BOSTON — It’s not uncommon for NBA players to bring their kids to interviews and perch the little ones on their lap or on a seat next to them while they answer questions.
Gary Payton, one of the best goalkeepers of the 1990s, used to do this during his playing days. In an interview, while holding a young Gary Payton II on his lap, he was asked about the son’s potential future as a basketball player.
“I hope he grows up to be what he wants to be, but I’m not going to force him to play ball or anything,” Payton said. in this video. “But he’s fine. He is around the basketball, he throws the ball and does everything.
The eldest Payton then patted his son’s chest, as the child stared at him with wide eyes.
Gary Payton II loves seeing pictures like this. Prior to a practice with Golden State in Boston this week, he was showed a photo of himself sitting on his father’s lap during another interview and said it was his favorite photo of the two of them.
He remembers running around on the court during practices when his father was playing for the NBA championships. The year the eldest Payton first went to the Finals with the Seattle SuperSonics, in 1996, his son was 3½, not really old enough to understand the significance of what was going on.
Nearly three decades later, 29-year-old Gary Payton II is making the NBA Finals and is a vital part of Golden State’s defense. He made his Finals debut in Game 2, returning to the field in an important game for the Warriors, who were trying to avoid falling behind two games to nil. Payton returned after missing a full month with a broken elbow. Upon his return, he clarified its importance.
“It was amazing,” Payton said. “I couldn’t wait to go. I was in the tunnel, walking back and forth, pacing, waiting for the coach to call me.
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 yet. He would only use Payton when absolutely necessary.
“Special circumstances, we need a stoppage at the end of the game, at the end of a quarter, play it,” Kerr said.
Kerr called Payton with 5 minutes 30 seconds left in the first quarter, and as Payton raced to the scorers’ table, fans at San Francisco’s Chase Center initially responded with cheers and applause. Finally, they rose to give him a standing ovation.
“I think just the energy that he brings, his character, how well he plays, especially in the Bay Area, we really embrace that and 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 background is part of what draws both fans and teammates to him. Although he had a Hall of Fame father, he had to chart his own path to the NBA. He was undrafted in 2016 at Oregon State and has played for six different G-League teams since then. This season, after seeing him play on 10-day contracts at the end of 2020-21, Golden State gave Payton a chance to stay on a one-year deal.
As Golden State regains its form, Payton has made his presence felt as a defenseman 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 this series, Payton broke his elbow when Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks hit him in the head while he was in the air. The misconduct was deemed flagrant 2, triggering an automatic expulsion for Books. Kerr called the play “dirty”.
But since Payton suffered an upper body injury, he has been able to stay fit and work on his conditioning even when his elbow has healed.
“I wasn’t off the pitch, but probably for about a week for everything to heal, then I came back, got on the bike, raced, did some hydro work, stuff like that,” he said. Payton said. “My conditioning was always on point. In the game still a little different. The other night, the first two minutes, I got my second breath and I was fine after that.
He played 25 minutes in his first final game and scored 7 points. Despite some concerns about his shooting ability, he managed all three shots he took, including one 3-pointer.
“I thought he was brilliant,” Kerr said. “The level of defence, physicality and speed in transition gives us a huge boost.”
Payton’s father was also known for his defensive prowess – he was one of a handful of guards to be named Defensive Player of the Year, in 1995-96 – but young Payton says that’s not why he had learned to focus on defense rather than offense.
“It was the only way for me to get the ball back and play on the attacking side,” Payton said. “I had to win the ball, steal it or something 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 it. It wasn’t a career the eldest Payton, 53, pushed his son towards, and basketball advice isn’t part of their relationship now – no advice on how to be in the Finals and no questions about what it could be.
“It’s just me and Gary. It’s our relationship,” said Gary Payton II. “There was a moment when he stopped talking to me about basketball. I think it was because I was doing a lot better than before.
“Today, he really doesn’t say anything. We just talk about life, family, other sports and so on. But he stopped talking about basketball, so I think I’m doing a good job.