Gary Payton is the last point guard to win the DPOY award and is still to this day, remembered as one of the best two-way guards in NBA history. Apart from the fact he was a real floor general, Payton was one of the biggest trash talkers, and his intensity was frequently through the roof, which gave him an edge over other players.
In an interview for HoopsHype, Payton talks about the difference in the era of the 90’s basketball and the NBA today. The most significant difference is the defense, which in Payton’s mind is less physical, and the league adjusted the rules that are more suited for scoring points. The fact that the league removed hand checking is one of the reasons why scoring more points became much more comfortable than ever before.
“The younger guys always say, “Well, in your era, you guys couldn’t do this or that.” If that’s the case, I wish you could come to our era and play in our era. I wish we had a time machine so that we could put them in our era and see how they would fare. Sometimes, they say, “Well, you couldn’t play in this era because of the shooting and scoring!” Well, when we were in our early 20s, we were pretty athletic and dominant, too; that’s why you know about us. It’s just changed. You can’t put your hands on guys. The league is about scoring; they want you to score, and they want to run up the points, so it’s entertaining.”
Payton also thinks the mentality and the mindset of the players changed. He thinks players from his generation had a mindset where their mission was to shut down the opposing player on defense. Hard fouls were a regular thing if you watched games from that era. For the past couple of years, players get ejected because of something that in the ’80s or the ’90s, in some cases, would be considered a regular foul.
“In our era, we were talking about locking guys down. We were talking about beating you up. We were talking about putting you on your back if you tried to come in the paint and dunk. We wanted you to think that you may get hurt every time you came in the paint. You know what I’m saying? Now, that will get you a flagrant or get you kicked out of the game, and they may even suspend you after evaluating it. We didn’t have all of that. We’d put you on your back, they’d look at it and then you’d go on about your business. It’s just so different.”
If he played in today’s era, Payton thinks he would adjust pretty fast even though he has a great explanation of how he would do it. Payton would immediately talk to the refs and explain to them how he plays, so there is no mistake when they have to make specific calls during the game. He thinks Patrick Beverley is one of the rare players in the league who does a great job at that and has to build a reputation of being a great defensive player who sometimes goes to his advantage when it comes to refs and their decisions.
“If I played in this era, I would adjust to it. If I played now, the first thing I’d do is go straight to the referees and say, “Look, here’s how I’m going to play. Make sure you let me play defense. If you’re going to let them play offense, let me play defense.” It’s just like what Patrick Beverley is doing right now. He gets into you and, because the referees know what he’s doing and how he plays, they let him play. You just have to get to the point where the refs know how you play, so they adjust. I would probably go talk to all the refs before every game like, “You know how I play. If you want this game to be okay, let me play defense like you let him play offense. Now, if he pushes off, call it. If I foul him, call it. But let us play.” And then I’m going to go back at my guy on the other end and see if he can guard me. That’s a big difference from our era: We wanted to go back at the player who was scoring on us. Now, there’s all of the switching and stuff. We wouldn’t have played that way.”