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Gary Payton says John Stockton was harder to guard than Michael Jordan

Sep 2, 2013, 10:30 PM EDT

Gary Payton Getty Images

You’re going to be hearing a lot about Gary Payton in the week ahead, as he’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the 2013 class on Sunday. And given his place in the game, his comments about those he played against are worth looking at a little more closely.

We all know who the best players are in any given era; personal biases aside, it’s usually fairly clear who the transcendent players are. (It’s LeBron James over everyone right now, in case you were wondering.)

While no one doubts the impact that Michael Jordan had during his playing days, individual matchups with other players can be far less black and white.

And that’s why Payton saying that it was John Stockton, and not Jordan who he had the toughest time defending isn’t as controversial as it may seem on the surface.

From Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

Q: Did John Stockton ever talk trash back to you?

A: “Never. 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. There was much respect to him doing that to me. It taught me a lot.”

Q: You say Stockton was the hardest to guard, but what about guarding Michael Jordan?

A: “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. 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.”

Payton is a player that, like Jordan, used trash talk to his advantage. He was energized by the challenge of besting an opponent, and always sought that external motivation to reach his highest levels of play.

The fact that Stockton wouldn’t give it to him, while playing at a Hall of Fame level himself, makes Payton’s remarks easy to understand.

  1. kingwithringz - Sep 2, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    That makes sense, he guards Point guards, not shooting guards.

    • loungefly74 - Sep 2, 2013 at 10:44 PM

      HA! nailed it with the first comment. nice.

      • eventhorizon04 - Sep 3, 2013 at 8:58 AM

        …Not quite. Payton guarded both point guards and shooting guards.

    • asimonetti88 - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:28 PM

      I guess you didn’t watch the 96 Finals?

      • kingwithringz - Sep 3, 2013 at 5:17 AM

        I did. Payton lost.

      • asimonetti88 - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:36 AM

        Yes, the Sonics lost.

        But Payton spent a lot of time guarding Jordan in that series, as well as Pippen- neither of whom were Point Guards.

      • sportsfan18 - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:46 AM


        If you saw the 96 finals, then why’d you say he doesn’t guard shooting guards then?

        Those two things don’t square up…

      • antistratfordian - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:37 PM

        The Sonics might have won the 96 Finals if Payton had guarded Jordan the entire series. Jordan was 1-2 (23 ppg on 36% shooting) in games being guarded by Payton in that series.

    • damos10 - Sep 4, 2013 at 10:09 PM

      of course he would say Stockton was harder to guard. they both were point guards. he may have guarded Jordan at times but majority of his career, i’m sure he guarded Stockton. especially since they were in the same conference. plus, like steve nash, Stockton was all over the place. run you from the perimeter to underneath the goal, back out , just to get you close lined by the mail man to open up a one handed “im too sexy’ for my dunks on your teammate. not to mention, Stockton was an under rated shooter. he could shoot lights out if you left him any type of room

  2. dondada10 - Sep 2, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    Bit of a misleading headline. Payton is by no means saying that Stockton was more difficult to guard than Jordan. Rather, he’s saying he preferred to guard Jordan because he would talk trash back.

    “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.”

    • muhangis - Sep 4, 2013 at 3:04 AM

      Payton, answer 1 sentence 3 (on Stockton): “He’s the hardest person I ever had to guard.”


      Q: You say Stockton was the hardest to guard, but what about guarding Michael Jordan?

      A: ”Those battles were a little easier.


      Just admit you’re wrong when you’re wrong, that’s all.

  3. mp4philly - Sep 2, 2013 at 10:52 PM

    Elite defenders in the NBA defend the best player on the floor. Just because GP was a point guard it doesn’t not mean that he only guarded point guards.

  4. dvic13 - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    I watched the NBA finals between Bulls & Supersonics, and Payton was not guarding Jordan even a fourth of the time.

  5. dvic13 - Sep 2, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    Sorry I meant not until the 4th game. Most of his time was spent on pippen and Harper prior to that, since the bulls didn’t really use a PG.

  6. wwi77 - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:18 AM

    Lebron’s not the best player when you take Ray Allen out of the picture who saves his career

    • jimeejohnson - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:49 PM

      I think you’re lying.

  7. pauliewalnuts90 - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:46 AM

    Let me get this straight… Stockton was harder to guard because he was quiet?

    • dangernearing - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:30 AM

      Exactly. What Nonsense

    • spree8 - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:53 AM

      hence, he couldnt get into his head. makes sence no?

  8. scottheis82 - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:55 AM

    @ king & Lounge
    How old are you guys? GP was nicknames the glove, and wasn’t because he anything to do with that whole crazy OJ trial from before you were born.
    It was because he was elite defender in the backourt… someday you’ll read some young kid post something crazy like this about a player from today and you’ll understand my frustration.

  9. 00maltliquor - Sep 3, 2013 at 1:26 AM

    Two things…

    Maybe because he played him more with both being on the West coast and whatnot. Add in more playoffs battles and there you have it.

    And OBVIOUSLY he didn’t match up against Mike Penberthy in his prime!!

  10. badintent - Sep 3, 2013 at 1:47 AM

    Gary didn’t guard Jordon. Someone that takes you to school is not being guarded. Period.Ever.
    Gary wasted too much energy running his limited vocabulary yapping at Jordon as Mike flew by him.After Gary saw what Karl could do to him with a well placed elbow against Thomas, he choose to give John his pick and roll cuts.Which proves Gary had a brain.

    • eventhorizon04 - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:01 AM

      It seems like you didn’t watch the Finals with Payton and Jordan, so you’re stuck basing your opinion on box scores.

      While Jordan’s point totals from that series are pretty good, they also happen to be the worst in Jordan’s Finals career. In addition, his efficiency was far lower than the usual standards Jordan set, indicating it took Jordan a lot of shots to score points on Payton. Even Jordan himself said he didn’t have a great series scoring the ball – though in classic Jordan fashion, he blamed himself rather than giving Payton credit.

      • asimonetti88 - Sep 3, 2013 at 11:39 AM

        It could be argued that Rodman was the true MVP of that series.

        Payton did an excellent job limiting Jordan when he matched up against him.

        Whenever someone tries to say that it was just Jordan on those teams, you have to laugh and point to this series.

      • badintent - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:22 AM

        True that on Mike and his Mike world “no one can guard me straight up. But the REALITY WAS THAT BOTH DOUBLE AND TRIPLE TEAMS were used on Mike because Coach Karl had nothing to lose. Coach was also smart enough to know that Mike wanted to ballhog aka Kobe on national tV. We all do,

    • antistratfordian - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:45 PM

      “Gary didn’t guard Jordon. Someone that takes you to school is not being guarded.”

      Payton started guarding Jordan in Game 4 of the 1996 NBA Finals. He wasn’t on him in the first three games because he was bothered by an injury and George Karl didn’t want to wear him out by putting him on MJ. But by game 4 the Sonics were down 0-3 and they had nothing to lose – Karl made the switch.

      The Sonics won the next two games. Over the next 3 games – with Payton assigned to him – Jordan averaged 23.7 points, 3.3 assists, 3.7 turnovers on 36.7% shooting.

      • badintent - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:12 AM

        Please. Go look at the tape. Jordon was getting double and triple teams by then BECAUSE KARL THREW THE KITCHEN SINK AND ROVER AT MIKE .HE HAD NOTHING TO LOSE. IF ANYTHING Karl figure out that Jordon was going Kobe ball hog for a few games. IF memory serves me correct as always, Joe Dumars ALWAYS said that he got tons of help guarding Jordon in the first two Piston/Bulls series when Pistons won them. Rodman and Thomas constantly help Joe with Mike.

  11. ninthwardfriend - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:33 AM

    Hey badintent all of human kind has a limited vocabulary. Gary was Great, and talking trash is a part of sports. Maybe Stockton had the limited vocabulary, after all he didn’t say anything.

  12. Brenden Starkey - Sep 3, 2013 at 6:16 AM

    Why do some people feel personally attacked when Jordan isn’t being glorified? He’s just an insanely talented basketball player, possibly the best ever, but he’s not the beacon of perfection that must be showered with constant praise.
    Gary Payton said that his style of defending involved talking to the other player, attempting to get in their head. When he could get the other player to talk back to him, he felt like it helped him play better defense. Whether that is true or not is beside the point, as it is Payton’s personal opinion. He isn’t saying that Stockton was better than Jordan, or that Stockton was superior offensively. He’s simply saying that Stockton wouldn’t play to his strengths or to his defensive preference, making him, in Payton’s mind, more difficult to guard.
    This isn’t a shot at MJ, simply praise for Stockton, a fellow point who Payton respected. But by all means, freak out MJ fans because Gary Payton wasn’t idolizing him.

    • 00maltliquor - Sep 3, 2013 at 10:17 AM

      Why does this comment not have like 50+ thumbs up by now!? 0-0? Really?

      • badintent - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:24 AM

        Time to hit the NY Cheddar Chips. amazing.. Best cheese flavor for a chip . No dip needed

      • jimeejohnson - Sep 4, 2013 at 5:52 PM

        New York (say like cowboys on Pace salsa commercial)?

  13. unsportsmenmic - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:03 AM

    Reblogged this on UnSportsMenMic and commented:
    Plus Stockton was rocking the short shorts his whole career, probably couldn’t talk because of ball tightness

  14. abchome - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:35 AM

    Just like Kobe said T-Mac was the hardest to guard. You know, you don’t compliment someone maybe better than you in the eyes of the public.

    • eventhorizon04 - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:09 AM

      True. There’s also a difference between an NBA player being “hardest to guard” versus “the best player in the NBA.”

      When you ask an NBA player to name the hardest person he’s ever guarded, first, you’re limiting him to players he’s been asked to guard. As a guard, Kobe has never spent a lot of time guarding power forward Tim Duncan, so Kobe isn’t going to name Duncan as a tough player he’s had to guard. However, if you ask Kobe to name some of the best players in the NBA during his career, Duncan makes that list easily.

      Second, you’re only asking him to rank the scoring ability of his opponents. A guy who is a good scorer and excellent defender is easier to guard than a guy who is an excellent scorer and poor defender. However, the player who plays well at both ends is a superior player.

  15. phillyphil005 - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:40 AM

  16. jruc - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:55 AM

    Without even reading the comments yet I just want to point out that this is HIS opinion and it should be respected as such. People tend to defend Jordan for anything and I’m sure it’s already here and if not, then it will be. GARY PAYTON is the one who has checked BOTH MEN numerous of times. Meanwhile, NONE OF US have so respect his opinion and realize your lack of validity to say he is wrong. It’s hard to argue opinion with opinion as it is. It shouldn’t even happen if you haven’t even experienced anything involving the subject. I doubt any of you played in the NBA let alone checked either of the 2 men.

  17. tubal22 - Sep 3, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    He said this about 3 years ago on his youtube channel too.

  18. timcruise10 - Sep 3, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    I agree with the possibility that Stockton was the hardest to guard. This should really be subjective.

    any how, Westbrook would have owned Payton if ever they played in the same era. Right now Westbrook’s already as good as the prime years of Payton, offensively and defensively speaking

  19. metalhead65 - Sep 3, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    I don’t get it,how is one hall of fame player giving respect to another anything to argue about? he was asked a question and gave a honest answer. he is the one who had to guard stockton not any of you. how is saying he was the toughest guy he had to defend an insult to anyone else? stockton was a guy who knew his strengths and weaknesses and played to his strengths. he did not allow payton to take him out of his game which made payton have to work harder to defend him. and unlike allot of people he simply was giving Stockton the respect he deserves which makes me respect Payton.

  20. chitownmatt - Sep 3, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Are you all forgetting that you have to guard against a PASS as well as a shot, and Stockton was one of the greatest passers in the history of the game???

    Besides, mentally, its one thing to have the Great Michael Jordan beat you…

    But nobody wants to get schooled by a short white guy that looks like he could be an insurance salesman.

    • badintent - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:29 AM

      Double true that. All John did was put about 8000+ assists.To over hundred team mates. He did his talking in the boardroom , BCAUSE UNLIKE 90% OF EX-NBA PLAYERS HE HAS ALL HIS $$$$ !!

  21. darbley73 - Sep 3, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    Heard on an NBA court in the mid 90’s:
    Gary: Mike, I’m buying Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s now too!
    Michael: You’re paying for yours?? I get mine for free.

  22. praetorian12 - Sep 3, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    If you listen to what Gary’s sayin’, it’s hard to argue. He’s saying he could not get Stockton out of his game or shake him from being productive. Pull out game 4 or 5 of the NBA Finals– Jordan scored on Payton…. some… but Jordan was inefficient and off his game. Payton is saying that he couldn’t have an effect on Stockton’s game the way he could against some other players.

    There’s no dissing going on here– it’s just Gary’s perspective. Respect to Jordan, Stockton and Payton. They’re all great players and all Hall of Famers.

  23. fingroll - Sep 3, 2013 at 6:40 PM

    Jordan played a lot of 1 on 1. He would beat you a lot, but you just had to try and move your feet to stay in front of him. Stockton would run you back and forth through a brick wall (Karl Malone) for 48 minutes, so half the time you ended up on Malone in the pick and roll trying to keep him from the basket. Guarding Stockton meant that you were going to be physically punished for 48 minutes. Then at the end of the game, when your tank was on empty, Stockton would shoot > 50% and hit the big shot. Stockton may have been easier to guard one on one, but point guards never looked forward to playing Stockton and Malone.

    • badintent - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:32 AM

      I like your break down. You know the game like a coach. John was a coach on the court. He broke down Gary and the Sonics on a regular basis. Plus you gotta like Malone’s elbows. Thomas didn’t. The concussion has destroyed his ability to be a NBA GM. EVER.

  24. glink123 - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:59 PM

    The biggest tragedy of the Sonics being relocated to OKC is that Gary Payton’s number will never be retired, by any franchise. I’d be curious to know how many Hall of Fame NBA players don’t have their number retired. Bet it’s a very small number (1?).

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