Gary Payton wasn't scared of Michael Jordan, but he did fear John Stockton.
Well, that's not entirely true. "The Glove" wasn't afraid of anyone—which was part of his rough-around-the-edges charm. But it seems he came close to fearing Stockton and even told Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears that handling Jordan was "a little easier."
Preparing for his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Payton was asked by Spears why he selected Stockton as one of his presenters at the ceremony, at which point he gushed about the 10-time All-Star point guard:
John Stockton is because I liked him when I was playing basketball. Everyone said he was dirty. He wasn't as athletic as us. But he was smarter than us. We knew what he was going to do. We knew he was going to set [tough] picks. We had all the videos on Utah. We were so dumb. We would get caught up with the picks and get mad at him. He would shoot eight times and make nine. Shoot eight free throws and make seven. He'd have 15 assists and four steals. A complete game. That's just the way he was and I idolized him. I just imitated him while going about my business, talking trash and getting it done. After the game you would look at my stats and it would be right there.
Trash talk and John Stockton in the same sentence? Do go on.
Unfortunately, once pressed about whether Stockton talked trash to him, Payton admitted he didn't, though he did say the Utah Jazz floor general was the most difficult player he ever had to guard:
Never. That is the reason I really respected him because you never could get in his head. He's the hardest person I ever had to guard. I tried to talk to him, try to do something and he'd just look at me, set a pick and cause me [to get mad and] get a tech. And then all of the sudden it was over. There was much respect to him doing that to me. It taught me a lot.
Forget the absence of smack talk; this is impressive.
The Glove, a nine-time All-Defensive first-team selection and former Defensive Player of the Year (1996), named Stockton as the toughest player he ever had to defend. Not Jordan, but Stockton. Wow.
Looking back, Stockton was basically the point guard version of Shane Battier. He wasn't extremely athletic, and he relied on his wit more than anything else. Like Payton said, he was considered dirty—being a forefather of flopping and all. It's surreal to see Payton bestow such an honor upon him.
To Payton's credit, it wasn't like he was torched by the point man. The two met 49 times in the regular season, and Stockton notched averages of 14 points and 10.1 assists per contest, right around his career marks of 13.1 and 10.5, respectively.
This is Payton, though. It must have killed him to watch a fellow point guard post double-doubles at his expense. He prided himself on impenetrable defense, and Stockton, be it through dimes or apparent mind games, found a way past him.
Never fear, though, as Payton's ego is still intact. He went on to say he was still the better point guard of the two. Turns out his self-esteem is just as difficult to break as Stockton was to guard.