Written By Monique Payton | May 31, 2022
The following is a guest essay from Monique Payton, mother of Warriors guard Gary Payton II.
Seeing your smile on TV always gets me. Always.
I could be intensely caught up in the game, yelling and screaming. But let that bright smile of yours flash on the screen, and it jolts me right out of the moment. I can’t be a fan when I see it. I can’t be lost in whatever is happening on the court. That’s because immediately I am overcome with warmth. All I am in that instance is your mom.
You are no longer Gary Payton II, or GP2, or Young Glove, or whatever they call you. You are just my baby. My little G.
You and your brother and sister all have that beaming smile. Now, my grandson — my little “Stinka Butt” — has one of those smiles, too. They all give me butterflies. That smile is a reminder of the joy you bring to my life. You are filled with such goodness. It just brews inside of you and gushes out. Everybody around you gets blessed by the joy you have within. That smile is like the logo for your heart. It is the mark of your enduring spirit and conquering kindness.
Let me tell you, my son: I love the player you have become. I love your story of overcoming and how you had to take the long path to the league. You know the hardcore Oakland girl in me loves that her baby was able to handle the grind and come out shining. I’ve always told you I think your game is worthy and electric and unique. But nothing, nothing, makes me prouder, happier, more full than how good of a person you are and how you share your goodness with the world.
You being named the season-long winner of the Bob Lanier Community Assist Award for 2021-22 is such an amazing accomplishment. I know you don’t do it for glory, but your character is worthy of such prestigious recognition. Not just because you are chosen as one out of 450 players, but because your service to others is a product of perseverance. Just like your career, you had to endure before you could harvest the fruit. Remember when I told you how, when you were ready to share your learning disability with the world, you would have an incredible platform to help people? Look at you now. My little G.
I will never forget the day you were first diagnosed with dyslexia.
Your second-grade teacher suggested you get examined. The lady who tested you came to the house to give us the results. Your dad wanted me to get the details and tell him what happened. So I went downstairs, opened the door, walked into the kitchen and sat down with this lady. She told me my son is dyslexic.
All I could do was cry. I felt so horrible.
Suddenly, I could only think about all those nights I forced you to read, every evening for at least 30 minutes. I remembered all those times I yelled at you to speak up because you always talked so low in that mumbling tone. I imagined all those times you were asked to read out loud at school and made to feel so small.
I cried like a little girl that day. Remember how I gave you the whole summer off from reading? I felt so badly.
I remember being on a plane heading to Los Angeles. I heard you crying and I looked around as my heart dropped, wondering what was wrong. And you said to me, “Mom, I don’t want to be dumb!” I presumed it was a confidence issue we could toughen out of you. So I looked you in your eyes and told you emphatically, “You aren’t dumb. You’re very smart. You just learn differently!” It never even crossed my mind you were struggling with a learning disability.
I started to research who was dyslexic in the industry and how can I get my son in front of that person. That’s when I discovered a few people had the same learning disability. Albert Einstein (though he was deceased and couldn’t meet you, it was still cool to know). Actor Danny Glover. Even Henry Winkler, aka “The Fonz.” I reached out to Henry Winkler’s people and was able to set it up so he could talk to you. He was so good with you, too. He told you how he was given his lines for each scene, and that’s how he was able to say his lines. He assured you that you were very intelligent and that you will be amazing at whatever you wanted to do.
You had no idea who he was. The show “Happy Days” was done years before you were born. But, hell, I knew who he was — The Fonz! And he was dyslexic, and he agreed to meet with you. That meant the world. I wish he could see us now. He’d be so proud, and I would shower him with thanks!
Now you are that inspirational figure who’s filling kids with confidence and belief in themselves. What’s still amazing to me is how, despite the insecurity you must have felt at such a young age and the pressure you were under, you never lost that smile. Your kindness was never suppressed. Now that I think back on it, you and your brother were always fighting. Neither of you would give an inch. But then you’d turn around and be so kind and generous to other people. You always shared your toys, your lunch, whatever. You used to have these little cars you played with, and when your friends came over, you would let them have at it. Never once did you get stingy and selfish. If they were having fun with your toys, you just waited until they were finished. You’ve always seemed to enjoy making others happy.
I find the utmost fulfillment in knowing that sweet kid has grown into a kind and generous man. That same spirit is alive and well in you today. Even while you were injured, you were still hosting meet-and-greets in the locker room and bringing families to the games. I hear the thank-you notes pour into the Warriors offices from fans and children who appreciate you inviting them to games and spending time with them. I swell with pride when I think of all the children you help find some confidence and inspiration even with their learning disabilities. You are the perfect ambassador to bring awareness to those affected by dyslexia and encourage early screening. Even parents need the education you are providing. You are helping families avoid some of the trauma that comes from the ignorance and stigmatism associated with learning disabilities. The work of the GP II Foundation is a purpose being fulfilled, and it is all because you had the courage and care for people to be vulnerable.
People respond to you because of your genuineness. You are always well-liked everywhere. I was struck by this quality when we were on campus at Oregon State. You, your father and I were walking, and these two little boys ran up to you. They were 8 or 10 years old. They were like, “Oh my God!” They put their hands over their faces and just looked with amazement. They were so in awe of you that I had to encourage them to get an autograph from you. I gave them a Sharpie — you know I keep one on me at all times — and was like, “Go get his autograph.” They were so excited. And, of course, you were more than willing and so sweet to them. I had to tell them: “That’s his dad. Gary Payton. The Glove. Want his autograph, too?” And they were like, “Yeah!”
It really warmed my heart to see how those kids reacted to you. It was so cute. It was also powerful witnessing the way you have with people. I witnessed your dad have that effect on people. Now my son? It’s just amazing.
For them to see you on television, see you playing on this big stage with the Warriors, gives you a larger-than-life persona. You become more mythical than human in their eyes. I watched it with your father. That makes it all the more stunning when they meet you and experience you being so personable. Being tangible means so much to people. They get inspiration from connecting with someone whom they see as a celebrity or a star. When you look up to someone and they have the same challenges as you, it gives them hope. That’s what you are providing for people with the work you are doing. Because “if Gary Payton II has dyslexia and I have it, I can be successful.”
You sincerely feel for these kids and their difficulties with learning. I know you remember what you went through and don’t wish that for any other child. What you are doing, relating to these young people, letting them know you understand, connecting to them on a personal level, giving them confidence, it is a testament to your great heart.
The graciousness and selflessness it takes to win such an award — all I can say is I am so proud. And I love you, my little G, and I am so excited for what is in store for you. You are just beginning. You will do even more great work. You will impact people’s lives in a meaningful way. Your career is only going up from here, and so will the hope and inspiration you bring to the world.
I am reminded of that every time I see your smile.
Read the article here.