Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images /

39. Gary Payton

  • Resume: 17 seasons, 1 NBA championship, 9-time All-NBA selection, 9-time NBA All-Star, 1 Defensive Player of the Year Award, 9-time NBA All-Defensive Team, 1-time NBA leader in steals, NBA’s fourth all-time steals leader, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 16.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, .466/.317/.729 shooting splits, 18.9 career PER, 145.5 win shares

When the conversation of “greatest point guard of all time” comes up, older hoops fans will list Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Bob Cousy first. The younger generation might throw in Jason Kidd, Steve Nash or Chris Paul. John Stockton inevitably comes up. But somehow, Gary Payton always gets forgotten in the conversation.

That is simply unacceptable. Alhough he didn’t win a championship until his twilight years with the Miami Heat in 2006, Payton was the best player on a Seattle SuperSonics team that (mostly) went toe-to-toe with MJ’s Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals. He also represented the all-around package at the point guard position.

Payton finding Shawn Kemp for transition alley-oops to form the “Sonic Boom” never got old, but his feisty defense — earning him his “Glove” moniker — remains severely underrated. Payton is the only point guard to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award and one of the few players who could “hold his own” defending Michael Jordan.

One of the greatest trash-talkers in NBA history, GP was the guy who’d grab a steal, throw a no-look behind the back pass in transition just because he could, and then let you know about it all the way back down the court. He was most well-rounded point guard from the ’90s and quite possibly the best defensive point guard of all time. His appetite for ripping opponents’ hearts out on the basketball court simply feeds into his status as one of the most underrated point guards ever.