Insider Exclusive: NBA legend, Gary Payton, Talks Success in Basketball and Life

Gary Payton ate opposing basketball players alive with his two-way play in his prime with the Seattle SuperSonics, where he starred for 13 of his 17 NBA seasons.

Nicknamed “The Glove,” the nine-time All-Star became the first point guard ever to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award (1996), a feat only matched recently by Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics (2022). Payton also won two Olympic gold medals (1996, 2000) and a championship ring with the Miami Heat (2006).

Today, Payton, 54, still has a great appetite for new opportunities. In addition to coaching the Lincoln University basketball team in his native Oakland, California, he recently became a spokesman for Kudo Snacks. The Vancouver-based company launched a line of high-protein popcorn snacks with all-natural ingredients, featuring flavors from white cheddar to garlic Parmesan.

When DIRECTV Insider sat down with Payton for an exclusive interview at Vancouver’s Butcher and Bullock Public House, he enthused about handing out the popcorn to his college players and at San Francisco 49ers games. His personal favorite is Salty Sweet Kettle Korn, but he was in more of a sweet than salty mood as he reminisced about his basketball career.

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From Battling Michael Jordan to Winning Olympic Gold

During your NBA days, were you a ‘my body is a temple’ guy? Were you big-time into diet and nutrition?

Not really. You know, when you’re young, you can basically run off the calories. But as I get older, in my 50s, this was a great thing because I’m a snack-eater. I eat snacks. So instead of me eating chocolate chips, why not eat the Kudo popcorn and get some protein? And that’s what I do.

You’re known as one of the great defensive players of all time. Who was the toughest guy you ever had to defend and why?

John Stockton. By far. Everybody asks me that, and they say, “Why not Michael Jordan? Why not Kobe Bryant?” Now, they were smart guys. They’d go to spots because they ran a triangle. They’d go away at one spot, and I could meet them there.

But John Stockton would go up a bit here, move away here, come on again. He’d fool you, try to go back. And that was the thing I loved about him. He made me competitive. He made me be on my toes for all 48 minutes when he was in the game. He was a big, big deal for me to guard because he always kept me on my toes.

You were a talkative guy on the court. You liked to talk smack. Who were the stand-out guys you played against that could dish it out verbally but take it, too?

I think Reggie Miller and Larry Bird. They were the two that did it all the time. They could talk it and walk it, just like I could do. And I used to love playing against them, too, because they would always talk back to me.

Back in 2020, we were all stuck at home watching TV. ‘The Last Dance,’ the Michael Jordan documentary, turned into a big hit. What did you think of it?

You know what? That’s his documentary. He can do whatever he wants to do with it, whatever way. It was a piece where it came out at the right time. Everybody was home. He was a popular guy. He showed you a side of him nobody had ever seen. And that’s what documentaries are about.

It doesn’t matter what is said in there. It’s about what you can get the people to understand and see, about what was happening to his career. And he got that over very well.

In 2006 with the Heat, you hit the game-winning jump shot versus Dallas in Game 3 to stop the Mavericks from going up 3-0 in the finals, and, of course, you went on to win the series. What do you remember about that jump shot, that moment?

You know, I hadn’t shot the ball all game. I was in a state in my career where I was just a guy who was doing complementary things. Being the mentor, the oldest one on the team, helping Pat Riley come out to win a championship for the first time in Miami. I just did what I had to do.

It was just a veteran move. Jason Williams was like, “Yo, be ready, OG, because I’m going to get it to you if you’re open.” And I was open. That’s just the way to play basketball and be a competitor. Be ready for the next thing. It was easy for me to step up and hit the shot.

What are you most proud of when you look back on your basketball career?

I’d say the Olympics. Bending over and putting that gold medal around my neck with millions of people watching me.

Most people don’t get to represent their country. And I tell everybody, we got people in the military who risk their lives for us to be over here safely. They come back with injuries — a hand blown off, a leg blown off, a mental state — and they don’t get paid for it. But they still go out there. We should be honored to have that flag on our chest because they’re trying to kill them over there with the U.S. flag on their uniforms. We should be honored to even have an opportunity to play for the United States.

Gary Payton: “You’ve Got to Stay Successful”

Seeing your son Gary Payton II win a championship with the Golden State Warriors last year, what were your emotions like?

It was big being the fifth father-son duo to win a championship [in NBA history]. It was big for my son. He went through a lot in six years. Being cut. Going on G-League teams. Not playing. Now, people give him opportunities, and in he comes.

With Golden State, Steve Kerr gave him an opportunity to play. I was just so proud of him. Because he showed everybody what he wanted to show, what kind of basketball player he is. He’s a utility basketball player, who can do everything, and that’s what it was all about.

What would it mean to you to bring the Sonics back to Seattle?

It would mean a lot because that city never deserved to lose their team. And I think that they’re showing that in Seattle. You remember that preseason game in October with the Portland Trail Blazers and L.A. Clippers? They sold out at the new arena in Seattle. And you got the Seattle Kraken in there now, coming in with the NHL. We deserve to get our team back. And I think that Adam Silver will get our team back, and it will be soon.

The Kraken have a budding cross-border rivalry here with the Vancouver Canucks. What are your feelings about hockey?

I love hockey. You know, I don’t like watching my own sport. I like to watch football and hockey. Hockey is a sport where it’s a lot of skill. When you see them skating like that, you see what good athletes they are. And I think that it’s going to be a good rivalry.

It’s like any other sport. They’re gonna compete. They’re gonna do what they have to do. You watch the goalies performing and see those guys slamming against the glass, man, it’s a fun sport to watch.

If you’d played a sport professionally other than basketball, what would it have been?

I played baseball until I was a junior in high school. And then I had to make a choice about which sport I wanted to pursue, and I chose basketball. So that was what I wanted to do. That was what I had to do. But baseball would have been my second choice. I played second base. I wanted to get on base, steal bases and then play good defense. Try to rob people, do the things I do. Almost like Ozzie Smith. That’s what I wanted to be.

What are your goals for the future, Gary?

I’m just trying to teach kids. I’m at Lincoln University in Oakland, California, where I coach. I want them to get to understand what it takes to be a good person, a person of high caliber. You don’t only have to be a basketball player, football player or baseball player. You can be something else and be successful.

I think when God put me on this earth, he started me off to play basketball. But as my life went on, he told me to revolve, to be something else. A businessman can do everything. Just like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, they did their business stuff, and that’s what they revolve around. I’m trying to make everybody understand that you can be successful, but you’ve got to stay successful. And then get your knowledge out to other people, show them how they can be successful and help them out. That’s all I’m here for. I’m just here to help.

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