Gary Payton was recently inducted into the Hall Of Fame, so he has been reminiscing about his career during interviews. He surprised people when he said he contemplated retirement after only his rookie season, but now he really drops a bomb when he says that guarding Jazz point-legend, John Stockton, was more difficult than guarding Michael Jordan.
Admitting that Jordan was the superior player, he says Stock was so difficult because no matter what GP said or did, the NBA’s all-time assists leader would never respond and just continued to play his game. Whereas Jordan relished the mano-a-mano matchups and would respond with trash talk, and by going back at Payton.
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.”
Stockton’s game seems to be one that has become overlooked with time. To fully conceptualize how great he was, I think about an interview with Stephon Marbury when he was still with the Timberwolves. Asked about what surprised him in the NBA, Steph said three things stood out: how good Michael Jordan actually was, how massive Shaq was, and how incredible a passer Stockton was. Routinely Stock would zip passes by defender’s heads and find team mates in stride for buckets.