BOSTON – It’s not uncommon for NBA players to interview their kids and perch the little ones on their laps, or in a seat next to them while they answer questions.
Gary Payton, one of the best guards of the 1990s, used to do it during his playing days. In one interview, as he held a young Gary Payton II on his lap, he was asked about his son’s potential future as a basketball player.
“I hope he grows up to be what he wants, but I’m not going to force him to be a ballplayer or nothing,” Payton said. in that videoGeneral Chat Chat Lounge “But he is OK. He’s around basketball, he’s throwing the ball and doing everything. “
The elder Payton then patted his son on the chest, as the child looked up at him, wide-eyed.
Gary Payton II loves seeing images like that. Before a practice with Golden State in Boston this week, he was Showing a photo of sitting on his father’s lap during another interview and said it was his favorite photo of the two of them.
He remembered running around the court during practices when his father was playing for NBA championships. The year the elder Payton first went to the finals with the Seattle SuperSonics, in 1996, his son was 3 1/2 years old, not really old enough to understand what was important.
Nearly three decades later, Gary Payton II, 29, is playing in the NBA Finals, and is a critical part of Golden State’s defense. He made his finals debut in Game 2, returning to the court for an important game for the Warriors, who were trying to avoid falling two games to none. Payton returned after missing a full month with a broken elbow. In his return, he made his importance clear.
“It was amazing,” Payton said. “I was itching to get out there. I was in the tunnel just walking back and forth, pacing, waiting for the coach to call me. “
The Warriors’ medical staff cleared Payton for Game 1, but coach Steve Kerr opted not to play him, saying he didn’t think Payton was healthy enough just yet. He would use Payton only if absolutely necessary.
“Under special circumstances, we need to stop at the end of the game, at the end of a quarter, play him,” Kerr said.
Kerr called on Payton with 5 minutes 30 seconds left in the first quarter, and as Payton jogged to the scorer’s table, fans at the Chase Center in San Francisco first reacted with cheers and applause. Eventually, they rose to give him a standing ovation.
“I just think the energy he brings, his character, how hard he plays, especially in the Bay Area, we really accept that and we embrace that,” guard Jordan Poole said. He added: “They just embrace him for the way he plays and who he is as a person, and he makes it pretty easy to do.”
His draw is part of what draws both fans and his teammates toward him. Having been a father in the Hall of Fame, he needed to make his own path to the NBA. He went undrafted in 2016 in Oregon State and has played for six different G-League teams since then. This season, having seen him play on a 10-day contract at the end of 2020-21, Golden State gave Payton a stick to stick with a one-year contract.
With Golden State working its way back into contending form, Payton made his presence felt as a defender throughout the season. He started 16 regular-season games, and the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals against Memphis.
In Game 2 of that series, Payton broke his elbow when Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks swiped him across the head while he was midair. The foul was deemed a flagrant 2, triggering an automatic ejection for books. Kerr called the play “dirty.”
But since Payton had an upper-body injury, he was able to stay in shape and work on his conditioning even as his elbow healed.
“I wasn’t off the court but maybe for a week or so letting everything go, then I got back on the bike, running, doing hydro work, stuff like that,” Payton said. “My conditioning was still up to par. In game is still a little different. The other night, the first couple of minutes I caught my second breath and I was fine after that. “
He played 25 minutes in his first finals game, and scored 7 points. Despite some concern about his shooting ability, he made all three shots, including a 3-pointer.
“I thought he was brilliant,” Kerr said. “The level of defense, transition to physicality and speed, it gives us a huge boost.”
Payton’s father was also known for his defensive prowess – he was named one of the rare guards to be the defensive player of the year in 1995-96 – but the younger Payton said he wasn’t focusing on defense rather than offense.
“It was the only way I could get the ball and make a play on the offensive end,” Payton said. “I had to get the ball, steal it or whatnot to go score.”
His father comes to the games to support him. He even wore a shirt to Game 2 with an illustration of his son guarding him. This wasn’t a career the elder Payton, 53, pushed toward his son, and basketball advice is not part of their relationship right now – no tips on being in the finals, and no questions about what it might look like.
“It’s just me and Gary. It’s our relationship, “Gary Payton II said. “There was a moment in time where he stopped talking to me about basketball. I think that’s because I was doing a lot better than before.
“Nowadays he really doesn’t say anything. We just talk about life, family, other sports and whatnot. But he stopped talking about basketball, so I think I’m doing a pretty good job. “