Former Heat player Gary Payton hopes one day Alonzo Mourning can join him in the Hall of Fame.
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
Gary Payton is the first
Miami Heat player to make the Hall of Fame. He hopes soon to have company.
Payton, who helped the Heat win the NBA title in 2006 in the twilight of his career, was named Monday to the Hall in his first year of eligibility and will be inducted Sept. 8 in Springfield, Mass. He’d love to see center Alonzo Mourning, a teammate in 2006, get in next year when he first becomes eligible.
“I think there’s a great chance,’’ Payton said in a phone interview Wednesday with FOX Sports Florida. “I think it can happen, and I think it should happen. He’s got great stats and he came back from the kidneys and stuff (a kidney disease that derailed Mourning’s career). I think he’ll be there, for sure.’’
While Mourning’s status as a first-ballot selection is debatable, Payton’s wasn’t. The point guard starred in the NBA from 1990-2007, averaging 16.3 points and 6.7 assists. Nicknamed “The Glove’’ for his ability to shut down foes, he was the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year, nine times was named to the All-Defensive first team and nine times made one of the three All-NBA teams.
Payton’s greatest days were with the Seattle SuperSonics from 1990-2003. But he wasn’t able to win a championship, having lost in the Finals in 1996 to the Chicago Bulls.
Payton’s only title came with Miami, where he played from 2005-07. So even though he averaged just 6.6 points and 3.1 assists to close out his career, his Heat days remain special.
“I only played for the Heat for two years, but when I was there we had a great team and we won a championship,’’ said Payton, whose Hall of Fame presenters will be former star guards John Stockton and George Gervin. “Pat Riley (then coach and now Miami president) was great to me and gave me an opportunity. (Owner Micky) Arison was great to me. So to be the first Hall of Famer from Miami to get in is really great and that is quite an honor for me.’’
Had it not been for Payton, the Heat might not have won their first championship. Trailing 2-0 to Dallas in the NBA Finals, they fell behind by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter in Game 3.
But the Heat stormed back and won 98-96, having taken the lead for good at 97-95 on a 21-foot jumper by Payton with 9.3 seconds left. They then won three more games to claim the title.
“Everybody was going at Dwyane,’’ Payton remembers about the Mavericks focusing on Dwyane Wade, who would be named Finals MVP. “They made a mistake. They sucked in on him and they gave me the ball and I put the ball on the floor once and hit the shot …. It was a big thrill because we could have been dead in the water. We could have gone down 3-0 (with a loss).’’
The Heat won their second championship last season and are heavy favorites to add a third this June. Payton still follows Miami closely due to several of the fixtures still being around from his tenure.
Remaining with the Heat from then are players Wade and forwad Udonis Haslem. When Riley moved to the front office in 2008, he was replaced as coach by Erik Spoelstra, an assistant on the title team. A number of team officials and coaches remain, and Mourning has moved into the front office since his retirement following the 2007-08 season.
Payton expects to attend a Miami first- or second-round playoff game. One would expect the Heat would recognize him as their first Hall of Fame player.
“A non-stop talker,’’ Haslem said when looking back at having Payton as a teammate. “But I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot from him on the defensive end of the floor. He was a heck of a teammate.’’
Payton was known for his trash talking. He said jabbering on the court “motivated my basketball game because I got more hyper.’’
It all led to the Hall of Fame. Other than Seattle and Miami, Payton also played for Milwaukee in 2002-03, with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003-04 and with Boston in 2004-05.
“It’s a great feeling,’’ Payton said of being a Hall of Famer. “I’ve worked so hard and now people acknowledge me and tell me I’m probably one of the greatest basketball players ever to play because it puts you in the category of all the greats.’’
Now, Payton would like some company from the Heat. He hopes Mourning can provide it.