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Gary Payton On John Stockton Over Michael Jordan & Why He’ll Never Let OKC Retire His Number

In less than a week, John Stockton and George “Iceman” Gervin will formally introduce Gary Payton as he is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports spoke with the Fox Sports1 analyst a week before his big day.

Payton was his usual bombastic best, but he acknowledged a couple interesting points during the Q&A before showing his undying love for the Seattle area in a time when they need it.

But the big story is what Payton said about John Stockton, and how he felt Stockton was a harder matchup than even, gulp, Michael Jordan. The reasoning behind Payton’s choice of Stockton over MJ tells you a lot about what made The Glove so great.

After explaining why the Spurs’ lanky scorer, Gervin, was his childhood idol growing up, GP explains why he chose another Hall-of-Famer, Stockton, as his second presenter:

“John Stockton is because I liked him when I was playing basketball. Everyone said he was dirty. He wasn’t as athletic as us. But he was smarter than us. We knew what he was going to do. We knew he was going to set [tough] picks. We had all the videos on Utah. We were so dumb. We would get caught up with the picks and get mad at him. He would shoot eight times and make nine. Shoot eight free throws and make seven. He’d have 15 assists and four steals. A complete game. That’s just the way he was and I idolized him. I just imitated him while going about my business, talking trash and getting it done. After the game you would look at my stats and it would be right there.”

But when Spears asked Payton if Stockton ever talked any trash, Payton explained the impetus behind his respect for the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals:

“Never. That is the reason I really respected him because you never could get in his head. He’s the hardest person I ever had to guard. I tried to talk to him, try to do something and he’d just look at me, set a pick and cause me [to get mad and] get a tech. And then all of the sudden it was over. There was much respect to him doing that to me. It taught me a lot.”

Before you ponder Payton’s uncharacteristic humility, keep in mind that he still thought he was a superior player.

Spears: Even so, you once said you were better than Stockton?

Payton: “I was. I really think I was better as an athlete and in everything all-around. But he was just a smarter basketball player than us. He just got it done. I do think I was a better basketball player. I can do more things skills-wise. He just showed he knew how to play the game and that was the biggest difference.”

Keep reading to find out why GP thought the tough Utah point guard icon was harder for him to handle than even Michael Jordan.

Brash as always, Payton still believes — and not without some merit — that his game was superior to the thinking man’s game of Stockton. But the real pull-quote that will rankle some 1990s basketball fans, came next. After Payton picked Stockton as the hardest player he had to go against in his soon-to-be Hall-of-Fame career, Spears asked him if he was harder for the Glove to guard than the GOAT:

“Those battles were a little easier. I would have Jordan get mad at me and go back at me. He knew he was really talented and could do whatever he wanted to. But [Stockton] was more of a challenge to me than guarding someone that would talk back to me. When you talk back to me and say something to me it made my game go to another level. John was one who wouldn’t say nothing and you couldn’t figure him out. He’d keep going in the pick and rolls and he and Karl Malone would score a big bucket. At times I would guard Jordan and get him mad and into other things.”

So, basically, Payton thinks Stockton was harder to play against because he refused to stoop to GP’s smack-talking, which is legendary.

Blank stares weren’t the problem when GP went against the game’s best in MJ. The two had some epic battles, specifically the 1996 NBA Finals. Spears asked him if that loss — the Supersonics fell 4-2 against MJ’s Bulls after initially going down 3-0 in the series — was tougher than the one he suffered against the Pistons with Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal on that star-studded 2004 Lakers squad before it disbanded. Payton’s answer wasn’t surprising considering he was in the twilight of his career with the Lakers and Heat (where he eventually won a title in 2006).

“The Bulls. We didn’t go in there serious thinking we could win the series. We were just happy we were there. We should have went out and tried to go at them. We were thinking about a team that made history at 72-10. But we had to understand that we won 66 games, too. We won a lot games, too, and wasn’t that far behind them. We beat them one time in the regular season. We should have went in there thinking we could beat them. By the time we figured it out we were equal to that team, it was too late. We were down 3-0 and then in Chicago down 3-2. It was a hard time to come up. People didn’t know I was hurt and I didn’t want people to know. I should have started off [guarding] Michael from Game 1. We don’t know what would have happened. But we didn’t. That’s just the way it happened. They won the championship. They deserved it. But it was a disappointment to me because we didn’t go in there thinking we can beat team.”

Finally, GP gave love to his hometown Supersonics (RIP), and said he’d never let Oklahoma City retire his jersey:

Spears: Is there anything the Oklahoma City Thunder can do to convince you to retire your jersey there?

Payton: “No. There is nothing they can do. I’m sorry. It’s nothing against Oklahoma City. I never played in Oklahoma City. I would never disrespect the Seattle fans like that.”

Spears: Are you confident an NBA team will return to Seattle?

Payton: “I’m very confident. It wouldn’t be a thing not to retire my jersey. But I know that’s where it should be. It will be there sooner or later. It could be years. If I’m 70 and they get a team, hey, so be it. It will be great just as long as it will go up in Seattle.”

It’s good to see that GP hasn’t changed at all during retirement. Just as cocksure and tough as ever and he doesn’t pull any punches when discussing MJ, Stockton or OKC. Plus, we’ll never forget his lefy lay-ups off the wrong foot, or all those passes between the legs. Love GP.

What do you think?

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