Young Gary Payton Received a Brutal Trash-Talking Lesson From Veteran Larry Bird

If there is a Hall of Fame for NBA trash-talkers, Gary Payton — a member of the actual Hall of Fame — is undoubtedly in it. But even The Glove defers to the legendary player and talker Larry Bird. Payton learned his lesson when their paths crossed early in his career.

Bird was nearing the end of the line when Payton entered the NBA in 1990. Payton recalls getting a master class in the art of trash-talking from the wily veteran. It made an impression on the young player.

Gary Payton could teach some trash-talking seminars in his own right

Gary Payton played with an edge sharpened as a child in Oakland, California. And his trash-talking often took on a ruthless bite.

Payton was one of the few players willing to go toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan in the gum-flapping department. The effectiveness of Payton’s strategy is a matter of some conjecture between the two players, but Payton thinks it worked.

In one infamous incident, Payton wound up apologizing to Lamar Odom. Odom was outraged by Payton’s continued references to his late mother during a game. The former NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers had his agent connect with The Glove’s representative. Payton realized he went over the line and apologized.

Larry Bird gave Gary Payton an earful and then some

When the Seattle SuperSonics went to the Boston Garden to face the Boston Celtics, young Gary Payton spent part of his night defending the much bigger, more experienced Larry Bird. And Bird was in his ear most of the game.

Essentially, Bird relayed to the kid exactly what he was going to do. Then he did it. It was a humiliating experience for a player prideful about his defensive ability.

“Right at the Garden, on his last leg, we are playing them, and he told me, ‘Young fella, let me tell you something. I’m going to jump anywhere I want to. You are supposed to be a great defender. I am going to make sure I tell you where I am going to shoot the ball at. I was like, “Come on, man; you are not going to shoot the ball.’ So he said, ‘I will take you to that corner there, and I will give you something, and it’s going to be this jumper.’”

Bird proceeded to work the ball against Payton patiently. Then he did just what he said he would do.

“He slow balled me. He went right to that corner, and I am up on him; I am under him. He said, ‘Young fella, what did I tell you I was going to do?’ He turned around, raised up, and it was all net. I said, ‘Sh*t, I am not going to mess with you no more.’ That is a veteran knowing he can play and what he can do.”

At that moment, Payton had a moment of clarity why Bird was a legend, both as a player and talker.

Payton went on to a Hall of Fame career

Gary Payton had a Ph.D. in trash-talking, but early in his career, he was schooled by Nobel laureate Larry Bird
Gary Payton had a Ph.D. in trash-talking, but early in his career, he was schooled by Nobel laureate Larry Bird. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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As a defender, Gary Payton had few peers. A nine-time All-Defensive selection, he remains the only point guard ever named Defensive Player of the Year. He was also the linchpin for some excellent SuperSonics teams in the late 1990s, including leading them to the NBA Finals in 1996.

As a 37-year-old in 2006, Payton got his elusive championship ring as a role player with the Miami Heat. In 17 seasons, Payton amassed 2,445 steals (fourth all-time) and is in 10th on the career list with 8,966 assists.

Along with his defensive honors, Payton was named All-NBA nine times and made nine All-Star games. And through much of his decorated career, Gary Payton carried the knowledge gained from some early-career matchups with the wise old Larry Bird.

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