Did Michael Jordan, in fact, have a problem with “The Glove” Gary Payton?
When Michael Jordan stepped on the floor, he usually scored at will.
His career regular season scoring average of 30.1 points per game is the best in league history, as is his 33.4 point per game average in the playoffs.
However, every resume has a blemish. And Jordan’s might have been the 1996 NBA Finals.
Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, after completing a 72-10 regular season, faced off with the Seattle Supersonics, a team that posted a 64-18 record in the regular season. The Bulls jumped out to a quick 3-0 series lead over Seattle, with Jordan dominating the early portion of the series.
However, the Sonics changed their approach in the final three games of the series, assigning 1996 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton the task of guarding Jordan.
In short, it was effective.
1996 NBA Finals
MJ not guarded by GP:
– 3 games
– 31.0 PPG
– 5.0 APG
– 46.0 FG%
– 50.0 3P%
— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 11, 2020
In Episode 8 of The Last Dance, Payton explained how his lack of fear allowed him to have some success when it came to guarding MJ.
“A lot of people backed down to Mike. I didn’t. I made it a point. I said just tire him out. And I kept hitting him and banging him, and hitting him, and banging him.”
Jordan disagreed with Payton’s assessment – to say the least.
“The Glove? I had no problem with The Glove. I had no problem with Gary Payton.”
— ESPN (@espn) May 11, 2020
However, a deeper dive into the matchups between the Bulls and Supersonics during the 1995-1996 season – both regular season and playoffs – reveals that both sides have a strong case.
In the first matchup of the season, the Supersonics handed the Bulls one of their 10 losses that year, defeating the Chicago, 97-92, in Seattle. In that game, Jordan shot 6-for-19 from the field and scored 22 points. Payton scored 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting and handed out 11 assists.
But in their second matchup, the Bulls blew out the Sonics, 113-87. Jordan shot 14-for-25 from the floor, scoring 35 points to go along with 14 rebounds. Payton scored 8 points.
Shannon Sharpe believes Jordan’s denial of Payton’s defensive impact is par for the course, sharing what he believes to be the mentality of an all-time great player such as Jordan.
“Nobody can stop me. I play my game no matter who is on the other side. I’m going to get to my spot, I’m going to be able to do what I’m going to do. And that’s what makes [great players] so unbelievable. They’ve convinced themselves that everything that goes on on the court is in their power.”
"Michael Jordan will never admit publicly that someone could D him up. This is what great players do, they convince themselves that everything is in their control."@ShannonSharpe on Gary Payton claiming his defense took a toll on MJ pic.twitter.com/qnNuALqRgE
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 11, 2020
In response to Payton’s claims that his defense changed the 1996 NBA Finals, Jordan also said, “I had a lot of other things on my mind.” Presumably, Jordan was referencing his father’s death, given that the final games of the series were played leading up to Father’s Day, and Game 6 was actually played on the holiday.
Said ESPN’s Jay Williams: “It’s factual for MJ, the story actually gives context to that because MJ was psychologically going through something with Father’s Day and his father not being there.”
The Bulls won the series in six games, earning their fourth title in franchise history, with Jordan winning his fourth NBA Finals MVP.
Watching Michael Jordan throw back his head and laugh and laugh after watching Gary Payton's quotes about how The Glove outplayed him in Games 4 and 5 was my favorite "classic MJ" moment so far in The Last Dance.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 11, 2020
However, Nick Wright believes Jordan could have been more honest in his assessment of Payton’s defense.
“The most detached from reality is Michael Jordan for what he said about Gary Payton … Michael Jordan played 116 playoff games. His second- and third-worst shooting performances were Games 4 and 6 against Gary Payton. Mike, you’ve got to give somebody credit … Gary Payton’s a great player and he did a pretty damn good job on [Jordan].”
Michael Jordan, 1996 NBA Finals:
First 3 games: 31.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 46.0 FG %, 50.0 3-PT %
Last 3 games: 23.7 PPG, 3.3 APG, 36.7 FG %, 11.1 3-PT %
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) May 11, 2020
Good luck convincing Jordan or Payton that they are incorrect in this debate.
However, as evidenced in Episode 8 of The Last Dance, Jordan will always have the last laugh.
We’ve officially got another Jordan meme.
A perfect companion to 'Crying Jordan.' https://t.co/08LkK5ZQP6
— Thrillist (@Thrillist) May 11, 2020