Gary Payton: Genuinely, surely, Seattle

Gary Payton is amazing. He really, really is. Just look at what the man has accomplished.

He made the Oregon State Beavers relevant for God’s sake. Then he went ahead and led a Seattle basketball renaissance in the early to mid-90′s that brought back the glory days of the late 70′s.

He capped it off by winning a championship with the Miami Heat.

Next up, most likely the Hall of Fame. But why is Gary Payton still amazing?

“I’m going in as a Seattle Supersonic,” Payton continues to exclaim about his Hall of Fame destiny.

Technically, the team was sold down the river to Oklahoma City, and is now the Thunder. Technically, they’re still ‘The Sonics’.

But, make no mistake about it, David Stern can say whatever he wants about shared history and the rules of relocation, but the professional basketball franchise in Oklahoma City has nothing to do with the city of Seattle. Nothing.

And when Gary Payton, quite possibly the team’s greatest player ever, says so, you know it’s true.

“I want my jersey to be raised in the rafters in Seattle. I didn’t play in Oklahoma City, I played in Seattle,” was something along the lines of what Payton said to the makers of the documentary Sonicsgate.

What makes this even more amazing is the way that Gary Payton initially left Seattle. You have your Buhners, Edgars, Walter Jones. They retired in Seattle, they were there for their franchises’ best years.

When Gary Payton left town it was more on a Randy Johnson type level. He was fed up. He was being disrespected by ownership, and he had the full feeling of not being wanted. Wally Walker ended up flipping him to Milwaukee and irked a large part of the fan base.

Gary Payton bounced around four more times before he called it a career. But obviously in his heart he still only belonged to one team, because he came right back after retiring.

Because he got it. He understood us here in Seattle. He understands how we appreciate. You scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours. We may not have the history, glory, and tradition that a lot of other cities have with their professional sports. But when we sniff it, we appreciate it.

Key Arena was the most intimate environment in Seattle sports history. Gary Payton felt the love.

There was only one time in watching the Sonicsgate documentary in which I failed to fight back my tears. It wasn’t anything about Bennett, Stern, or Nickels. It was when Gary Payton acknowledged us.

“It was always us,” Payton told Sonicsgate. “Not, just our basketball team. We didn’t do it, WE did it. The whole, everybody, 16, 17 thousand people in there. It was all of us,”

Wow. Tears streamed down my face. I take sports very seriously, when I lost the Sonics I lost a piece of who I was as a human being. So to hear Gary Payton to acknowledge that I actually mattered…Just wow.

He’s returning the favor now.

Now we as Seattle basketball fans are in a more difficult fight than the 1996 NBA Finals. We are battling an NBA dictatorship with our backs against the wall economically in order to get a basketball franchise back.

But Gary Payton is at the forefront. Just like he was at the final game at the Key Arena. Just like he was at the King County court house during Save our Sonic rallies.

When Sonicsgate won the Webby award for best Sports film, there was Gary Payton to accept the award. With five simple words.

“Bring back our Seattle Supersonics”

He has no obligation to do this. He was born and raised in the Bay area of California. He makes his home in Vegas.

But he does anyways.

Gary Payton, you are one of us.

And we love you.

Gary Payton with Sonicsgate. Courtesy of Sonicsgate.com.

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