Gary Payton will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next Sunday (Sept. 8) so national and local writers alike will surely be writing about "The Glove's" famed career. And in a recent Q+A with Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears, Payton said Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton -- not Michael Jordan -- was the toughest player he ever guarded.
On the surface it appears to not make much sense. The 6-foot-1 Stockton averaged a respectable 13.1 points and 10.5 assists over a 19-year career in Utah, making him one of the best court generals of all-time (he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009), but Jordan averaged is one of the greatest scorers ever, and easily the top scorer of the 80s-90s era, scoring more than 32,000 points during his 15-year career (an average of 30.1 points per game).
But Payton, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1996 and a member of the NBA's All-Defensive First Team every year from1994-2002, had solid reasoning for his decision of Stockton over Jordan.
"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," Payton, one of the game's best trash talkers, said of Stockton. "And then all of the sudden it was over. There was much respect to him doing that to me. It taught me a lot.”
On the flip side, Jordan was eager, willing and able to send the trash talk right back to Payton. How did that help the Seattle point guard?
"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," Payton told Spears. "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."
Perhaps Payton may have thought Stockton was tougher to guard, but he didn't have much success against Jordan. In the 1996 NBA Finals Jordan averaged 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists against Payton's Sonics, winning his fourth NBA title in six games.