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 Gary Payton scores two from the baseline.
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Frank Hughes
Saturday, December 18
Payton just doesn't get it

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.
Gary Payton
Payton's actions off the court send what message to a young team?
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) (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 has suffered.

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 Johnson's goatee.

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.

How fustrating.

Frank Hughes covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune. He is a regular contributor to

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