Michael Jordan laughed and said he “had no problem with The Glove,” in The Last Dance. Now it seems Gary Payton isn’t going to let Jordan have the last word.
The Seattle SuperSonics guard and Hall of Famer was one of the best on-ball defenders of his era and is the only true point guard to win Defensive Player of the Year honors in NBA history. And so Payton was tasked with guarding some of the best scorers in the 1990s and never backed down from the challenge no matter who was in front of him handling the rock.
Payton’s nickname was “The Glove,” for a good reason. This Dude was as tough as leather on the court. GP had a big hand in holding Michael Jordan to two of the lowest-scoring NBA Finals games of his career. In Game 4 of the 1996 NBA Finals, with Seattle down 3-0 in the series to Chicago, Payton took the Jordan challenge and forced Michael into shooting 6 of 19 from the field, scoring just 23 points. Then in Game 6, the deciding game of The Finals, Payton took on Jordan again, this time stifling his Airness and allowing MJ only 22 points on 5 of 19 from the field.
Needless to say, Payton took the greatest players head-on with no fear during his 17-year career. But GP recently commented about another legendary guard from his era that was a more challenging defensive assignment than Jordan. According to Payton, one player was harder to stay in front of than a 10-time scoring champ like Jordan. The player Payton refers to is former Utah Jazz guard John Stockton. Yes, the same John Stockton who recently had his season tickets suspended by his alma mater Gonzaga for not wearing a mask at games.
“I got to guard him 94 feet. I got to think about coming off of picks, he’s throwing passes, he’s coming back trying to steal basketballs, he’s always moving, he’s taking charges on me, he’s doing a lot of things. I have to always focus on him,” Payton said during a recent Vlad TV appearance.
While I understand what GP is saying about how different a player Stockton was from Jordan, it’s still crazy to think it would be a greater obstacle guarding 6-foot-1 Stockton rather than 6-foot-6 Jordan could average 30 ppg in his sleep. It certainly sounds wild, but that’s Payton’s view, whether anyone else agrees with it or not. Here’s something to back up Payton’s point. During the ‘95-96 campaign in which GP won DPOY, he went head to head with Stockton four times. In those battles Stockton shot 60% from the field against The Glove, eclipsing his percentage for the season of 53.8. He also averaged a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists per game in those meetings. Seems there is some legitimacy to what GP is telling us.
But maybe this is just about GP jabbing back at Jordan for laughing off his comments in The Last Dance docuseries a couple of years ago. Jordan can laugh at Payton’s commentary all he wants, but the numbers from Games 4 & 6 of those ‘96 Finals don’t lie. Jordan shot under 29 percent from the field combined once Payton began to check him almost exclusively. The Bulls beat the Sonics in six games, but Payton showed the world that he could ball with the greatest and the words back down were not in his vocabulary.