Gary Payton’s argument is staggered and frenetic, the same way he played. One of the greatest defensive players in the league’s history has gone on the offensive about the MVP voting, and it’s difficult to stay on his logic train. Then again, trying to stay in front of his explosive drives to the basket or battle back against his epic trash-talking was also usually an effort in futility.
First, he blamed it on timing. The league just isn’t what it used to be. Citing Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Larry and Michael, he dropped the Era Card.
“I think all of those guys were unanimous decisions, too. It just happened in an era that went (Stef’s) way.”
Then he compared LeBron’s greatness to Stef’s value for his team.
“If you look at LeBron, what he does for his team, he does everything. I still think he’s the best all-around basketball player. As we say, Stephen Curry was the best player this year, but I’m saying all around – who gives you assists, who gives you rebounding, who gives you points, who does a lot of things for his team to have it? If you take LeBron off that team, I don’t think Cleveland is a good team like that. If you take Curry off of it, uh, right now I don’t know. They probably would win games. They wouldn’t have won 73, but they would win a lot of basketball games.”
Finally, as always, it was time to degrade the media who vote for these things.
“You look at Michael Jordan. When they set the record at 72-10 in 1996, he didn’t get all the votes. So you’re trying to tell me these reporters or whoever’s voting that you and them guys back then, they didn’t know that he was a unanimous decision? Don’t blame that on Stephen Curry. Blame that on them reporters.”
Trying to stay with The Glove’s argument is like riding Bushwacker in the Pro Bull Riding championships. Stef Curry’s unanimous honor this year has rankled plenty, especially the old goats from the past who balled against the greats. For a diminutive, skinny point guard who looks like he’s in high school, flits around the court like a waterbug on a pond, jacks up threes from 25-feet and starts trash talking before the ball is even in the cylinder, this just doesn’t appear to be what we’ve been conditioned to see as an all-time great. But the results say otherwise.
Oscar Robertson says no one is playing any real defense on Stef. Scotty Pippen has dismissed the notion these Warriors are anywhere near the same zip code as his ’90s Bulls. Tracy McGrady says Golden State’s success and Stef’s MVP is a result of a watered down league. Charles Barkley has called this the worst NBA he has ever seen.
But when you look at this final quartet of teams, we have four modern legends (and maybe more) playing every night. People began to murmur about LeBron’s diminishing brilliance the last two seasons, suggesting he was getting older and there were too many miles on his odometer. The King has responded with a pair of the greatest postseason runs we have ever seen.
Last year’s NBA Finals was a one-man carnival of punishing, passionate, breath-taking basketball. Against the Warriors he averaged 36 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists over the six games. This spring he has done more with more. With a healthy Kyrie and Love in this year’s postseason, LeBron has gone 23/8/7 per game, and the Cavs haven’t lost yet. In fact, they’ve barely had a meaningful fourth quarter possession in any of their 10 games. Only three times in the playoffs has Cleveland won by less than 10 points, and two of those were in the first-round against the 8th-seed Pistons, when you wonder what the motivation level was for the Cavs.
The Dynamic Duo in oil country has been equally sublime these playoffs. Kevin Durant, often criticized for not being assertive enough, and Russ Westbrook, often criticized for being too selfish, have already taken down the 67-win Spurs and grinded out a rare road win in Oakland in the WCF. Durant has four 30+ point games these playoffs, including the impeccable 41-point outburst against San Antonio. Westbrook has had a number of victory-clinching buckets this postseason, clearly looking to seize the biggest of moments (and delivering).
Durant and Westbrook are 27. Curry is 28. LeBron is the old man at 31. Kawhi Leonard placed second in the MVP vote this year, and he’s only 24 years old. If you add in Klay Thompson (26), Anthony Davis (23), and Chris Paul (31), you have a slew of super stars in their prime in today’s NBA. Seems to me the NBA may not be as watered down as the old guys would have you think.
If you view everything through the prism of the league’s 1990’s Golden Age, almost nothing will ever live up. There was Jordan collecting six rings, battling through the Bad Boys, the ferocious Knicks, and Reggie’s Pacers. Hakeem was Dream Shaking, Barkley was rolling, Stockton and Malone were making history. But Gary Payton should know just how hard it is to accomplish what any of these teams, including Stef’s Warriors, are doing. In the summer of ’96, exactly twenty years ago, we all thought the Sonics were the league’s next great team. Surely there would be many more trips to the Finals after losing to the Bulls in 6. Nope. Seattle’s core of Payton, Kemp, Detlef flamed out in the second round the next two years and that was that.
Yeah, this might not be the ’90s. But enjoy it while it’s here. You have four of the modern legends battling for this year’s title. It’s far more compelling than trying to follow a Gary Payton argument.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.