(SuperSonicSoul will spend the day today reliving memories of Sonic great Gary Payton. Pete offers up the first piece, to be followed as the day goes along by the other two members of the SSS team. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.)
Picking a singular Gary Payton memory is tough. Perhaps because he had so many great moments as a Sonic that they begin to cloud the brain, and picking out the best one is akin to picking your favorite fireworks display.
Strangely, I’m going to opt for the 2001-02 playoffs, when the Sonics lost a five-game series to the Spurs. San Antonio was the #2 seed, the Sonics #7, so Seattle obviously had no business winning, much less contesting, the series.
The NBA was abuzz that season with the Spurs’ rookie point guard, Tony Parker, a 19-year-old phenom with the speed of a Corvette and the handling to match. Payton, at 33 years, was seemingly at a huge disadvantage against the youngster, and when the Spurs routed Seattle 110-89 in Game 1 behind Parker’s 21 points, well, the writing appeared to be on the wall.
Parker’s reign as the Next Big Thing wouldn’t happen right away, though. Payton rebounded to lead the Sonics to a surprise Game 2 victory, finishing with 21 points, 11 boards, and 5 assists while holding Parker to 4-of-11 shooting. Even better, Payton keyed a defensive stand that held San Antonio scoreless for the final 5 minutes of the game, no mean feat for a road team in the playoffs.
When a solid Parker outing led the Spurs to a Game 3 win, however, the Sonics were in trouble once again and vultures began circling, eyeing hungrily the bones of Payton’s career. With a win-or-go-home option staring them in the face, and Rashard Lewis sidelined by injury, Seattle turned to the greatest player in team history to deliver the goods. On May 1, 2002, in what would prove to be his last hurrah as a Sonic, Payton looked deep within himself and found some of the magic he once displayed so frequently in the Emerald City. Granted, the absence of both Tim Duncan and David Robinson was the pivotal factor in the Sonics’ dominating 91-79 win, but Payton’s 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists – his second career playoff triple-double – were equally important, at least to devoted fans of the green and gold.
Better yet, the Glove owned Parker on both ends of the court, as the rookie hit only 3 of 13 shots and finished with a mere 14 points, half of Gary’s total.
Sadly, it would be his final playoff appearance at KeyArena, the site of so many of his triumphs. As a fan watching on television, it gave me no small bit of pride to see the once-proud warrior stand tall against the fresh challenger, and to prove once more that he, Gary Payton, was the best point guard on the court.