PAYTON VS. JORDAN: Back in the day, Gary Payton relished the opportunity to guard Michael Jordan.
Payton was selected as a finalist for election to the Hall of Fame on Friday, kicking off All-Star Weekend in Houston. Jordan, meanwhile, turns 50 on Sunday, and the league is planning a tribute.
"I've got a lot of memories for him," Payton said, smiling. "We always had great battles. That's what brought it out of me. He and John Stockton were the two guys I always looked forward to playing against because I knew I was going to learn something.”
Payton's Seattle team faced Jordan's Chicago squad in the 1996 NBA Finals, after the Bulls had rolled to a league-record 72 wins in the regular season. The Bulls stormed to a 3-0 lead in the series, but the Sonics won the next two games.
Payton, known as "The Glove" for his defensive ability, guarded Scottie Pippen early in the series. Seattle coach George Karl put Payton on Jordan in Game 3.
"The only thing I remember is we got down 3-0," Payton said. "We got into a hole and we came back and won two. I wish I could've guarded him earlier. I didn't guard him in the first three (games). It probably would've been a better series, I don't know.”
Jordan had 22 points and seven assists in Game 6 and the Bulls won their fourth championship. While Jordan won their championship matchup, Payton said when it came to trash talking, Jordan was no match for him.
"Mike didn't really talk any trash," Payton said. "The only guy who can probably get close to me is probably Larry Bird. And Reggie Miller. They're the only ones who can come close to me, and I think I'm No. 1.”