by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Boca Raton, Fla.
June 22, 2006
PAYTON PLACE: A MANAGEMENT PARABLE
MIAMI -- Imagine your boss calling 788 committee meetings over a 10-year span, and you only missed two.
What about working in the same industry for 16 years and despite being pounded year after year by seven-foot-tall body builders, you only missed seven days?
Now you get the magnitude of Pat Riley and the NBA champion Miami Heat's wisdom when they added 38-year-old Gary Dwayne Payton to their roster as a "bench" Player.
The NBA veteran who once had a string of seven All-Star games in a row and Olympic gold medals in both 1996 and 2000, scored only eight points in the Heat's fifth game overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks, but had key shots in two of the Heat's three NBA Finals victories and triumphed in Game Six, hauling down 34 points and nearly a dozen rebounds.
Statistics such as missing only two of 788 games in a decade, playing in 22 post-season games and having his team win 15 times; stepping up and capping 12 stellar years with the Seattle Supersonics with contributions to the Bucks, Lakers, Hawks, Celtics and now the Heat, don't flush out the essence of the man or his inspiration to teammates.
We're not getting soft and mushy here. Any web search of the term "trash talker" usually has the name Gary Payton and his Oakland bad boy reputation at the top of the list. But sometimes you judge people by their actual life, their exemplary deeds, and not the braggadocio and potty-patter.
It's a sweet irony that Payton's most recent catalytic victory converter came on Father's Day. His own dad formed the man.
Along with wife Monique and their three kids, the Gary Payton Foundation has given away more than $1.5 million to needy kids.
Fearful that his son was going to drug-infested, trash talking, and trashier acting environs of Oakland's Fremont High School, his dad maneuvered amid school bureacracies to make sure Gary attended Skyline High School instead. Hoping for better economic, educational, and social opportunities for his son, the elder Payton was disappointed in the worsening study habits, poor grades, and ultimately the sophomore year ineligibility in basketball of his son.
By all accounts, his father cracked down on Gary and Gary cracked the books, learning a lesson which escapes too many talented inner-city kids: there may be some dummies playing sports in college, but they weren't so dumb that they failed to meet the basic, almost embarrassingly minimal NCAA eligibility requirements.
In Game Five, it was an underhand reverse spin, high off the glass, alley-oop, Manhattan Beach-August schoolyard shot which Payton somehow executed while threading through a crowd of Goliaths that set up the 100-101 overtime Heat win.
In Game Three, with 9.3 seconds remaining, Payton stretched all 6-feet-4 inches of his frame and nailed the jumper that put Miami over Dallas by 98-96.
Payton is a coach's dream. He's the glue, the calm, the playoff experience and the stability to old playoff teammates such as Shaquille O'Neill, and the cautious example for young stars such as Dwayne Wade (who was 11 years old when Payton was playing in his first NBA playoff game). I say "cautious" example because Payton never fails to remind his teammates that his aging legs have slowed down his famous defensive skills and opposing players are always gunning for him to slip up, or fail to cut off a lane or make a rebound. It's tougher than in the old days which were his young days.
Those "old days" included the moniker "Gary the Glove." It was the Western Conference finals in 1993 when he was guarding another all star Kevin Johnson like white on rice, or, well, maybe black on coal.
NBA apocrypha has it that Payton's cousin recalling Gary's defensive skills, called him after that game and said, "You're holding Kevin Johnson like a baseball in a glove." (Ironically, Johnson had been drafted by the Oakland A's to play baseball.)
Yet sports headlines are fleeting, and the larger credit to the Heat for hiring Payton, and the greater lesson to younger players is the personal growth for the trash talking kid from Oakland.
It was two years ago, at Thanksgiving time, with the Boston Celtics being the latest team to figure veteran Payton might help them make a lackluster year into a possible playoff year. John Halloran, marketing manager of Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. scanned the Dorchester scene with his Boston Irish eyes smiling, across the 200 turkeys being given away by Mr. and Mrs. Payton, and said, "We're happy to be working with Gary on this event ... anytime we are able to help the community and have a positive impact on someone's life, we are pleased to do so."
Payton was handing out turkeys at the Boys and Girls Club, and later in the week was serving turkey dinners, giving away Pepsi products, and handing out $25 Shaw's grocery gift certificates, along with two tickets to a Celtic game for each family, and said, "I'm glad that I am in a position to come into the Boston community and help those less fortunate. I always enjoy being able to go out into the community and help the fans in any way possible, especially around the holiday season."
Although still active in the Boston area, his foundation has funded youth centers and numerous kids' projects in Seattle, the city where he first became famous. His wife has been honored for her fundraising and educational work on AIDS awareness.
His Gary Payton All-Star Classic Basketball Game each September typically raises a half-million dollars for charity.
He has been honored by the Greater Boston Food Bank, and myriad youth organizations.
So, the next time you see Gary Payton's name in the box score with six or eight points and perhaps one or two rebounds, or news of his retirement from the NBA, think about what it has meant to those younger pro athletes to have him on the bench.
When John Robertson, the manager of Shaw's Supermarket in Boston, noted that he was "pleased to work with Gary on his community initiatives," remember: he is talking about Mr. Trash Talk, who's still No. 2 in technical fouls in NBA history nooks.
Now he's an NBA championship ring-wearer, and will always be one of the NBA's brightest stars - in more ways than one.