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Gary Payton says he was so frustrated as a rookie he almost quit basketball

Aug 28, 2013, 5:34 PM EDT

Gary Payton Getty Images

In the past year, just elected Hall of Famer Gary Payton has been working with John Wall. Outside the obvious reasons one might want to work with the best defensive guard of his generation, there was another reason Wall sought out Payton — both guys struggled at the start of their career.

“First of all I struggled for three years,” Payton told ProBasketballTalk back in January. “Really for two years, and then when George Karl got there (to Seattle) my struggles ended because I got a basketball coach that let me do what I wanted to do.”

Payton’s frustration went deeper than anyone realized, to the point he almost quit the NBA, something he told Scott Howard-Cooper of

“I was thinking about it,” Payton said in a phone conversation from his home in Las Vegas. “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….

“If we wouldn’t have changed coaches (from K.C. Jones to George Karl),” 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.

“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.”

We talk about how talent wins the day in the NBA, and to an extent that is true — if you are LeBron James or Kevin Durant you’re going to be good irrespective of who the coach may be. But for most of the players in the NBA fit does matter. You put an aging, big, plodding center on a Mike D’Antoni team and the results will leave nobody happy. (And no, I’m not talking Dwight Howard there, he’s not plodding.)

Payton needed to be in a system that worked for him, and when he was he flourished. That worked for a long time, but remember he chaffed trying to be a point guard in Phil Jackson’s offense back in 2004 — that was a bad mesh of styles again.

It’s something players need to learn to fight through to get what they want. Even if you’re a Hall of Famer like Gary Payton.

  1. sellahh - Aug 28, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    I know what he’s talking about… I get frustrated too… today I swept the first two rounds of the playoffs with my 4 time straight champions Charlotte Bobcats only to win the Conference Finals against detroit despite scoring 5 points less over whole series. You know how frustrating it gets? My lineup is D.Rose, Rudy Gay, Wilson Chandler, CB4, Roy Hibbert with a bench of Iman Shumpert, some randocommando, Jason Thompson, Serge Ibaka and JaVale McGee. U know how frustrating it is to drop 2 games with a team that is 37 millions over the cap? Not even Prokhorov would be able to afford it.

  2. kb2408 - Aug 28, 2013 at 6:20 PM

    I remember Gary’s struggles. He was on the brink of being labeled a bust then Karl got hired and his career begin to take off. I think in a year, or two, Wall will be one of the top 5 pg’s in the league. His size and speed makes him special. He’s a consistent jumper away from being top 5.

  3. 00maltliquor - Aug 28, 2013 at 6:33 PM

    ‘Are you crazy? If you quit, I’m gonna get in your (body).’

    LOL, oooookaaay! I’m sure we all know what was said.

    • runthepicketfence - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      Is that prison slang?

  4. 00maltliquor - Aug 28, 2013 at 6:40 PM

    It’s crazy to think about how many really good to useful players there may have been in the past, but due to coaches not recognizing, or the systems being totally wrong for the player, or just not being used because the depth chart is too deep they’ve either fizzled out or dropped out due to a lack of motivation, etc.

    Here’s to hoping Wes Johnson is one of those guys and Mike D’Antoni can revive him!

    Also what I take away from this is, how much of an (body) does this make K.C. Jones look as a coach to have a Hall of Fame PG in the making sitting on his own bench that almost quit because of they way he used him, only to get fired and the next coach makes him a legend in the game!

    • tru2joelu4eva - Aug 29, 2013 at 1:34 AM

      tim tebow.

  5. 00maltliquor - Aug 28, 2013 at 6:43 PM

    K.C. Jones: “D’oh !!” **smacks forehead**

    • skinsfanwill - Aug 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      Reminds me of Byron Scott. he’s got to be the biggest ahole coach out there. None of his players like him.

  6. seanb20124 - Aug 28, 2013 at 7:38 PM

    What was the glove going to do? Work as a bagger at Publix

    • 22yearsagotoday - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:24 PM

      Or a nuclear power plant.

  7. vstyle23 - Sep 2, 2013 at 8:01 AM

    I really wish that they had gotten a championship. Another victim of the Jordan era… Ho hum… Oh well, at least they were entertaining. “The glove to Rain man” connection best ever.

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