Commentary: Dear Gary Payton, Shut Your Mouth

To compare John Stockton to Michael Jordan is to compare a jalopy to a Jaguar.

Posted: 09/11/2013 12:52 PM EDT

Sports often lend themselves to stupidity and craziness, and you hear a lot of both coming from professional athletes or, in the case of Gary Payton, retired athletes. But sometimes it’s best if they just shut up.

Payton would have been smart to heed such advice.

Not that Payton isn’t entitled to speak his mind; he is. But no one – I emphasize, not one person – who follows NBA hoops even casually can believe Payton found John Stockton harder to guard than Michael Jordan. If Payton were a football player, I’d say he took too many hard tackles. I prefer, however, to think of him now as a clown or as the freak in the haunted house.

Then I asked myself, Why did Payton say what he did?

In some ways, he sounded like the thousands of Jordan haters out there. They find ways to pick apart Jordan’s game, to dissect just what Jordan was about. Many of them seem to forget that he dominated the NBA like no player since Bill Russell with those Boston Celtics teams of the late 1950s and ’60s.

Even though Jordan has been retired for a decade, he remains a subject of interest, a talking point for basketball addicts. His posters still grace the dorm walls of college students and his shoes … they sell like an iPhone 5 at the Dollar Store.

Now, I know, I know, people will call me a Jordan sycophant. I’m not. I’ve long had an issue with Jordan, mostly because he priced his sneakers and swag too high for Black teenagers to afford. They bought his sneakers regardless of price tag, and those people with long memories remember when Air Jordans cost a few Black boys their lives.

Still, you can count on one hand the players who might be as good as Jordan was, and you can’t find a player – yet – who is arguably better than he was. Russell, with all his championship rings, was a team player foremost, and as good as his game was, it had limitations.

Jordan’s game had almost none, though I suspect Payton saw plenty of limitations in it if he thought the 6-foot-1 Stockton was harder to guard. Give Stockton his due; he was a gifted player. But he never elevated his game to the level the 6-foot-6 Jordan did, and how many championships did Stockton and Karl Malone bring to Utah?

Don’t bother to count them. The answer is none. For that reason alone, Payton can hardly be serious about rating Stockton’s game above Jordan’s. Only in fiction is that a reality, and it would be science fiction, a plot so far fetched it would be set in 3030.

As I thought more about what Payton said, I understood why he said it. He had been so irrelevant the past decade that he needed to say something insane to make people remember that, yes, Gary Payton was a splendid NBA player, too.

Yet he didn’t have to go here, digging the depth of lunacy to find a reason for folks to mention his name again. Payton could have said a lot of other things – believable things. But to claim Stockton was harder to guard than Jordan is to compare a jalopy to a Jaguar. If that doesn’t make a person laugh, what does?

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(Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for Bacardi)

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