and what I'm doing here at NBATV. Basically, the only way I would even think about going back into the NBA (right now) is if my longtime best friend Brian Shaw, who is an assistant coach with the Lakers, could become a head coach, and asked me to become his assistant or something like that. Even Nate McMillan, he raised me too, if he asked me I would consider it, and that's the only way I would come into coaching, any other thing it would have to be a GM [position], or a president or something, so I could run a basketball team like a Michael Jordan ... playing, it's over.
BDL: With the sex change operation, you could play for Oregon State's women's team though.
GP: (Laughs) They gotta give me 200 million then.