We all know that talk is cheap, especially in the game of basketball. In the NBA, we’ve seen a lot of guys run their mouths but only a few can back it up. Among them is NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton.
One for the fans
Aside from being widely regarded as arguably the meanest trash-talker in the game’s history, Payton also established himself as one of the greatest one-on-one defenders of all time. So when his Seattle Supersonics made it to the NBA Finals in 1996 against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, GP relied on his two best skills and delivered.
Needless to say, Payton was well aware that he had to put in some extra work on guarding Jordan. In his mind, doing so meant he would have to amplify his trash talk while locking down MJ. And that’s what he did the entire series.
In retrospect, some may reckon that Payton did everything he could to stop Jordan, but the offensive prowess of “His Airness” was just too much for the Sonics to handle. However, GP revealed that it was more of “just a challenge” for himself as he knew nobody could stop MJ.
On top of that, Payton also knew that the whole world was watching, so having some back and forth with the greatest player of all time would drive people into a frenzy.
“It was just a challenge,” Payton told Hoopshype of trash-talking Jordan in the Finals. “I looked forward to those matchups all the time because I knew if I talked to him, he was going to talk back and we were going to go at it. That would make TV [ratings] go up and a lot of things go up; that’s what we were doing.”
Payton gave it all he got
Looking back, it’s safe to say that Payton’s trash-talking did less damage to Jordan as the Bulls scorched to a comfortable 3-0 lead over the Sonics.
Heading into Game 4, Payton decided he’ll give it all he got and take the job of manning Jordan as they “don’t have anything to lose.” So he reached out to then-Sonics coach George Karl for the green light.
“I went to his [Karl’s] office, and I said, ‘Look, we don’t have anything else to lose. Whether you gonna let me guard him or not, I will switch every play that you do anyways that go off him.’ He said, ‘Do what you gotta do.’”
Payton’s plan to make Jordan “work for it a little bit more” worked. The Sonics managed to hang in there and beat the Bulls in Games 4 and 5. However, Chicago prevailed in Game 6 and finished the series.
Indeed, it seemed impossible to stop Jordan from winning back then. But for Payton, it was enough that fans know he did his best out there. And more importantly, they were entertained.