Washington Mt. Rushmore of Sports: Gary Payton

To kick off the new year, we will be reposting our Washington Mount Rushmore of Sports (originally published in 2009). This series of posts was inspired by an earlier feature by ESPN’s Sportscenter. [Steve Largent] [Don James] [Ken Griffey Jr.]

Talented. Athletic. Competitive. The Northwest has always seen Gary Payton this way, but it took the rest of the world a long time to catch up. To describe him in his prime, they used words like show-off, arrogant, whiner, trash-talker, and other things one would expect to hear about a outspoken young man in the sports world.

Seattle knew he could be all those things, but not only did we love him despite these attributes of his, we loved him for these attributes. When it came down to it, he was Gary Payton. Our Gary Payton.

After the glory days of Magic Johnson, Gary Payton redefined what it meant to be a point guard. Payton could shoot from anywhere and was one of the best passers in the league, but his defense is what set him apart. Payton was wirey and energetic, which showed in his elite defensive ability, eventually earning the nickname “The Glove.”

However, Gary Payton would not limit his defense to his athletic ability, as he was a master of getting into his opponent’s head and forcing mental mistakes. Gary Payton had an amazing confidence in his abilities and would not allow himself to get rattled by a bad shot or pass.

He was arguably the most well-rounded player of the 1990′s. His influence still reaches into the NBA today. Gary Payton was Jason Kidd before Jason Kidd, Chris Paul before Chris Paul. Gary Payton was the best point guard in the game, and he made sure everybody knew it.

Payton’s legend doesn’t stop here. After being a part of the trade that brought Ray Allen to Seattle, Payton never played at the same level again, becoming instead a good sixth man for a couple of teams, finally winning his only championship in Miami before he was forced into retirement. However, he never really stopped being a SuperSonic.

When many players refused to comment on the Clay Bennett saga, Gary Payton stood up and let his opinion be known. Gary Payton appeared in front of the courthouse at a huge rally organized by Save Our Sonics. I will never forget how it felt to be part of that crowd when Gary came to the mic. He hadn’t been a Sonic for five years, but he may as well have had his jersey on.

What Gary Payton said was not so important as that he said it. While many players were afraid to offend the commissioner, Payton showed no fear and joined the hundred of protesters and fans who adored him. By speaking out in our time of need, Gary Payton showed that he cared about us, his fans, almost as much as we cared about him. For that reason and many others he deserves to be thought of as one of the greatest Northwest athletes of all time.

We love you, Gary.