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NBA news: Gary Payton nearly quit basketball as a rookie
- Updated: August 30, 2013
2013 Hall of Fame inductee Gary Payton almost quit after his rookie season due to his frustration with himself as a player and because of the coaching situation with the Seattle SuperSonics, according to an interview on Wednesday with Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.
In his rookie season in 1990-91, Payton was voted to the second-team All-Rookie but his 7.2 points and 6.4 assists in 27.4 per game on a team that finished the season with a 41-41 record, which placed his team one spot lower in the Pacific division than in the previous were both not up to his expectations coming in as second overall draft selection in the 1990 NBA Draft.
What also bothered Payton as the SuperSonics starting point guard, he was not getting starter minutes or any type of support from his head coach K.C. Jones. A combination of all this pushed him to really question his desire to play in the NBA.
“I was thinking about it,” Payton said during a phone interview. “I was like, ‘What am I out here for? This isn’t even what I want to do. I’m not happy.’ I didn’t want to do anything….”
Upon hearing this that his young point guard was considering retiring, team owner Barry Ackerley convinced Payton that the organization had faith in him. Payton’s agent Aaron Goodwin and Payton’s father heeded some words of advice by telling him that he should give it some time, so Payton with all this in mind decided to reconsider and rejoin his team rather than retire from the league.
In the following season, Jones was fired after 36 games and was replaced by George Karl, who last coached in the NBA three years prior with the Golden States Warriors and also brought along with him Tim Grgurich as an assistant coach. If these coaching changes were not made, Payton believes that he would not have returned to the NBA.
“If we wouldn’t have changed coaches,” Payton said, “I would have probably said, ‘Yo, you know what? I want to end this. I don’t want to do this anymore because I’m not happy.’ If they would have stayed with the same coach, I would have probably just shut it down. They would have tried to trade me or I would have told them I don’t want to play there anymore.”
With the advice his father and agent gave him, Payton was able to stick it through and meet the standards he set for himself and his team when he first came into the league.
“I went to my agent, I went to my father, I just said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m good enough to play in this league. I’ve got a coach who wants to play me in the first and the third quarter. He has no confidence in me.’ They told me the same thing. ‘You’ve got to stick it out. You’ve got to be the guy who you’re supposed to be. You’re tough. You’re this.’ My father was like, ‘Are you crazy? If you quit, I’m gonna get in your (body).’ Stuff like that. He’s like, ‘It’s going to be better. You’ve got to dedicate yourself to it.’ As soon as coach Grg came there, I changed my whole mentality. I went back to the guy that I was at Oregon State and the guy that I was in Oakland, California (his hometown).”
The pairing of Karl and Grgurich lasted in Seattle through the 1997-98 season and during their time with the organization they had plenty of success that included playoff appearances in each of the seven year, four Pacific division titles, one NBA Finals appearance in 1996, and after their first season with the SuperSonics they surpassed the 50-win mark in each of the following seasons.
As for Payton he would remain with Seattle until he was traded on Feb. 20, 2003, to the Milwaukee Bucks where he would be reunited with Karl. He would play four more years in the NBA and would retire following the 2006-07 season after winning his first and only NBA title with the Miami Heat.
In his Hall of Fame worthy 17-year career, Payton was named to nine consecutive All-Defense team, a nine-time All-Star selection,an NBA champion, earned one Defensive Player of the Year and gold medals in 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Payton will officially be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sept. 8 with the 2013 class in Springfield, Mass.
Photo Credit: Getty Images