"Everything started jumping off after Game 2," Gary Payton said. "Everybody just changed."
Despite being up 2-0 against the Nuggets, the Hall of Fame point guard felt the Sonics '94 postseason run was going to end right there, at the first round mark. And it turns out, he was right -- Denver won three straight, becoming the first No. 8 seed in NBA history to defeat a No. 1 seed in a playoff series.
But what caused the upset?
Gary Payton-Ricky Pierce incident
Almost three decades later, depending on who you ask, the answer to that question varies -- Dikembe Mutombo, the Nuggets' starting big man at the time, said the Sonics' premature hotel checkout initiated the comeback. But perhaps an even more decisive moment happened before and during the halftime of Game 2 when The Glove and Ricky Pierce got into it.
According to reports, heated words were exchanged during the walk back to the locker room, where the two had to be separated before things escalated even more. “The players told me they had guns in their bags," Sonics then-head coach George Karl said. "It was, ‘I’ll kill your family.’ It was crazy.”
In his interview with DJ Vlad, Payton talked about what caused the altercation between them. Pierce himself has publicly blamed the squabble on a disagreement over Gary's ball distribution, but according to Payton, it was the lack of respect from Ricky that prompted his reaction.
"Teammates are gonna get into it, and we don't back down," Payton said. "Ricky was a guy, older, he was a guy that demanded respect and I was a younger guy and I was gonna tell him, 'I'm not that type of dude that you're gonna disrespect.' I'm just not for it. I don't care if you are OG, I'mma give you as much as respect but you're not gonna talk to me like a little kid."
"He was talking to me like a little kid, and I said, 'We could take it to other places if you really wanted to.' It was one of them things where I took it too far, and he didn't back down. So I'm like, 'It doesn't matter if you back down or not, I can make it happen anytime you want to.'"
Gary Payton, Vlad TV
The birth of the trash talking legend
Payton confirmed the part about the two having guns in their bags. Even the reports about what was said between the two were true. But right there, in the heat of the moment, Gary, aware of the alternative, managed to keep his cool.
"I had to calm down," GP said. "I was a hothead, I'm from Oakland, I got guys with me everywhere I go, so it was one of them things where I had to back off myself before I got in trouble. Because if I make the call and say get it done, they were gonna do it. That would've been something that would've ended my career."
Gilbert Arenas' career was never the same after the infamous gun incident. Based on how heated things got between Payton and Pierce, the aftermath of their altercation could've been even worse. Thankfully, Gary backed off. And from that moment on, instead of initiating any form of physical confrontation, he would opt for an equally effective but far less perilous approach.
"That's why my mouth started to be more lethal weapon during them times," Payton said. "People get feelings and if they can't come back at you, they're gonna blow up. I think that I had to understand that and then I started understanding that and I let it go. Just let it go, because it wasn't gonna do nothing but turn into something bad."
Gary Payton, Vlad TV
Instead of being remembered for a gun incident, Payton used the situation and eventually evolved into one of the greatest trash talkers the game has ever seen. In other words, to quote Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, GP "chose wisely."