|Saturday, December 18|
By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com
I realize, of course, that basketball is a kid's game, and that when you
play a game for a living, your maturity level is, well, stunted.
But it's time to grow up.
After the Seattle SuperSonics got wiped out by the Los Angeles Lakers on
Tuesday night, All-Star point guard Gary Payton had a tizzy.
First, he told reporters that he was too angry to talk to them. Then he
went into the corridor outside the Sonics' locker room and melted down.
"I don't give a (expletive) about those guys," Payton screamed, referring
to Sonics coach Paul Westphal and general manager Wally Walker.
Then Payton called to his agent, Aaron Goodwin.
"Aaron, Aaron, you better do something about those (expletive)
Payton said some other not-so-choice words as well, in a threatening
manner, at which point several of Payton's teammates, including Horace Grant,
rushed from the locker room and ushered him into Westphal's office, where
Payton held a closed-door meeting with Westphal and Walker.
But Walker said Payton was so irate that he would not allow either Walker
or Westphal to get a word in edgewise, so they had to call a stop to the
meeting and tell Payton to go home and cool down.
The source of Payton's irritation was his feeling that Westphal gave up on
the team, essentially because he did not play the starters at the beginning
of the fourth quarter, when the Sonics were down by 16.
Westphal said he wanted to get the reserves to cut the lead to 12, then
re-insert the starters to make a run. Instead, the game got out of hand, so
he kept the starters on the bench.
The next day, Westphal and Walker both said this was Gary Payton being
Gary Payton, the hypercompetitive individual that he is, and while his
attitude helps the Sonics win a lot of games, these blowups also are a
byproduct of such a personality.
I say baloney.
Since when did being supercompetitive give somebody a license to be a
petulant child, pouting whenever things don't go his way?
Did Michael Jordan, widely recognized as the most competitive of all, ever
publicly threaten or denigrate Phil Jackson because he disagreed with one of
Jackson's decisions? Hardly.
Come on, GP is 31 years old. He is not a kid anymore -- at least age-wise.
He should know better. This behavior is unacceptable, even from someone used
to getting his way in every facet of his life.
The most disappointing part is that Payton has shown an inclination to be
a leader for the first time in his career, and his behavior this season to
this point had been nothing short of exemplary, particularly as it relates to
all the Sonics' younger players.
Now what do Jelani McCoy and Shammond Williams and Vladimir Stepania and
Rashard Lewis and Emanual Davis think they can get away with, after watching
their so-called leader light up their bosses, call them names, threaten them,
scream at them, tell them how to do their jobs?
And there is one last point on the subject: The Sonics essentially fired
George Karl for insubordination. Why is there a double-standard here?
Lost in all this, of course, were the riots that were taking place during
the game. This is an unofficial statistic, of course, and even statistical
guru Harvey Pollack did not include this in his latest book, but according to
me, the Lakers now are 1-1 during riots.
They smoked the Sonics Tuesday, more than making up for their loss to the
Portland Trail Blazers during the Rodney King riots in 1991.
There was one faction outside the KeyArena which ostensibly was protesting
Shaquille O'Neal's free throw shooting.
And the best quote of the night -- besides Payton's colorful comments --
came from Westphal in regards to that free spirit Phil Jackson.
"Phil had a difficult decision to make," Westphal said. "I didn't know
whether he was going to come to the game or march on the administration."
By the way, I'm about to start a riot of my own if I have to listen to any more
obsequious drivel from Karl Malone. So let me get this straight: Somehow,
Malone forgot for all those months that he had pre-negotiated a contract
worth $67 million. Hmmm.
But now Malone claims that he has used for inspiration a report from
scouting director Marty Blake 78 years ago which said Malone, then a rookie,
would never be a talent.
I'm begging somebody to shoot me with an extra canister of tear gas
floating around Seattle so I can shed tears for all the indignities Malone
Malone fustrates me.
That's right, fustrates.
Since when did the word frustrate become so difficult to pronounce. I
can't tell you how many athletes I've spoken with or seen interviewed in the
last two weeks alone who say, "It's fustrating."
It's very fustrating to listen to.
You know who else is fustrated? TNT. I just saw a report that viewers who
watch NBA games is down 20 percent this season. What is that equal to, a
couple million people? Personally, I think they don't want to see Ernie
I have an idea for TNT. Just hold a forum about the Pete Rose debate, and
you will get all those viewers back. It is my contention that there is a
strong talk radio lobby that is influencing Bud Selig's decision not to let
Rose into the Hall of Fame. I swear, every time there is a slow day in
sports, some talk show putz brings up the Rose issue, and all of a sudden
there are 50 million callers. If they let him into the Hall of Fame, what
would talk radio have left to discuss, the merits of professional wrestling?
OK, I admit, that was an artificial segue to lead me into an item I saw
this week. Apparently, Goldberg -- who sounds like my accountant but really
is a steroid-plied wrestling "champion," which is the equivalent of saying
Mighty Mouse is the most kickass superhero -- attended a Denver Nuggets game
this week, and all the Nuggets players went crazy. Apparently, Nick Van Exel
even got into a three-point stance, which is Goldberg's signature move --
although it can't really be a "signature move" considering there are about
100,000 football players a day doing the same thing.
I guess I can't really expect Payton to show his maturity when the rest of
his colleagues are acting like this.
Frank Hughes covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune. He is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
|Payton's actions off the court send what message to a young team?|