Gary Payton is really starting to give off an old-man-yelling-at-clouds vibe.
Since officially entering the Hall of Fame, Payton hasn't passed up an opportunity to eviscerate NBA point guards not named Chris Paul, Tony Parker or Rajon Rondo. In the past, though, he's neglected to name names, opting to criticize the rest of the field in general instead.
"You got shooting guards now that's playing point guard," he said. "Steph Curry, Westbrook—all them. They own that."
Is that A-OK with you, Gary?
"But you know what? I'm the Hall of Famer, so you gotta ride with that," he reminded us. "They don't work with me. When they get to my level, then they can talk to me."
All right then.
Someone better remind Westbrook and Curry they're not allowed to address Payton directly, because they're neither Hall of Famers nor actual point guards. The NBA barely has any real point guards apparently. According to Payton, there are only three.
"There's only one or two or three [real point guards]," he explained. "I say Tony Parker, Rondo and Chris Paul. They're the only three true point guards."
If only the true-point-guard love fest stopped there.
"Chris Paul is the No. 1 point guard in the NBA right now," Payton said, as if that was brand-new information.
Good to know that retirement and a Hall of Fame induction hasn't humbled Payton. He's still the same self-assured and candid sound bite he's always been. And if past behavior is any indication, he's never going to change.
In the last year alone, Payton has criticized today's NBA point guards (at least) twice. First there was his inimical dig in September, when he said almost the exact same thing he did here.
“We don’t really have point guards in the NBA now,” he explained, per Tom King of The Republican. “We really have (shooting) guards – and that’s a fact. I think there’s only three true point guards that play like point guards. I think Chris Paul is one, I think (Rajon) Rondo is one, and I think Tony Parker is the other.”
Because he likes to be consistently critical, he expressed similar sentiments once again in January while visiting his alma mater, Oregon State, for "Gary Payton Night," in a video spotted by NBA.com's Sekou Smith.
Let's allow the video to speak for itself. Pulling any direct quotes would be insanely repetitive at this point. There are only so many ways Payton can mythologize the point guard position of yesterday, after all.
As Smith explained, though, Payton's cynicism is to be expected because of who he is and when he played:
Payton entered the league at the tail end of the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era, played through the Michael Jordan years and kept going until deep into the dynasties of the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant-led Lakers and the Tim Duncan-led Spurs. As such, he has a unique perspective on the league and some pointed opinions on the state of the game today.
In short, Payton is not impressed with 'basically everything' about the game today.
Sounds about right. But that doesn't make it right.
Curry and Westbrook aren't traditional point guards. No one really is.
The phrase "true point guard" holds little meaning in today's game, where versatility is the standard and singular positional definitions are obsolete.
There are point guards, shooting guards and combo guards. There are small forwards, power forwards, forward-centers and stretch forwards. The list goes on, so Payton should move on.
Basketball legends can be a lot like grandparents and older aunts and uncles—any slightly bitter, overly haughty elder, really. Those people always want to believe their generation is better and that the current generation is doing it wrong.
I can't tell you how many family gatherings I've left exhausted from serial debating. From clothes to musical preferences to tattoos to jobs to technology to what color the sky is—nothing is off limits.
Each time I foolishly engage in another one of these yesterday vs. today battles, I'll now think of Payton, the point guard-deprecating legend who longs for the luxuries and competitive purities of yesteryear.