We’re not talking movie quotes here. We’re not even reciting rap lyrics.
These four spiteful words spew from the mouth of one Gary Dwayne Payton - "I'll Kill Your Family".
The prolific trash-talker. As proficient with insults as he was posting up and beating on the smaller, weaker point guards he matched up against night after night. The ’96 Finals and that classic photo of him all up in MJ’s face. The countless alley-oops to Kemp that became the hallmark of 90’s Seattle hoops.
But let’s go back to that earlier statement for a second. Ok, fair enough, threatening to kill someone’s family is a bit over the top. But you could probably let it slide as a bit of competitive battle-yapping between opponents.
Except, this isn’t between opponents. This was to his own teammate.
Gary Payton and Sonics teammate Ricky Pierce got stuck into each other during Game 1 of the ’94 playoffs. That infamous series where they were eventually toppled by the 8th seeded Nuggets.
That incident says as much about Payton’s competitive drive as it does his willingness to stoop to any level to slag off anyone on the court. By his own admission, nothing was off limits when it came to talking smack.
“If I knew something about a persons’ mother, his sister, if he had just got a drunk driving charge, I would go at that situation. It might be cruel to some people, but I would go at it.”
GP’s mouth was a weapon he used to get inside the head of his opponent, and perhaps help him up his own game. And the problem for opponents is that he could back it up.
Strong, physical, and reasonably tall for a PG, Payton had the offensive skills to batter his defender and get pretty much whatever shot he wanted. Ask Jason Kidd, who as a rookie made the mistake of trash talking his mentor GP after blocking his shot. Payton came back, single-handedly going on a 15-0 run to teach the young buck a lesson.
Of course, no one can forget that Payton was an absolute terror on defense, being the only point guard ever to win Defensive Player of the Year, and selected to the All-NBA Defensive First Team 9 consecutive times (a record).
Over his career, Payton averaged 16.3 points per game, 6.7 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game, and couple with his lock-down ability on defense, peers regard Payton as possibly the best two-way player in history. I struggle to think of another point guard that could put together as complete a game as Payton.
He eventually got his NBA title in 2006 with Miami, but really it should have been two.
In recent NBA Finals history, there are two classic matchups that shaped the course of a championship. The first in ‘91, when coach Phil Jackson switched Scottie Pippen over to guard Magic Johnson partway through the series, an absolute masterstroke that delivered the Bulls their first championship. The second, was George Karl’s decision to put Payton on MJ. Absolute genius. And yet, far too late. Once there, GP went on to hold Jordan to his lowest ever scoring output in a Finals game, with 22.
If Karl made that move from Game one, perhaps the Sonics rewrite 90’s NBA history.
Perhaps the Bulls’ 72-10 record is all for naught.
Perhaps the NBA never leaves Seattle for OKC.
I’m willing to bet Gary Payton thinks back on what could have been in that Finals series and has more than a few choice words to say about it.
Written by Jarrod Waerea