Count legend Gary Payton among those excited about the NBA’s new All-Star Game format this season. A reminder: The leading vote-getters in each conference will be team captains this year, selecting from a pool of stars instead of the traditional East vs. West format. (There’s still time for the NBA to televise the draft, too.) A nine-time All-Star himself, Payton told The Crossover earlier this month he believes the change will be a positive for the league.
“It’s more exciting,” Payton said of the draft. “It will make the game more competitive, like pick-up games in the summer, which all these guys are doing anyway, and they’re having a good time. KD may not play with Steph. LeBron may not play with D-Wade or whoever. It’s a good concept.”
During his career, Payton played with the same competitive spirit no matter who was on the court with him. The Crossover recently caught up with the Hall of Famer to discuss his All-Star memories, how he would trash talk current NBA stars, and much more.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Rohan Nadkarni: If your All-Star Game back in the day used the current format, who would you want on your team and who would you want to go against?
Gary Payton: I wanted to go against Jordan, Pippen. Those kinds of guys. Guys I wanted on my team were Allen Iverson, John Stockton, Kobe, Shaq. I would have left Jordan in the East. I would have wanted to go against Pippen or Olajuwon. I wanted to play against Clyde Drexler, or Tim Hardaway. Those guys would have been more competitive going against me. I would have loved this. Because we play against those guys so much, I want to keep going at them.
RN: What did you take away most from all your All-Star experiences?
GP: The friendships. In our day, we were so competitive, we weren’t friends with each other on the floor. But we would spend time together at the All-Star break. Those were precious days, talking on the bus, the locker room. Families get together. That was a big thing about it for me, the friendships. I became real good friends with John Stockton and Karl Malone and am still good friends with them to this day. It was always good to go see them and then play with them in the 1996 Olympics as well. I idolized John Stockton at the time, I tried to model my game after him.
RN: Would you trash talk during the All-Star Game?
GP: Not really, until Michael would say it’s time to get down, it’s time to play. Then we would start talking trash. That’s the way it was. When you get to the fourth quarter, teams start talking about how they want to win. Michael would start the trash talk and we wanted to go back at him.
RN: A lot of rookies come into the NBA wit hype now, whether it’s the one-and-done or whatever. Would you trash talk those guys? How would you deal with someone like Lonzo Ball?
GP: I would go after any rookie. Any rookie with a lot of hype. I used to do it to Jason Kidd. I would go at him. I’d be like, “Young fella, you’re going to get a rude awakening in the NBA.” I would go at him. “I got this little mouse in the house! I got this little boy in the house! They think he good but I’m going to show him what’s happening.” That’s how I would introduce people to the NBA, make them a little tougher. I did that to everybody. Every rookie that thought they was good, I went at them to make sure they knew I was the best point guard in the league, and they had to go through me. That’s just the way I was.
The way Lonzo has so much hype, what his father’s been doing, that would have been primetime for us—Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson. We would have made it a point to put a target on him. He’s going to be a good a basketball player, he has to learn the game a little bit more, but it’s going to take some years to do it.
RN: How about Joel Embiid? He likes to talk a little trash, would you go after him?
GP: S---, it depends on how we’re rolling. If he’s talking trash, then I’m talking trash with him. I’m going to be like, “Big boy, you have to come out here and guard me, too.” I’m going to go at his head every time. He’ll probably tell me to get my little butt down on the block so he can kill me, and I’ll tell him to bring his big butt out here so I can go right by you. You know what I’m saying? I like his energy. Him and Draymond Green have the best energy in the NBA right now. They talk trash and back it up. That’s what I used to do.
RN: As a Heat fan, I have to ask about that shot you hit in Game 3 of the 2006 Finals. That shot capped off a big comeback in the fourth quarter. What was going through your mind on that play?
GP: You know what, D-Wade was having a heck of a series. He got us back in the game with big shots. [The Mavericks] were looking for him. When Pat called a timeout, he got all the veterans in the game. Jason Williams was the point guard. And he was like, “Yo Bub, you know they’re going to look for me to give the ball to D-Wade. Man, forget that. If they overplay him, I’m gonna hit you man.” And I was like, “Man, just give it to me, I got you.” He saw everybody suck in to D-Wade, he gave it to me, the defender said “Oh!,” came back and jumped at me. I escape dribbled, one dribble to the left and it was over. I hit the jumper in stride. I hit the big shot.
RN: How important was it for you to finally get that championship?
GP: It’s a big deal. That’s what I was doing at the end of my career. I was taking pay cuts, signing one-year deals with teams I thought could win. I lost two of ’em. And when you watch guys celebrate, you want that, especially with the career that I had. I wanted to feel that feeling. I wanted to kiss that trophy. I wanted to go into a locker room and have champagne squirted and poured all over me. Go to a parade. It was really a big deal for me to get all that.
RN: I think Shaq said in his book the 2007 Heat partied too much. Is that true?
GP: I remember partying a lot in both years. [Laughs] I think we partied more in our first year when we won a championship than our second year. Our second year we were already drunk. We had to come down. We won the championship and we just stayed drunk. Our first year we were getting drunk. That second year we stayed drunk, and I think that was the problem. And we got blown out in our first playoff series against the Bulls. That team had so many veterans, and there weren’t many youngsters in there, that we knew how to adjust to what we were doing. We knew how to party but also to get our rest in. And that’s why I think we won a championship. We could party but get on the floor and be ready to play.
RN: I know you’ve been really involved in trying to get basketball back to Seattle. Is there any update there?
GP: We got a new group coming out right now. Seattle has basically already approved a new stadium. What we need is to get that stadium built. Once we get the stadium built, and we’ve already got the OK to get the NHL in there; once we do all of that, I think Adam Silver will say this city needs basketball back. That will possibly mean getting an expansion team. I don’t think Adam is going to take a team from another city unless they are really, really struggling, and I don’t see that right now. I think it will be in the next couple years. By 2021 or something like that, Seattle will come back. And they deserve it. Basketball never should have left.
RN: What were the best days for you like in Seattle?
GP: To go into Key Area every day, sold out, it was hard to come in there and get a win against us. That’s when we used to make people understand, you can’t come in and get a win against us. We were probably one of the hardest arenas to win in. Our fans were crazy. They would camp out. We used to have like 300 people greeting us when we would drive in. Giving us cookies, candies, all kinds of stuff. That was our sixth man. I think that’s where the Seahawks got the 12th man, because we had the Sixth Man first. We should have put the Sixth Man up here because that arena was popping all the time.