If this truly is the end for these Sonics in Seattle, then Gary Payton had to see it for himself. He couldn't miss this game. Not when all signs...
If this truly is the end for these Sonics in Seattle, then Gary Payton had to see it for himself.
He couldn’t miss this game. Not when all signs indicate that KeyArena — the house that GP built — will sit dark and silent next season while Kevin Durant and Co. will be playing in Oklahoma City.
Had he planned things a little better, Payton would have filed retirement papers before the season and the Sonics would have retired his number and raised his No. 20 jersey into the rafters on Sunday, which would have made the Sonics’ 99-95 thrilling victory against the Dallas Mavericks exceptionally memorable for the 16,272 fans inside the building.
“I sure don’t want to get my jersey retired in Oklahoma City,” he said. “I don’t think that would work for me. That ain’t where I played. Oklahoma City fans didn’t get to really, really see me. They saw me on TV, but that was it.
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“My fans are here in Seattle. It would be nice for me to come back and raise my jersey in Seattle here and let everybody appreciate it and my family can appreciate it.”
For that reason, Payton hopes the city of Seattle’s lawsuit in June keeps the team in town for at least a couple more years.
But just in case, The Glove had to see the team he led for 12 years for the first time as a fan. He sat in the first row in the south end of the arena. He received a standing ovation from everyone inside the building, who chanted “GP, GP,” when his face appeared on the giant screen hanging above the court.
He signed autographs, posed for pictures and for a few minutes made everyone forget about this miserable season, as if it was 1996 again.
“I don’t know if Payton should have showed up tonight, because when he got that standing ovation, that really spurred them on more,” Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. “I wish he would have watched it on television.”
If not for a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback capped by an emotional 90-second “Save Our Sonics” serenade with 1.4 seconds left, Payton would have stolen the show.
“I didn’t want to come during the season because I didn’t want to be a distraction,” Payton said. “A lot of people were talking about there’s going to be rallies [to] try to save it, and that’s a good thing, and I didn’t want to take away from that.
“This is at the end of the year, there’s not a lot of hooping and hollerin’. I can walk in and walk out and it was fun. I didn’t have to answer a lot of questions about me because people are probably wondering about me and why I haven’t retired.”
Payton was known for his defense and running his mouth during a brilliant 17-year career, but he might be remembered for his slow and quiet walk into retirement.
Before Sunday’s game, he sat in the lobby of a downtown hotel and talked about a lifestyle that is very different from his playing days.
He described a 39-year-old father of four who works at home, chauffeurs his son to cotillions and has become a budding venture capitalist.
His wife, Monique, wonders when he’ll get out of the house. His agents are planning his second career in broadcasting — ESPN has pitched a talk show — and his fans speculate on a comeback that’s never going to happen.
“I don’t miss basketball at all,” he said. “People might not believe it, but I don’t. I don’t even watch basketball on TV. I don’t even play it. Don’t play basketball at all. I’ll probably be in the back yard with the kids and they’ll get me competitive by talking because they got some good mouthpieces.
“All three of them were together about three weeks ago on spring break and the oldest one and the little one started talking trash. I took the youngest on my team and we beat on them a little bit. It was kind of cool. But I don’t play at all. I don’t go to pickup games. Basketball is over for me. I’ve done it too much. I played it too much.”
Basketball. Is. Over. For. Me.
I asked him to repeat the words just to make sure I heard it right.
“You heard it right, it’s over,” Payton said.
I asked him if it’s really over, then why hasn’t he signed retirement papers? I asked him if there’s any scenario that might lure him back. What if George Karl came calling? Or Nate McMillan?
“No, I’m done,” he said.
We talked about regrets and Payton listed one.
“I would have changed that 2003 with what happened with that ownership,” he said about his public spat with former owner Howard Schultz that preceded a trade to Milwaukee for Ray Allen. “I had a possibility to stay here and make it a little bit better than what it is right now.
“I think if I would have stayed here throughout my career, I would have been probably in the organization doing some stuff and making it a little better and maybe we wouldn’t be where we’re at right now.”
And maybe there would be more games like Sunday’s.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com