Gary Payton and Dawn Staley defied the odds, coming from some of the toughest cities in America to winning gold medals in the Olympics and being two of the most accomplished point guards of the 1990s and early 2000s.
“He mirrored me in that (we were both great point guards), but I think he talked a lot more trash than I did,” Staley joked.
Both were on the 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams that captured gold medals in Atlanta and Sydney and both made their professional marks for franchises that unfortunately faded into history.
Payton, or “The Glove” as he was known, was a nine-time All-Star for the Seattle SuperSonics, and in 1996 became the only point guard ever named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He won the NBA title in 2006 with the Miami Heat and retired the following year with 21,813 points, 8,966 assists and 2,445 seals.
“I never looked at my stats,” Payton said. “I just looked at my stats eight months ago. My kids looked and said ‘Dad, do you know how good you were?’ My youngest one took all my games on VHS and watches them all the time.”
Like Staley, the Philadelphia native who played for the Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets of the WNBA, Payton had to prove himself at a young age.
“I had to go out and play against the neighborhood rowdies,” Payton said. “I got in a lot of fights, but it was good, I’d go get my older brother and he’d beat them up and we’d go back and play. That’s what I wanted to be was the king of the playground.”
After Skyline High School in Oakland, Payton went on to have a record breaking career at Oregon State, where he is the Beavers’ career leader in scoring, assists and steals.
“Growing up in Oakland, you’re just taught to survive,” he said, “and when I went to college, I wasn’t a school dude, I was ineligible in high school. I just needed to get my grades back up, trying to get out of this rat race I was in and making enough to stay there, I never thought I was going to be this successful in the NBA until I started really playing and getting to the levels, and it started kicking in. I really didn’t start thinking about the Hall of Fame until 2004 when I went to the Lakers and they started saying, ‘You have four future Hall of Famers on your team’ (Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone being the others).”
Payton listed Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, and Kyrie Irving as the top point guards of the current era.
He also played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers during his 17-year career.