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While there’s always room for some debate — maybe you think LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or someone else is the NBA GOAT — Michael Jordan is going to sit near the top of virtually any NBA list. Even if His Airness wasn’t your favorite player, you can’t deny his greatness and impact on the game of basketball. It’s been more than nearly 20 years since he last hit the hardwood, and it’s still surprising when someone other than MJ gets shouted out for a specific honor.

That’s what Gary Payton did not once but twice in a single interview.

When speaking to TMZ Sports, The Glove uncorked two different Jordan takes. In his mind, LeBron James is a better player than Mike, and the Chicago Bulls star wasn’t the toughest player he ever had to defend.

Let’s check out the quote.

Gary Payton didn’t have Michael Jordan in the top spot while talking to TMZ

During their time on the hardwood, Gary Payton and Michael Jordan had their fair share of battles. That somewhat continued into retirement — if you watched The Last Dance, you know both men are still firmly entrenched in their positions — and, on occasion, an occasional jab is thrown.

Consider, for example, a February 2023 interview with TMZ. While The Glove didn’t outright diss His Airness, he did place the legend below the top spot in two different metrics.

“I can say this, and I’m always going to say it,” Payton explained. “I think LeBron was a better all-around player [than Jordan] because he could pass the ball and rebound. I think Michael was a better killer. He was a better killer. He would go after you. He’ll take a shot whenever he needed to and make it and do it. He was more of a killer. But LeBron is turning into that.”

From there, the conversation moved into the challenges of defending the two players. Payton said that he didn’t have much experience facing off against James — the guard was at the tail end of his career when the phenom reached the pros — but was sure to note that Jordan wasn’t the toughest opponent he ever faced.

“I think the hardest person I ever had to guard was John Stockton because of the way he would do 94 feet and go everywhere,” The Glove added.

Again, it’s not like he actively threw shade at his old rival, but keeping MJ out of the top spot twice is certainly something that could be taken personally.

If fairness, Payton is consistent about his John Stockton pick

When you hear about a former player making bold claims in the media, it’s easy to get a bit cynical and think they’re doing it for attention. If his track record is any indication, though, Gary Payton legitimately believes that John Stockton was his biggest challenge.

In 2013, The Glove explained that Stockton’s stoicism complicated matters.

“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,” Payton told Marc J. Spears for a Yahoo Sports piece. “But [Stockton] was more of a challenge to me than guarding someone that would talk back to me. 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. He’d keep going in the pick and rolls, and he and Karl Malone would score a big bucket. At times I would guard Jordan and get him mad and into other things.”

Then, in February 2022, a similar sentiment surfaced during an interview with DJ Vlad. Payton insisted that he wasn’t the greatest point guard to ever play the game; that honor, instead, went to Stockton.

“Stonefaced,” GP said. “But I gotta guard him 94 feet. I gotta think about coming off picks, he throwing passes, he coming back trying to steal basketballs. He always moving, and he always taking charges on me. I have to always focus on him.

“He only played 34 minutes. That’s all Jerry Sloan played him. When you look up, he shot the ball 10 times. He made eight. He shot seven free throws and made all seven. Next thing you know, you look up, and he got 16 assists. Then you say, dang, he got five, six rebounds, and he got five steals. I look up there and I say, ‘Man, he got 27, 16, five, five.’ I can’t deal with that.”

So, whether you believe Gary Payton or think he’s just talking a bit of subtle trash, at least he’s consistent.


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