Gary Payton II and his inspiring road to becoming an NBA Champion

Gary Payton II

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 13: Gary Payton II #0 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates after the 104-94 win against the Boston Celtics in Game Five of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 13, 2022 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

In 2016, he went undrafted out of Oregon State University and then bounced around the NBA G League for several years. During those years, Payton had NBA appearances with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Washington Wizards.

When he played for the Lakers, Payton even scored 25 points and secured 12 rebounds in a game against the LA Clippers. Nevertheless, none of these teams deemed him worthy enough to keep around. Payton was waived time after time, facing one of the biggest disappointments there is for a pro basketball player.

Gary Payton II and his inspiring road to becoming an NBA Champion

Despite his being the son of nine-time All-Star Gary Payton Sr., Payton II has been underestimated for all of his career. Just like his father, Payton has always been a good defender. In 2021, he was named the G League Defensive Player of the Year and has since earned the nickname ‘Young Glove’ in honor of his father, ‘the Glove’.

His skill on the defensive end was never quite enough for teams who saw Payton struggle offensively, though. This season, however, the Golden State Warriors finally decided to look past that and Payton took the chance that was offered to him. He had a breakout season on both ends of the floor.

The Warriors first signed Payton to a ten-day contract in April 2021. This contract expired after a road loss in Boston. Payton said his goodbyes to the other Warriors right there on the court, but as Draymond Green revealed on his podcast after winning the 2022 championship, not everyone was satisfied with watching Payton leave.

Several of the team’s veterans pushed to keep Payton with Golden State. As a result, Payton was signed to another ten-day contract and then to a standard contract, which did not last long.

Just days before the 2021-22 season started, Payton was waived once again. Despite the reoccurring disappointment, Payton was determined to stay with the team this time and applied for a position as video coordinator. His wish of having a spot on the team finally came true, though, when he was offered the spot of the 15th man with a one-year, $1.93 million contract not long after being waived.

Payton proved his value during the regular season, especially defensively, and became such a crucial part of the rotation that people declared the Warriors doomed after his injury in the playoffs.

The reason why Gary Payton II became such an integral part of the machine that is the Golden State Warriors was that the offensive struggles that made so many teams doubt him were no big issue for Golden State. They have so much offensive firepower already that they can allow someone like Payton to focus on defense and pull his weight on that end of the floor.

Originally, Payton was only supposed to have a small role and not see much playing time, but once he discovered his spot in the Warriors’ offense, he became almost irreplaceable. Payton proved to be a good cutter and knows how to use the space Stephen Curry creates on the court with his gravitational pull on the defense.

Besides that, Klay Thompson’s return and Jordan Poole’s explosion as a three-point menace made some much-needed room for a non-shooter in the Warrior’s offense. In Game 5 of the finals against Boston, Payton scored 15 points off the bench, rivaling Curry’s 16 points.

While the Warriors’ original championship core of Curry, Thompson, Green, and Andre Iguodala is getting old and injury-ridden, the promising rookies are still too inexperienced to compete at such a high level. This leaves a void between the old generation and the new, and Payton turned out to be the perfect fit to fill it.

On his podcast, Green praised Payton for that and made sure to tell him that he rightfully earned his spot on the team. As time goes on, we might even see Payton grow into the role Iguodala used to play for the Warriors during his prime as their sturdy, supporting backbone.

Payton’s regular season stats are not particularly impressive, but he played a great supporting role, especially in the finals against Boston. He put up decent scoring numbers, but his biggest asset was the way he scared the Boston offense. Payton was glued to whichever Boston guard he was defending and recorded three steals in each of the last two Finals games.

With his outstanding Finals performance, everything seems to have come full circle for Payton. After an emotional rollercoaster, he won a championship in the same place where his journey as a player was originally supposed to end.

Gary Payton II had a difficult journey but finally earned his place in the league with his unselfishness, determination, and relentlessness. Once given his shot, he did not even allow a broken elbow to take away his chance to prove himself to the basketball world. He never stopped practicing while his arm was healing and missed only ten games, proving his dedication to the game.

After making it all the way to the top in his first real NBA season, Gary Payton II will be an unrestricted free agent. He has already voiced his desire to stay with Golden State, where he found his home in the NBA. It would surely be wise for the organization to keep him there and develop his amazing success story further. After this season, his value will finally be recognized and appreciated, though, and several teams will show interest in his abilities.

For now, all fans can do is admire the Young Glove’s love for basketball and see how his hard-earned career will unfold.