SEATTLE — Gary Payton, one of the most notorious trash talkers in NBA history, was speechless.
It hasn’t happened often, but it happened last week.
“I got a call on the morning of April 3 from John Doleva from the Hall of Fame committee,” the former Sonics great said Wednesday. “He called. He was like: ‘Gary this is John C. Doleva from the Hall of Fame. I want to inform you that you made it. Welcome to the family. Congratulations and it was well deserved.’
“I just sat there for a minute. He said, ‘Do you have anything to say?’ And I couldn’t say nothing because it’s a shock. It’s a shock that I made it.”
Perhaps more shocking is Payton, who has always been brash and boastful, had doubts early in his career about whether he truly deserved to be considered one of the greats in the game.
The Sonics selected the 6-foot-4, 180-pound point guard out of Oregon State with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1990 NBA draft.
At the time, Payton had modest expectations.
“Coming from Oakland, Calif., I never thought I’d be a Hall of Famer,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about basketball like that. When I made it to the pros I wanted to be a guy who could stay in the league, be OK, do whatever I had to do to make some money and do what I do.
“As the years started coming, I started getting better.”
Nicknamed “The Glove” because of his defensive tenacity, Payton retired after the 2006-07 season as the only player in NBA history to accumulate 20,000 points, 8,000 assists, 5,000 rebounds and 2,000 steals.
He won two Olympic gold medals with the U.S. national team.
He starred 13 seasons in Seattle, where he led the Sonics to the 1996 NBA Finals, became the only point guard to win the defensive player of the year award and was a nine-time all-star.
He won an NBA championship as a reserve with the Miami Heat in 2006.
Payton also played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers during a 17-year career in which he averaged 16.3 points, 6.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
Admittedly, everything Payton accomplished on the court pales in comparison to being selected to the Hall of Fame.
“It has to rank as No. 1 because this certifies my basketball career,” he said. “It announces officially that I was one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
“I don’t have to say that. This says that for me.”
In many ways, Payton’s life irrevocably changed Monday when the Hall of Fame announced the seven-member 2013 class that includes former NBA star Bernard King, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, North Carolina women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell, former Houston coach Guy Lewis and Dawn Staley, a star in the WNBA and at Virginia.
After the announcement, Payton began to realize things were different when his childhood heroes Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called him a Hall of Famer.
“At first it was Gary Payton the basketball player,” Payton said. “I went to the Lakers game (Wednesday) at Staples Center and it was Hall of Famer Gary Payton. That’s going to take some getting used to.”
Payton, 44, admits he may have to curb some after-hour activities. “I’m going to have to watch myself a lot more with the things I do,” he said. “How I make my appearances. I know that’s going to have to happen and I just have to accept that.”
During the next several months, Payton plans to work with writers on the speech he’ll give at the Sept. 8 induction ceremony in Springfield, Mass.
“I’m going to try to make it a very happy experience,” he said. “I don’t want people to cry. But I know once I see my mother and my father start to tear up, I know I’m going to break down.
“My kids are going to be there. My ex-wife is going to be there, which is a big thing that we can have a friendship like that. It’ll be different. When I look in their eyes and if they tear up, I know I’ll break down at one point. I’m going to try to keep focused on what I need to do and the people I need to thank.”
Since his retirement, Payton has worked as a basketball analyst and has supported efforts to return an NBA franchise to Seattle.
“The only thing that would be better than (being inducted into the Hall of Fame) or equal to this is if the Seattle Sonics came back and I can raise my number (20) in the arena,” he said. “That probably will be as equal as this.”