TAYLORSVILLE — Gary Payton II, the starting point guard at Salt Lake Community College, was once driven away from basketball by the comparisons with his famous father, the former NBA great.
"You're not as good as your dad," came the taunts from his peers. "You're never going to be that good."
The name didn't help — Gary Payton The Second. The name tied him immediately to the old man and relegated him second in line. It was all spelled out for him. So he tried other sports for a time before eventually embracing basketball because "it was what I loved and a game I understand and what I grew up with."
So here he is, a starting freshman guard at Salt Lake Community College, trying to find his way in the game, and more comparisons are inevitable, if unfair.
At 6-foot-3, he is an inch shorter than his father, but he does have the old man's hops. In a game earlier this season, a rebound was so long and high that nobody bothered to box out Payton. He one-stepped between two players, launching himself into the air, reached back behind his head with one long arm to snag the ball, and then dunked it with authority in one stunning move. Against North Idaho he stole the ball and took off from the baseline 10-12 feet from the basket and jammed it.
He also inherited his father's love of — and penchant for — defense. The old man is one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history. He was known as "The Glove" because of how closely he guarded opponents.
"Defense is in our blood," says Payton II, who likes to call himself "The Mitten." "I don't know why, but I love defense. I love stopping the other guy. I love it when the team needs a big stop."
"He's different than his dad, but there are similarities," says SLCC coach Todd Phillips. "He's a good defender. He can feel where the ball is, and he can guard the ball."
Despite being a perimeter player, Payton II is the team's best rebounder, averaging more than six per game, and he ranks second in steals (33) and third in assists (65). His outside shot is a work in progress, but he's a good slasher to the basket, like his dad. He averages a modest 8.5 points a game for 17-2 SLCC, which ranks 15th in the latest national JC rankings.
One more comparison: The kid has a long way to go if he wants to match the old man's mouth. The NBA superstar was famous for his trash talk, his temper and his outbursts, which is why he ranks third on the NBA's all-time list for technical fouls. So far, GPII has only two technicals this season and one was for hanging on the rim so he could secure a safe landing after a dunk.
"He's the king of trash talking," says Gary II of his father. "I do a little, but he takes it to another level."
Maybe it's a reflection of their upbringings. The kid grew up on Easy Street, the son of a multi-millionaire athlete. Gary Sr. grew up in the West Oakland projects, the son of a father whose nickname was "Mister Mean."
Gary II's other technical occurred last month during a game against Eastern Mississippi. He was engaging in some rather mild trash talk when the official hit him with the T. "You can't do that!" assistant coach Paul Marble said to the referee. "It's in his blood!"
But the truth is, it's not.
"He can talk a little bit," says Phillips. "We're aware of that. He's got those genes. But it's nothing more than any of our kids. He's a very upbeat, easygoing kid. His dad was known as a hard, nasty guy; Gary is not like that."
The first thing you expect when you meet the son of Gary Payton is a guy with a chip on his shoulder, especially when you learn that he has the flu and wasn't expecting a visit from a reporter. Instead, he is polite, humorous and smiling.
"I get that from my mom," he says. "Everyone calls us twins."
It can get confusing trying to understand the Payton family ties because there are three Gary Paytons. Even Phillips says he is uncertain of the family dynamics. Gary Payton II explains: He is one of three children born to Gary and Monique Payton — Gary II, Julian, Raquel. But there also is Gary Payton Jr. He was born a few months earlier than Gary Payton II by another mother and was raised in Chicago. Gary and Monique divorced a few months ago.
Gary Payton II and his two siblings moved around the country following his father's career, which included 13 years with the Seattle Supersonics and four more years divided among the Milwaukee Bucks, L.A. Lakers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
Gary II tagged along with his father during his home-game routine, showing up at the arena two hours before tipoff, shagging balls during the shootaround, and hanging out in the locker room afterward. He struck up a friendship with the NBA stars and their kids.
"I didn't really ask my dad for much help with basketball," says Gary II, who talks to his father daily. "I wanted to do it on my own. But sometimes I ask him about specific things — like what kind of pass he would use to feed the post from the wing, or how he would guard a certain player."
Following his retirement, Payton settled his family in Las Vegas. Gary II was a late bloomer. He grew more than three inches to 6-foot-2 as a high school senior. Following his junior year, he started to get more serious about his approach to the game and began working with a trainer. Some recruiters gave him a sniff, but he couldn't meet the NCAA's academic eligibility requirements. He attended Westwind Prep school in Arizona to become eligible, but the NCAA subsequently reflagged the school and wouldn't accept Payton's credits there. That brought him to SLCC, where he has improved his game and his grades (a 3.7 grade point average last semester). He has retaken the classes that were voided at Westwind and is appealing the NCAA, hoping to play for Division I school in the future.
Meanwhile, at SLCC he has found teammates who share the challenge of having NBA bloodlines. The starting lineup includes JuWan Buchanan — nephew of former NBA star Shawn Kemp — and Tyrell Corbin — son of Jazz coach and former NBA player Tyrone Corbin. (Phillips also was an assistant coach at Westminster when Michael Stockton — son of Jazz great John Stockton — played on the team.)
"Ty and I have been through the same stuff growing up — people expecting us to do better and be like our fathers," says Payton. "They've got to understand we are our own persons."
Phillips concedes that the names of NBA progeny initially draw attention from coaches. He learned of Payton through an AAU coach.1 comment on this story
"His dad was out of the country when we recruited Gary (II)," says Phillips. "He has been great. He has stayed out of it. Same with the Corbins and John Stockton when I was at Westminster. The dads were hands off. They understand."
As for Payton II's prospects, Phillips says, "He's athletic and long and has a good personality. He's been a good surprise. He was not heavily recruited. He has grown into his body and is becoming a better player. He's a bit of late bloomer. People were not sure what he was — a 2 or a 1 guard. We're still not sure. He's a really good kid. No big ego involved. You never hear him say, 'my dad did this … He wants to be his own person and that's a credit to him."