SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Gary Payton walked slowly down the Symphony Hall steps in the afternoon sun wearing an easy smile and clutching his Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame trophy.
He was the last of the 12-member class to leave Sunday’s induction ceremony. Payton always enjoyed a good party and he wasn’t eager to leave this one.
He posed for pictures with basketball dignitaries and signed everything that anyone put in front of him. He lingered in the lobby with family and friends before literally closing the door on the celebrations.
“That guy,” he said, turning and pointing to a giant banner of him wearing a No. 20 Sonics jersey, “is no more. It’s official now, GP is over. The Glove is in the Hall of Fame with the greats.
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“It’s time for Gary Payton now. It’s time for me to get on with my life and I’m really looking forward to it.”
As optimistic as he is about his future, Sunday was a day for looking back and reflecting on an amazing basketball journey.
Fellow Hall of Famers George Gervin and John Stockton presented Payton.
During an 11-minute acceptance speech, Payton, the self-proclaimed greatest trash talker in history, was funny, unapologetic for his on-court antics, a little boastful, but ultimately introspective as he thanked family, friends, former teammates, coaches, trainers, owners and business partners.
He retraced his steps from the Oakland playgrounds to Oregon State, where he became an All-American. He talked about his Seattle days where he became a nine-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist. And he spoke about Miami, where he finished his 17-year career with an elusive NBA championship.
There were no tears, but there were plenty of jokes and lots of laughter.
Payton drew laughs when he said Stockton was tougher to defend than Michael Jordan.
Then Payton acknowledged his parents, Annie and Al, and his siblings, Greg, Sharon, Wynette and Alfred Jr. He thanked his children, Raquel, Gary Jr, Gary II and Julian, as well as his ex-wife, Monique Payton.
“My family played a big part of my success,” Payton said. “This moment wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t recognize them and their sacrifices to see me through to this point.”
Payton is the fourth person who played for the Sonics to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but the second one, along with Dennis Johnson, to be drafted by the franchise. Lenny Wilkens and Patrick Ewing are the other two Hall of Famers with Sonics ties.
Payton was part of the 12-member class that included: Louisville coach Rick Pitino, former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, former All-Star forward Bernard King, former NBA star Richie Guerin, former ABA standout Roger Brown, former Brazilian sharpshooter Oscar Schmidt, former college coach Guy Lewis, former WNBA star Dawn Staley, North Carolina women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell, African American basketball pioneer E.B. Henderson and Russ Granik, former NBA deputy commissioner.
The day began with Payton walking to the ceremony from his hotel with a large group that included childhood friends Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets coach, and Brian Shaw, the Denver Nuggets coach.
Former Sonics standout Nate McMillan, who played with and coached Payton, greeted him at the hall’s door.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” McMillan said. “I saw that young man come into the league and he made himself great.”
Payton, a 6-foot-4 point guard, led the Sonics to a 626-378 (.623) record during his 13-year tenure. Seattle advanced to the NBA Finals in 1996 and made two Western Conference finals appearances with Payton.
The Sonics and Payton mutually benefitted from their relationship, said Chris Ackerley, whose family owned the franchise from 1983 to 2001.
“It was a special relationship,” said Ackerley, who attended Sunday’s ceremony. “There was a real belief in where he came from and what he worked through and what he became. There was a real belief to have that drive, that commitment and that energy as a cornerstone of building a team.
“He was dedicated to becoming a great player. And obviously he did a phenomenal job in helping the organization create a winning tradition in a decade that was really special.”
Payton, the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year, is the Sonics’ all-time leader in points (18,207), assists (7,384), steals (2,107) and games (999).
During his speech, Payton paid homage to the Sonics, who selected him No. 2 overall in the 1990 draft.
“To Seattle, Washington, the SuperSonics organization and its fans, the best owners ever in the Ackerley family, I love you,” Payton said. “But the best part is that you loved me back. Thank you.”
Payton also acknowledged former teammate Shawn Kemp.
Other Payton supporters in attendance included: Wilkens, Miami Heat president Pat Riley, former NBA standout A.C. Green and Oregon State coach Craig Robinson.
Payton dedicated the day to his former Oregon State coach, Ralph Miller. “Coach, I’m so honored to join you in the hall,” Payton said.
Payton also paid tribute to OSU coach Jimmy Anderson, former coaches Fred Noel, his coach at Skyline High in Oakland, former Sonics coach George Karl and assistant Tim Grgurich.
“I thought Gary said everything he wanted to say,” Green said. “He tried to be funny and he was. But he had a lot to cover and he just let inside a little bit to see what type of player and person he was.”
Payton, 45, said he began playing basketball when he was 7 and called it “a beautiful struggle.”
Payton also explained why he adopted a gritty, in-your-face playing style that often offended opposing players.
“All of that was for my crazy love of the game and due to my lack of maturity to be able to express my passion any other way,” he said. “I don’t regret the way I went about it and I am a stronger man today as a result. But I realize I could have given more to the game that gave so much to me.”
And when it was over, Payton said goodbye to his basketball alter ego.
“My career is complete,” he said. “Gary Payton is evolving, but GP is in the Hall of Fame.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.