Sports

SIDELINES: While cities fight for NBA franchise, 'The Glove' locks down Hall of Fame spot

Gary Payton was recently nominated for induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame after a 13-year career with the Seattle SuperSonics.  - Courtesy photo
Gary Payton was recently nominated for induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame after a 13-year career with the Seattle SuperSonics.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The cities of Seattle and Sacramento are currently locked in a battle royal with the ultimate prize being a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise playing in their city next fall.

So, it's pretty easy to see why the news of longtime Seattle icon Gary Payton being elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame kind of got swept under the rug.

But the news didn't go unnoticed by me.

Payton put his heart and soul on the court during the Sonics' heyday in the 1990s. He and Shawn Kemp formed the most thrilling and electrifying duo in Seattle basketball history.

Payton was a nine-time NBA All-Star, a nine-time All-Defensive first-team player, and was the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year. He holds the Sonics record for points, assists and steals. He also won Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2000, and led the Sonics into the NBA Championship Series in 1996, where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Despite the lack of overwhelming attention regarding the Hall of Fame vote, the intertwined storylines regarding the battle for the Kings and Payton are kind of fitting, if you really think about it.

"The Glove" has been the most vocal voice of former Sonics regarding the NBA returning to Seattle.

And if they do come back to Seattle, it would be even more fitting that Payton's No. 20 Hall of Fame jersey is the first to hang from the rafters during the "new era" of the Seattle SuperSonics.

Payton has openly expressed his desire not to have his jersey retired in Oklahoma City as part of the former Sonic team history. Payton has also stated that when the NBA returns to Seattle, he wants to be part of the organization.

"These fans were great to me all the time," Payton said in a recent interview. "When we went to the championship, it was because of them."

Payton is featured in the documentary "Sonicsgate," which covers the team's relocation from Seattle to Oklahoma City. "Sonicsgate" was released back in 2009, and focused on the more scandalous corporate and political reasons as to why the team left Seattle in July 2008 to become the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Payton even accepted the 2010 Webby Award for "Sonicsgate" in New York City. The documentary was named the year's Best Sports Film.

As is the Webby Awards tradition, honorees are limited to acceptance speeches of five words or less. Payton said these five words as he accepted the award on behalf of the "Sonicsgate" filmmakers: "Bring back our Seattle SuperSonics."

But the connection between Payton and the return of the Sonics can be taken even further. Payton earned his nickname “The Glove” after his cousin called him during the 1993 Western Conference Finals against Phoenix and told him, “You’re holding Kevin Johnson like a baseball in a glove.”

Johnson is now the mayor of Sacramento and has been instrumental in putting the city in position to keep the Kings in the California capital. Johnson led a group that has put together a plan to build a $448 million downtown arena. He found investors who are willing to purchase the team from the Maloof family, the current owners, matching the Seattle bid.

A group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced plans to buy the Sacramento Kings in January from the Maloofs in a deal that valued the franchise at $525 million. Hansen would move the Kings to Seattle next season and eventually play in a to-be-built $500 million arena. The group filed relocation papers with the NBA, expecting to vote on the sale and relocation at its April board of governors meeting. But Johnson is not letting go of the Kings without a fight.

“I hope Seattle gets a team someday," Johnson said recently. "Let me be perfectly crystal clear, it is not going to be this team. Not our team. No way.”

Payton is essentially the third Sonic to be elected to the Hall of Fame, joining longtime player/coach Lenny Wilkens and Dennis Johnson, who played five seasons in Seattle, including the 1979 championship team.

Joining Payton in the class of 2013 are current Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, former NBA star Bernard King, former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, North Carolina women's coach Sylvia Hatchell, former University of Houston coach Guy Lewis, former University of Virginia star Dawn Staley. The inductions will take place in Springfield, Mass., in September.

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