Ring Chasers: Gary Payton’s Championship Adventure

Gary Payton’s pursuit of an NBA championship ring was not easy.

Gary Payton is one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game.

He was a high-IQ, aggressive defender and a well-rounded offensive player. He was able to stop the best players in the league and knock down shots in their faces.

This is how he got to be a 9-time NBA All-Star, a 9-time All-NBA player, and a 9-time All-Defensive player.

He also played on one of the best and most exciting teams in the NBA, the Seattle Supersonics.

With Shawn Kemp as his running mate, they led the Sonics to be a minimum 55-win team from 1992 to 1998. They were also contenders in the majority of those playoffs as well.

But unfortunately, they played during an era that had a Michael Jordan, a Charles Barkley, and a Hakeem Olajuwon.

They came close to a title a couple of times, like in 1992, when they were one win away from tussling with the Eastern Conference champs in the NBA Finals.

And in 1996, when they went toe-to-toe with the Chicago Bulls for the title but were only able to steal two wins.

The Sonics were a tough team and were a threat every year for multiple years.

The Beginning of the End for Gary Payton and the Sonics

Though, their prowess started to dwindle when Kemp was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1997 due to contract conflicts.

The Sonics had one more phenomenal season and played really well in 1997-98, winning 61 games in the regular season (however, they lost in the semi-finals to the Los Angeles Lakers).

But after that season, they became a losing team, winning roughly 45 games per season and missing the playoffs in most of those seasons.

Viewership started to slip and the team was sold to a group of investors, headed by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

Payton didn’t like this. And he didn’t get along with Schultz. So, he decided to skip some of the training camp in 2002 and this prompted the new owner to trade him.

In the middle of the season, Payton was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for Ray Allen.

In 2013, Payton opened up about the feud and the trade, saying that Schultz ruined the franchise.

Via The Boston Globe:

“He just messed up our whole [franchise] and people did leave Seattle alone when he owned the team,” said Payton. “That’s why he had to sell it again, because he was struggling. He made a lot of silly moves and the first silly move was getting rid of me.”

“I wasn’t asking for a lot; I never asked for a new contract [before my previous one expired],” Payton said about his final season in Seattle. “All I asked was whether we were going to get an extension [in the offseason] and [Schultz] made it seem like, ‘I don’t care about you no more, you’re nothing.’ So, that’s what happened. He [saw] that wasn’t the right way and the whole franchise went downhill from there.

“It was time to go. I didn’t want to work for this guy. He knew it and I knew it. We don’t have the right people running this squad. Why sit here and be miserable.”

Payton played 28 games with the Bucks and helped the team make the playoffs.

However, they lost to the New Jersey Nets in the first round.

Gary Payton Joins the Los Angeles Lakers

Now in his mid-thirties, ringless, and a free agent, Payton began his ring-chasing campaign.

Similar to Mitch Richmond’s quest a couple of years earlier, he joined the 3-peat Lakers with Karl Malone in 2003-04 to form a superteam in hopes of winning his first NBA title.

The team did well, winning 51 games and breezing through the Western Conference in the playoffs.

But in the NBA finals, they couldn’t get through an underdog team as the Detroit Pistons proved to be too much for them.

The Pistons dominated the “super” Lakers and took the series 4-1.

The Lakers had a chance to win the series, but according to Payton, who spoke about the team’s woes over a decade later on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” podcast, injuries and personal lives got in their way.

Via Lakers Nation:

“The big reason was Karl Malone got hurt. We were [18-3] and everybody was talking about we were going to get the Bulls’ record and stuff like that. But then people don’t get it. We had a kid, Kobe Bryant, he was a kid. He had just gotten in trouble. He had a mindset of, ‘I think I’m going to jail. I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ He was going back and forth to Denver, we didn’t have him a lot. Then, all of a sudden, Shaq and the organization were having problems.”

“Karl Malone missed [40] games, Shaquille O’Neal missed [15], and then we had Kobe who missed [17]. I’m the only guy there who plays the whole 82, and we’ve got a group of guys coming off the bench who didn’t know who they were. We had Fisher, we had Fox, we had Horace Grant, and we put it together. So when we put it together and got to the playoffs, we made a run. San Antonio was the [No. 3] team in the league that year; we beat them in [six] games. And then we got to the Finals and everything didn’t click after that. Karl tried to come back, blew up the knee, and then Kobe and everybody went on to their own thing. We let a good team in Detroit, who was rolling at the time, beat us 4-1.”

In the offseason, the Lakers brass had to make some changes and sent Payton to the Boston Celtics, where he played one season.

After losing in the post-season again, Payton joined a powerhouse out east, the Miami Heat.

Gary Payton Joins the Miami Heat

He took less money and a smaller role to play with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade in, once again, hopes of getting a ring.

The Heat went 52-30 and ran through the Eastern Conference bracket, much like what he and Shaq did with the Lakers a couple of years back.

But this time, the result was different –the Heat defeated their opponent, the Dallas Mavericks, in the Finals to win the 2006 NBA championship title.

Payton finally got his championship ring.

Shaq convinced Payton to come back another year to defend the title and he agreed.

But the following season was not as glorious as the previous.

The stars of the Heat got injured and only played half of the season. They were able to make it into the playoffs but were swept in the first round by the Chicago Bulls.

Even though the season didn’t end like how he expected, Payton did further stuff his accolades sheet this season.

He moved from 17th to 8th for All-Time Games Played, moved to 7th in All-Time Minutes Played, and became the 21st-highest scorer in NBA history.


After Gary Payton retired from his 17-year career, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and became a member of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

He had a great career.