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Gumshoe reporter meets favorite athlete

Guest Column


Growing up in the 1990s, I loved the Seattle Sonics and used to shoot hoops at home in the woods, on a dirt road near a hill. Sometimes I’d miss my shot and the ball would go rolling far down the hill and I’d chase after it. I’d pretend I was making game-winning, buzzer-beating, 3-point shots for the Sonics to win the NBA Championship. My favorite player was Gary Payton.

When I got the assignment to cover the recent Gary Payton event, my eyes lit up. I was very nervous, but once I got there I felt fine.

So I stood on the sidelines of the gym, playing with the expensive camera’s settings, hundreds of children bouncing basketballs at the same time. Eventually, Payton swaggered in, dressed in black and grey Nike gear. He had an air about him … he’s been places. He’s a pro.

After the introduction to the basketball camp, the kids were doing drills and Gary sat on the edge of the stage … my old high school’s stage!

Here we were, in my old high school, in the middle of Coulee Dam, in the middle of the desert, next to a giant sand hill, and a giant dam. And Gary Payton was there! So I sat on the stage too, and talked with him.

I told him I’ve been a fan since the 90’s and asked, “Can I trouble you for an autograph?”

He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Absolutely, it’s no trouble at all, my man.” And he signed my Payton card from 1997 and my Sonics hat too. I was quite possibly happier than anyone else there.

Later, I sat with Payton and Cary Rosenbaum, from the Tribal Tribune, at a sunny picnic table outside the gym. Cary was interviewing Gary, and I listened. Afterward, I asked a few questions of my own and we all just had a conversation. I asked about John Stockton, and Payton’s eyes lit up. “My man! Ya, I messaged him that I was coming to town but he didn’t want to drive out here,” Payton said.

“Now that the Sonics are gone, I mostly follow Gonzaga,” I said. “I like Golden State but it’s not the same without the Sonics. Do you like Golden State?”

I knew he was from Oakland and had watched Golden State games while growing up there, but he surprised me.

“I like San Antonio,” he said. “Popovich is a good coach. I like his philosophy. He takes average players and makes them better.”

And on selfie culture … “We didn’t have all of this in the 80’s and the 90’s,” Payton said. “When they came out with these cell phones, I said, ‘What?!’ … I still have a Polaroid camera! I can show my grandkids someday what it was like when we couldn’t just send a picture instantly to somebody else.”

We went back in the gym, and Payton, as a real showman, spoke with a great, confident timbre in his voice to a couple hundred kids, while I took pictures from the sidelines. “Be a pro at being you,” he emphasized.

Sometimes this area, like Oakland, seems like a dark place, where people get stuck in a dark mindset. Payton’s message certainly strikes a chord around here. He’s saying you don’t have to end up one of the miserable people … you can make something of yourself. You have to have goals and ambition and determination to accomplish them.

They say not to meet your heroes, but I’m glad I met Payton. There was certainly a look in his eyes like he’s seen a lot. He’s seen friends go down dark paths, just like I have, just like we all have. He’s also traveled the globe and accomplished the goals he set out for in life.

That kid in the woods playing basketball on a dirt road is still a part of who I am, but that kid grew up to see that the world isn’t all roses and sunshine. It’s a dark world sometimes, but it’s nice to have Gary Payton motivate you to stay positive and chase your dreams.

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