Gary Payton, this Wednesday in Madrid.

After signing several Seattle Supersonics jerseys, a team in which he shone in the 1990s, Gary Payton (Oakland, California; 53 years old) calmly regains strength. It’s his time. Fresh from San Francisco, where his son, also Gary, is contesting the NBA Finals with the Golden State Warriors, Payton declares himself competitive by genetics. He could not be otherwise. In 13 seasons in the league, the Californian point guard only missed 25 games and made enough merits to enter the Hall of Fame: nine times all star, nine times in the best quintets of the season, best defender of the year award and much more. nicknamed The Glove (The Glove) for his great skills as a thief on the court, Payton is the only player in history with 20,000 points, 8,000 assists, 5,000 rebounds and 2,000 steals. An SUV that the NBA has included among the 75 best players in its history. Educated, without displaying his sharp tongue, the one that made him one of the toughest guys in the league in the nineties, he attends EL PAÍS with privileged views from the NBA offices in the capital.

Ask. What do you think of Spanish basketball?

Response. I had the opportunity to play against Pau Gasol, although he caught me in the final stretch of my career. He and his brother Marc were very good, we saw him at the World Cup and at the Olympic Games. Here the players start very early in the elite, they make an impact when they are 13 or 14 years old. That is a great advantage to adapt to great challenges later. With that culture, in the NBA there will always be players from Spain.

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P. Luka Doncic is the latest example.

R. He is a great player, very difficult to defend. He’s had an amazing first few years and he’s going to be a superstar for a long time. I remember that when he came to the NBA he said that it was easier to score than in Europe. People took it as an insult, but he wasn’t. It is very easy for him and he has shown it. He doesn’t need to score 40 points to dominate, he prefers to cover all areas and have all teammates involved. I am convinced that he will learn a lot from the conference finals against the Golden State Warriors.

P. There’s your son, now in the Finals against Boston.

R. Yes, I see you well. After fracturing his elbow he is back and I see him well integrated into the team. I think he’s ready. I spoke with him and we commented on the last game. In the end, in a team that includes Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and company, you have to adapt and make things easy.

P. And how do you see the fight for the ring?

R. Equalizer. Now the series goes to Boston and we’ll see there, but they are two great teams. The championship can fall on either side.

P. Any prediction?

R. I’m not a betting man, really. The best team will win, the one that clicks on the decisive days. Look at the first game, the Warriors won the first three quarters, but they played terrible in the last one and lost. The Finals train waits for no one. You can’t make mistakes.

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P. What was missing to beat the Chicago Bulls in 1996?

R. I don’t think we missed anything. We were there. That season is always remembered for Chicago’s 72 regular-season wins, but we won 64. There was no difference in terms of play. The only one was in the mentality: we lost the first three games of the Finals to play not to lose instead of going out to win.

P. After those defeats, they changed their strategy. You went on to defend Jordan.

R. Yes, and we don’t care. We took the pressure off ourselves and played like we knew how. We won two games in a row, but we couldn’t come back; it was too late.

P. How do you remember that rivalry with Jordan?

R. I don’t have any special memories of those games against him, really. My memories are different: playing three Finals, going to the Olympic Games, being all starget the ring [en 2006, con Miami]… The rivalry with Michael Jordan was never important to me on a personal level. I played against him only twice a year. Against John Stockton, for example, he played ten times each season. That could be a rivalry.

Gary Payton, this Wednesday in Madrid.
Gary Payton, this Wednesday in Madrid.Louis Sevillano

P. He formed a lethal duo with Shawn Kemp in Seattle.

R. We had a special ability to connect. We played without looking at each other and felt comfortable with each other next to us. We transmitted a lot of confidence. And that union lasts until today. We still see each other a lot, we are like brothers.

P. Was it similar to the relationship with Kobe Bryant?

R. No, it was different. with shawn [Kemp] I shared every day for eight years, with Kobe [Bryant] I was only one. We had faced each other many times before becoming partners and we knew each other well. I was very sad to lose him, he was like a little brother to me.

P. It is still difficult to explain the outcome of those Lakers. In addition to you, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone were on the roster. Was that loss to the Pistons in 2004 a bust?

R. I don’t see it as a failure at all. Failure would have been not to reach the Finals. People have to understand that Karl Malone was very touched [jugó 42 partidos en temporada regular]Kobe was with his case with justice still open [acusado de violación] Y Shaq he was fighting with management over his contract [fichó por Miami después de aquellas Finales]. The Pistons played all year together, without injuries, and we suffered most of the year with people on the bench. And we still got there, knocking out the Spurs in San Antonio. It was not a failure. We just met Detroit at a time when they clicked.

P. During his 13 seasons in the NBA, he only missed 25 games. How is it possible?

R. A talent that God gave me [sonríe]. Added to the hours of work and my mentality, of course. And hey, that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. I suffered a lot, I suffered injuries, but I didn’t let anyone know. I learned to live with the pain. [Piensa unos segundos] The reality is that during my best period I only missed three or four games. The other 20 were when I signed for Miami, already in the final stretch of my career.

P. There he won a ring.

R. I was 37 years old and I wanted to retire, but the Heat came and convinced me to continue. I took it as an opportunity. Pat Riley sat me on the bench longer than I used to, but I never took it badly. There was a basket and that was all he needed.

P. What is the best team you have seen?

R. I liked the 80’s… Magic Johnson’s team! Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis… And Magic! They called them for a reason showtime (show). I loved it.

P. Do you think you got to play at that level?

R. Yes, with the Sonics I think so. We were at that level. We won 50 or 55 games every year. And we did it for a long time. But we didn’t win a championship… I wish we had!

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