Gary Payton admits guarding John Stockton was harder than guarding Jordan


payton-stocktonLegendary NBA guard Gary Payton has admitted that guarding John Stockton from the Utah Jazz was harder for him than guarding Michael Jordan himself.

As Payton reflected on his NBA achievements and fast-approaching enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — he’ll join the Class of 2013 Sunday at the ceremony in Springfield, Mass. — he saved his highest praise for a stone-faced rival who never engaged in much hardwood banter.

In 19 seasons with the Utah Jazz, point guard John Stockton didn’t need to move his lips when he read, whether situations, openings or opportunities.

“Never,” Payton said of Stockton in a Q&A interview with Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports.

“That is the reason I really respected him because you never could get in his head. He’s the hardest person I ever had to guard. I tried to talk to him, try to do something and he’d just look at me, set a pick and cause me [to get mad and] get a tech. And then all of the sudden it was over.”

Payton reiterated in an interview with NBA TV’s Kevin Calabro that no matter how much he would talk to Stockton during games, the Utah point guard would go about his business as if nothing happened.

Payton said Stockton’s no-nonsense approach taught him a lot.

It also prompted Payton to seek out the Hall of Famer as one of his two presenters for Sunday’s event — new inductees are presented by previously enshrined players or coaches, and Payton will be ushered in by Stockton and legendary NBA/ABA scorer George “Iceman” Gervin.

“John Stockton is because I liked him when I was playing basketball. Everyone said he was dirty. He wasn’t as athletic as us. But he was smarter than us. We knew what he was going to do. We knew he was going to set [tough] picks. We had all the videos on Utah. We were so dumb. We would get caught up with the picks and get mad at him. He would shoot eight times and make nine. Shoot eight free throws and make seven. He’d have 15 assists and four steals. A complete game. That’s just the way he was and I idolized him…”

Payton idolized Stockton in his own way, of course, jabbering as if it was a natural part of inhaling and exhaling while building his reputation as one of the greatest two-way backcourt players in league history.

HTB denizen Scott Howard-Cooper talked with Payton recently, too, and got the goods on how close the NBA and its fans came to missing out on his skills and his feistiness.

Spears touched on other topics, including this notion that, for Payton, guarding Stockton was tougher than facing Michael Jordan.

“Those battles were a little easier. I would have Jordan get mad at me and go back at me. He knew he was really talented and could do whatever he wanted to,” Payton said.

“But [Stockton] was more of a challenge to me than guarding someone that would talk back to me. When you talk back to me and say something to me it made my game go to another level. John was one who wouldn’t say nothing and you couldn’t figure him out. He’d keep going in the pick and rolls and he and Karl Malone would score a big bucket. At times I would guard Jordan and get him mad and into other things,” he said.

John Stockton, a Hall of Famer himself (inducted as played in 2009), spent his whole NBA career of 19 seasons with the Utah Jazz. Stockton was a member of the “Dream Team USA” back in 1992, and he has also played in 10 NBA All-Star games.

Stockton led the NBA in assists in 9 straight seasons, as well as 2 times in steals. He played a total of 1504 NBA games (1300 started), averaging 13.1 ppg, 10.5 apg.

Stockton is regarded as one of the best point guards of all time, holding the NBA records for most career assists and steals by considerable margins.

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