Payton is widely considered one of the best point guards of all time and is the only point guard that has won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times, an NBA record he shares with Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. He was also a nine-time NBA All-Star and a nine-time All-NBA Team member.
Considered the "NBA's reigning high scorer among point guards" in his prime, Payton is referred to as "probably as complete a guard as there ever was" by Basketball Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich.
Payton was born in Oakland, California. He played high school basketball at Skyline High School in Oakland, California, along with former NBA player Greg Foster, before attending Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. In his second year, his grades plummeted and he was declared academically ineligible. His dad encouraged him to focus on school, and he was allowed to play again. Throughout his four-year career at OSU, he became one of the most decorated basketball players in OSU history. During his senior year, Payton was featured on the March 5, 1990 cover of Sports Illustrated magazine as the nation's best college basketball player. He was a consensus All-American in 1990, a three-time All-Pac-10 selection, and both the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and conference Freshman of the Year in 1987. He was the MVP of the Far West Classic tournament three times and was the Pac-10 Player of the Week nine times. He also was named to the Pac-10's All-Decade Team. At the time of his graduation, he held the school record for points, field goals, three-point field goals, assists, and steals – all of which he still holds today except for career three-point field goals. During his career at OSU, the Beavers made three NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT appearance. He was elected into OSU's Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
Payton was the second overall pick in the 1990 NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, and spent his first 12½ seasons with the Sonics. Entering the league to star-studded expectations, Payton struggled during his first two seasons in the league, averaging 8.2 points per game during that span. However, he soon proved himself to be one of the league's top point guards, while, during the 1990s Payton, alongside Shawn Kemp formed the "Sonic Boom" – one of the most thrilling tandems of all time. He earned his first of 9 consecutive All-NBA team selections when he was chosen to the All-NBA Third team in 1994. Payton would go on to make the All-NBA First-Team in 1998 and 2000, All-NBA Second Team in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2002, and All-NBA Third Team in 1994 and 2001. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team a record nine consecutive seasons (1994–2002), and won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1996, the first guard to win the award in 8 years. He has been selected to the NBA All-Star Team nine times and was voted as a starter in 1997 and 1998. He was a member of the gold medal-winning 1996 and 2000 U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball Teams. In 1996, Payton and the SuperSonics, under coach George Karl, reached the NBA Finals after winning a franchise record 64 games and lost in six games to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
In the middle of the 2002–03 season at the trade deadline, Payton was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Desmond Mason in exchange for Ray Allen, Kevin Ollie, and Ronald Murray. Payton played the remaining 28 games with the Bucks, averaging 19.6 points and 7.4 assists per game. The Bucks faced the defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets in the first round of the playoffs, pushing the Nets to six games before losing to the more experienced and well rounded Nets. Payton led the Bucks in scoring (18.5) and assists (8.7) during the series, which included a 20-point 14 assist performance in a game 4 Milwaukee win.
As an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2003–04 season, Payton, along with Karl Malone, signed with the Los Angeles Lakers to make a run at their first NBA Championship. Payton started in all 82 games and averaged 14.6 points with 5.5 assists and 1.2 steals but struggled with Lakers coach Phil Jackson's triangle offense, which limited his ball-handling and post-up opportunities. Payton provided offense in games where superstar teammates Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant could not play due to injury, including a 30-point output in an overtime win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 4.
Despite injuries to Malone, O'Neal and Bryant throughout the season, the Lakers won 56 games and the Pacific Division. In the playoffs, Payton averaged just 7.8 points per game but scored 15 points in games 3 and 6 of the Lakers' semifinal series against the San Antonio Spurs, and scored 18 points to go with 9 assists in game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lakers would reach the NBA Finals before falling to the Detroit Pistons in 5 games, with Payton struggling to contain Chauncey Billups who torched the Laker defense and won the Finals MVP award.
Prior to the 2004–05 season, the Lakers traded Payton and Rick Fox to the Boston Celtics for center Chris Mihm, small forward Jumaine Jones and point guard Chucky Atkins. While Payton expressed displeasure with the trade, he ultimately did report to Boston and began the 2004–05 season as the Celtics' starting point guard. On February 24, 2005 Payton was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal that brought former Celtic Antoine Walker back to Boston. The Hawks then waived Payton immediately following the trade, and he returned a week later to Boston as a free agent. Payton started all 77 games he played for Boston and averaged 11.3 points per game and 6.1 assists as the Celtics won the Atlantic Division before losing in the first round to the Indiana Pacers.
On September 22, 2005, he signed a one-year $1.1 million contract with Miami, reuniting with Walker (who was acquired seven weeks earlier by the Heat), as well as former Lakers' teammate Shaquille O'Neal. Serving as a backup to Jason Williams, Payton averaged 7.7 points and started 25 of 81 games. In the playoffs, Payton did not start but averaged 34 minutes a game after averaging 28 minutes during the regular season, often playing during pressure situations in the 4th quarter of games. In game 4 of the semifinals against the New Jersey Nets, Payton hit a critical three pointer with 56 seconds left in the game to clinch the Heat victory. In game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on the road against the Detroit Pistons, Payton scored 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting, helping the Heat set the tone in the series. Miami won the series in 6 games to reach the team's first ever Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. Miami lost the first two games in Dallas, and trailed in the final quarter of game 3 before a comeback led by Dwyane Wade culminated with a Jason Williams pass to Payton, who faked his defender and hit the game winning jump-shot to keep Miami from falling 3–0 in the series. In game 5, Payton scored 8 points, including Miami's final field goal with 29 seconds left, to help clinch a three-point victory. The Heat returned to Dallas for game 6 and won 95–92, securing their first and Payton's only NBA title.
On September 6, 2006, the 38-year-old Payton re-signed with the defending champion Miami Heat on a one-year, $1.2 million contract. During the subsequent 2006–07 NBA season, Payton continued to climb up several NBA all-time lists: he moved from 17th to 8th in all-time NBA games played, passed John Havlicek and Robert Parish to move into 7th in all-time minutes played, and passed Hal Greer and Larry Bird to become the 21st-highest scorer in NBA history.
Payton is well known for his trash-talk. His trademark open-mouth, bobbing-head style on the court (combined with his 17 years in the league) led to Payton receiving the third-most technical fouls of all time (behind Jerry Sloan and Rasheed Wallace). This, along with other factors, earned Payton a reputation as a difficult, volatile, and somewhat egotistical presence in the locker room, which was further fueled by various fines and suspensions handed out to him by team management during Payton's last few years in Seattle.
However, Payton became much less volatile in his later years, and many players, including Shaquille O'Neal and Antoine Walker, have greatly enjoyed playing with Payton. In Los Angeles, Boston, and Miami, he was recognized as a psychological leader and mentor for many of the younger players. Of his trash talking, Payton has stated "I never take it too far...I just try to talk and get their mind off the game, and turn their attention on me", adding that "sometimes I get accused of trash talking even though I'm not...[referees and spectators] immediately figure you're trash talking. But I could be talking to a guy about what's going on or asking about his family." One of Payton's major beliefs is that "mental toughness" is as much a part of the game as on-court play. In addition, All-Star point guard Jason Kidd has referred to Payton as a "mentor" for the way he treated Kidd growing up in the same neighborhood of Oakland. Payton has said that his own mental toughness was developed in his days learning to play basketball in Oakland: "You learned that you can be friends before the game and after the game. But once the game starts, it's all about business. No jive."
Payton has appeared in many movies and television shows, and in 2001, gave a humorous, televised "motivational speech" to his team during the NBA All-Star Game.
Payton's nickname of "The Glove" in reference to his defensive skills was popularized during the 1993 Western Conference Finals series against Phoenix.
Since Payton's career ended in 2007, he has been mentioned among the all-time greatest point guards. Gail Goodrich, who played with Hall of Fame guard Jerry West, said "Gary Payton is probably as complete a guard as there ever was." Kevin Johnson considers Payton "certainly...amongst the best ever" and "just as intimidating...maybe even more so than all-time greats Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Tiny Archibald and Maurice Cheeks." When asked to classify the best players in each position of the late 1990s and early 21st century, NBA coach George Karl said of Payton, "I don't know who else you'd take at point guard. Some say Jason Kidd. Well, every time Gary went nose-to-nose with Kidd, Gary won that matchup."
Payton's all-time rankings for points (31st) and assists (8th) highlight the tremendous offensive contributions he made throughout his career, but he is most widely recognized for his defensive contributions. The Sporting News said in 2000 that Payton was "building a case as the best two-way point guard in history", and asked "If you weigh offense and defense equally, is Payton the best ever?" When comparing Payton to the all-time greats, it has been said that "Payton arguably is the best defender of them all, and his offensive game is better than most."
His defensive prowess was once described by Kevin Johnson:
"You think of guys with great hands, like Maurice Cheeks and Derek Harper. Gary is like that. But he's also a great individual defender and a great team defender. He has all three components covered. That's very rare."
Offensively, Payton was not a particularly strong shooter but was much more physical than most point guards of his era, preferring to use his 6'4 body frame and strength to shield defenders on his way to the basket or posting up his opponent in an isolation play. Nonetheless, in his prime, Payton was the "NBA's reigning high scorer among point guards."
He is the only guard to have won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award since Michael Jordan in 1988. Also, he, Jordan, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant share the record for most career NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, with nine. He is currently fourth all-time in career steals. A strong all-around player, Payton also ranks fifth all-time among guards in defensive rebounds though not alone, 12th in offensive rebounds, and 10th in total rebounds for a guard. Among players considered point guards, Payton ranks 3rd in defensive rebounds, 5th in offensive rebounds, and 4th in total rebounds, behind Jason Kidd, Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.
Statistical analysis shows similar players to Payton include Alvin Robertson and Michael Cooper.
Payton is also considered one of the best defensive opponents of Michael Jordan, and the two players had a high-profile rivalry that culminated in the 1996 NBA Finals. Jordan and Payton are the only two guards to have won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award since 1988, and despite their different positions (shooting guard and point guard respectively), they were well matched for other reasons. Both were prodigious "trash talkers" (Larry Johnson once named Payton, Jordan and himself the best three trash talkers in the league), had legendary competitiveness, and as the 1997 NBA Preview magazine stated, "Payton [was] quick, and strong as an ox", making him the kind of player who could frustrate Jordan defensively. Payton, at 6'4" and with a tough physique, was one of a handful of point guards with the size and body type to guard Jordan.
Midway through the 1996 NBA Finals, Seattle coach George Karl made the decision to assign Payton to play defense as a shooting guard instead of his normal point guard assignment in order to defend Jordan. Though the Bulls won the series, Seattle's (and especially Payton's) defense held Jordan and the Bulls to their lowest offensive output in an NBA finals and "frustrated the best player in the game." In his first three NBA Finals, Jordan averaged 36.3 points per game and had scored at least 30 points in 14 of his 17 games. However, in the 1996 Finals, Jordan averaged 27.3 points per game and scored more than 30 points in only one of the six games. In a game 5 preview after Payton had held Jordan to a career NBA Finals low of 23, an NBA pregame show described the rivalry of two strong defensive players renowned for their competitiveness.
"[In Game 4, Jordan had his] lowest output in a Finals game, much of it with Payton guarding him. Though afterwards, Jordan refused to give Payton credit, saying 'No one can stop me, I can only stop myself. I missed some easy shots.' The truth is, Jordan finds the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year [Payton] annoying. He views the [young Payton] as impudent, and he would love to have a big game at [Payton's] expense." (NBA on NBC Preview, Game 5)
The Sonics won that game by 21 points and Payton held Jordan to 26 points – Jordan's second-lowest-scoring Finals game in his career up to that point. In game 6, which the Bulls would win to capture the Championship, Payton played 47 minutes and Jordan missed 14 of his 19 shots, getting a career Finals low 22 points. Bill Walton, commentating for NBC at the time, said Payton "outplayed" Jordan during the second half of the series, and that Seattle coach George Karl would "rue" the decision to "hide [Payton] from 'the king'" in the early games of the series. During this series, Payton and his Sonics also held Jordan's Bulls to the lowest-scoring quarter in their NBA Finals history. Michael Jordan would never score fewer points in an NBA Finals game than his 22 points in game 6, and would never be held under 30 points more than twice in a Finals series, which the Sonics did five times.
Later, of his performance that series, Payton said "You’ve got to get back at Jordan, you can’t back down on him. If you do, he's like a wolf, he's going to eat everything. He knew I wasn’t going to back down. I had to realize or see if he is really about being a dog, about this neighborhood stuff. I went at him. It was just me being me."
Many attribute his success to the tremendous work ethic and ability to play through injury he displayed throughout his career. In his 17-year career, Payton missed only 25 games, and at one point held the longest active streak for consecutive games played, with over 300. The Sporting News noted in a 2000 article, "Durability always has been one of Payton's strong suits. He has missed only two games in 10 seasons and is generally counted on for nearly a full game's worth of nonstop motion, despite chronic back pain that requires extensive stretching and regular applications of heating packs." Karl Malone was the only player to log more minutes of playing time than Payton in the 1990s. Sports Illustrated labeled Payton's 2003–04 season as the best season ever by a point guard aged 35 or older, with the exception of John Stockton's later years, and Payton continued to play at a high level even as he advanced in age.
In his later years, Payton gained recognition as a clutch performer, hitting several key shots during the Miami Heat's 2006 championship run. In 2006, he was referred to as "obviously...one of the greatest clutch shooters of our time".
Payton is the son of Al and Annie Payton. He married Monique James on July 26, 1997. They live in Oakland and Las Vegas and have three children: Gary II, Julian, and Raquel. Payton also has another son named Gary Payton Jr with a different mother. His brother, Brandon, played in New Zealand for a period of time, playing for the Manawatu Jets. Payton is ambidextrous because while he shoots with his right hand and can lay up with either, he writes with his left hand. Gary Payton II, Payton's son, currently plays the point guard position for the Milwaukee Bucks.
During the 2008–09 season, Payton served as a studio analyst for NBA TV and as an occasional substitute analyst on The NBA on TNT. He was replaced with Kevin McHale for the 2009–10 season. In August 2010, he played in the NBA Asia Challenge 2010 at Araneta Coliseum in Manila, an exhibition game which pitted NBA legends and NBA Development League players against Philippine Basketball Association stars and legends. In 2013, Payton was named an analyst for Fox Sports 1's Fox Sports Live. For the 2016 NFL season, Payton provided weekly picks for Sports Betting Dime.
Payton has appeared in White Men Can't Jump (1992), Eddie (1996), Like Mike, and also performed a speaking role in the 1999 comedy film The Breaks. He also appeared on The Jamie Foxx Show.
Payton appeared on Onion SportsDome.
Payton has made numerous well-regarded contributions of both time and money to the community. He set up The Gary Payton Foundation in 1996 to provide safe places for recreational activity, and to help underprivileged youth in his hometown of Oakland stay in school. He hosts an annual charity basketball game as part of his foundation. Payton also gave back to the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC), a youth center that he attended in Oakland when he was growing up. In 2001, Payton donated $100,000 to renovate EOYDC's gym – his first big grant in his hometown of Oakland. Payton and his wife, Monique, have been active in fundraising endeavors for HIV awareness, and Payton has lent many hours and provided tremendous financial support to the Boys & Girls Club of America and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Payton has also donated Miami Heat tickets to underprivileged children. For the Christmas of 2003 he took 10 families from the Ronald McDonald House in Los Angeles and let each of the over 40 children have a $100 shopping spree at FAO Schwarz. For Christmas, 2005, he gave 60 children $100 Toys-R-Us shopping sprees as part of the Voices For Children program. In 1999, he wrote an autobiographical children's book entitled Confidence Counts as part of the "Positively for Kids" series, illustrating the importance of confidence through events in his own life. In July 1999, Payton was named to The Sporting News' "Good Guys in Sports" list. Payton hosted a radio show in early 1998 on Seattle's KUBE 93.3 station. He played hip-hop including The Roots, Raekwon, Outkast, and Cam'ron. He did it for charity during the NBA lockout.
Due to the Seattle SuperSonics moving to Oklahoma City, Payton has openly expressed his desire not to have his retired jersey number in Oklahoma City as part of that team's history. He wishes instead for it to remain in Seattle, where he enjoyed the majority of his career's success and popularity. This seems likely as the SuperSonics' team name, colors, uniforms and trophies are remaining in Seattle for a possible future team to adopt upon arrival. Despite no official acknowledgement from the Thunder, they have not issued the number 20 to any player since their relocation.
Payton is featured in the documentary Sonicsgate, which covers the team's relocation from Seattle to Oklahoma City. When Sonicsgate won a Webby Award for Best Sports Film, Payton gave the acceptance speech, which consisted solely of the five words "Bring back our Seattle SuperSonics."
Payton is currently working on bringing the NBA back to Seattle. He also stated when the NBA comes back to Seattle he wants to be part of the team so it won't be relocated again.NBA champion: 2006
NBA Defensive Player of The Year: 1996 (only point guard ever to win the award, and only guard to win the award in the 1990s)
9-time NBA All-Star: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
First Team: 1998, 2000
Second Team: 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002
Third Team: 1994, 2001
9-time All-Defensive First Team member: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999*, 2000*, 2001, 2002 (shares record for selections with Michael Jordan)* Highest vote getter in 1999 and 2000, second highest in 1998 and 2002
NBA All-Rookie Second Team: 1991
Led NBA in assists: 1999–2000 (732)
Led NBA in steals: 1995–96 (231)
Led NBA in three-pointers made: 1999–2000 (177)
2 Olympic Gold Medals with USA: 1996 Olympic Games (Atlanta) and 2000 Olympic Games (Sydney).
Ranked #38 on SLAM's Top 50 NBA Players of All Time in 2009.
Ranked #10 on ESPN's Top 10 NBA Point Guards of All Time.In a 2006 poll of 86,000 ESPN.com readers who were asked to rank the ESPN top 10 on various aspects of the game, Payton was considered "best defender" by 48.1% of respondents. Walt "Clyde" Frazier was second, with 11.8% of the vote. Payton and Frazier are the only two-point guards to be selected to more than 5 NBA All-Defensive First Teams (9 and 7, respectively), and two of only four players who were selected to 5 or more All-Defensive teams without ever being on an All-Defensive 2nd team (Michael Jordan and Dave DeBusschere are the others).
In 2005, Payton was #1 on the list of best college point guards of the past 15 years by a reporter for College Hoops Net
In a 2008 Espn.com article, Payton was named the best #2 draft pick in NBA history during the "lottery era" (1985–present), ahead of Jason Kidd
Payton, who as of the end of the 2007–08 season was tied for 31st with 9 NBA All-Star game appearances, was a solid performer in All-Star games, leading his team in assists three times (1995, 1997 and 1998), and in points once (1996). Payton had the two highest single-game assist totals for NBA All-Star games in the 1990s (15 in 1995, and 13 in 1998). Upon his retirement, he ranked #6 all-time in All-Star game assists and #10 in All-Star game steals. He is also tied for #1 in All-Star game free throw percentage, having never missed a free throw in any of his 8 attempts. Payton was runner-up to Mitch Richmond for the 1995 NBA All-Star Game MVP award.
In 2006, in commemoration of the NBA's 60th anniversary, TNT selected Payton among the Next 10 players to be added to the list of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
In the NBA's 100 Greatest Plays, Payton was responsible for the 4th greatest play in the "Hustle" category, passed to Kemp in the NBA's 5th greatest Alley Oop, and was also featured in the NBA's greatest steals segment.
Payton has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated six times: three times as the featured cover story (in 1990, 1994, and 1996), and three times in a secondary role.
Payton has appeared on the cover of SLAM Magazine two times – June 1998 and March 2003.
The Seattle Mayor's Office declared June 6, 2000 as "Gary Payton Day".
He had two streaks of 350+ consecutive games played. Payton played 354 consecutive games between January 16, 1992 and March 13, 1996. Five days later, Payton began his second iron-man streak playing in 356 consecutive games between March 18, 1996 and January 17, 2001.
In 1999, Charles Barkley called Payton "the greatest player in the world."
At the time of his graduation from Oregon State University in 1990, Payton ranked third in all-time NCAA steals and second in all-time NCAA assists.