This could end up being a big year for Gary Payton, who retired from the NBA in 2007 after an 18-year career in Seattle, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Boston and Miami.
Earlier this month, Payton was named among the 2013 nominees for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He will find out next month if he is a finalist, and the class will be announced in April. Almost as significant for Payton as making the Hall of Fame is the possibility of seeing his No. 20 Seattle SuperSonics jersey hanging from the rafters of Key Arena later this year if the Sacramento Kings end up moving to Seattle.
Payton has refused to be acknowledged by the Oklahoma City Thunder after the original Sonics moved to Oklahoma in 2008. “I didn’t play in Oklahoma City,” Payton said.
While in Los Angeles for the launch of Thuzio, a website that connects fans with athletes, Payton touched on the Hall of Fame, the Sonics in Seattle and the art of trash talking.
You’re a nominee for the Hall of Fame this year and have a good chance of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer come April. What would that mean to you if it does happen?
"People always talk about first-ballot Hall of Famer and all that stuff, but it doesn’t really make a difference. Once you get in there, you’re a Hall of Famer. It doesn’t matter if you get in on the first, second or third ballot. It’s the same thing. It doesn’t really matter to me how I get in. It’s just a great honor to even be associated with the Hall of Fame and get in. If I eventually do make it, it will be a great honor, and I don’t care if it’s the first or second time because it’s an honor for anyone to make the Hall of Fame."
If you do get into the Hall of Fame do you know who would present you?
"Yes, John Stockton and George Gervin."
It looks like Seattle is on the verge of getting the NBA back and reviving the Seattle SuperSonics franchise. If that were to happen this year, what would that mean to Seattle?
"Seattle deserves a team. They got robbed of their basketball team. It just hurts that the Seattle fans haven’t had a team in five years. So it would be great for the city of Seattle. They’re very excited to try to get a team back there, and hopefully they can get one back soon."
If the Sonics do return to Seattle, and it’s looking like it might happen as early as next season, I’d imagine one of the first things they will do is retire your jersey at Key Arena. I’m sure you’ve been waiting to see that for a while.
"It would be great if that happened. People need to understand that I’m not going to the Hall of Fame without having that Seattle jersey on. It doesn’t matter if they’re there or not there when I get inducted; they’re still going to have to cope with the fact that that’s what I’m going into the Hall of Fame wearing. That’s where I made my career, and that’s what’s going to happen."
The Sonics and the Thunder have a shared history, so when the Thunder went to the Finals last year it was referred to as the first time the franchise went to the Finals since 1996. What do you think of that?
"They’re not called the Seattle SuperSonics; they’re called the Oklahoma City Thunder. Just because they still own the rights and they moved from Seattle to Oklahoma, the NBA lets them do that. A lot of people know that they’re not the Seattle SuperSonics. They’re the Oklahoma City Thunder. They got their own franchise, and when Seattle gets a team back, hopefully that stuff will stop and they can be the only team in Oklahoma City Thunder history to do something and Seattle can have their history. Right now, it’s no problem because I really do think Seattle will be getting a team."
So many of the guards you went up against in the NBA are now coaching. Would you be interested in coaching someday?
"I don’t know about that. Anything could happen. I’m never saying no to nothing. It could be possible, but right now I’m just focused on working with kids in a one-on-one situation and making them better. I’d really love to be more into the recruiting of a player or signing a basketball player of my caliber that can play, and then working with them during the summer. The coaching thing is a little more than that. You have to be on your p’s and q’s to do that. As people know in coaching, you can get fired and hired just like that. I’m not really thinking about that, but anything is possible, so I’m not ruling out nothing."
You were known as one of the great trash talkers in sports when you played. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman seemed to bring that back to the city this season. Have you talked to him, and what do you think of his skills as a trash talker?
"No, I haven’t talked to him yet. I know I will, but I like his spunk. I’ve seen him all year this season and he did a great job. He got hurt one time, but he’s talking -- he can still talk the talk and walk the walk. He made more great plays than bad plays. With that, if you can be confident and talk the talk and walk the walk, then do it. If you’re comfortable with it and no one can stop you from doing it, then do it. I don’t have a problem with that. I like that he’s brought that to the NFL. People might not like it, but if he can do it, I’m with it all the way."