Gary Payton II draws strength, athleticism from Mother

Marc J. Spears @MarcJSpears | Andscape | December 24, 2021

LAS VEGAS – For Gary Payton II, it’s NBA superstar father, like NBA son when it comes to playing basketball.

But in terms of the Golden State Warriors guard’s unique athleticism, quickness and highlight-reel dunks, it’s actually like mother, like son.

“It’s got to be Monique,” Payton II told The Undefeated. “So if it’s not Monique, I’d be surprised if it’s Gary. I doubt it, though. In Monique’s background, she was running track, doing high jump, long jump, it just makes sense. And she used to always tell me she was the most athletic in her class. So I’m going to take her word for it. It’s truly Monique.”

Gary Payton Sr. is unquestionably one of the NBA’s greatest defenders, starred primarily for the Seattle SuperSonics, is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, was a nine-time NBA All-Star. The Lincoln University (California) men’s basketball coach was recently also named one of the Top 75 NBA players of all-time.

Monique Payton was a basketball star in her own right as one of the greatest guards in the history of Merritt College (California). Together, Gary and Monique had three children, including Gary Payton II, who was born in Seattle on Dec. 1, 1992.

The journeyman guard has suited up for the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards and now the Warriors. So far with the Warriors, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has found a home with his renowned defensive pressure that certainly is reminiscent of his father, who was known as “The Glove.” Payton II was averaging 6.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 14.4 minutes per game for the Warriors before making his second start of the season Thursday night and scoring 22 points in a 113-104 victory over Memphis.

And for the first time in his NBA career, he is slated to play on Christmas Day as the Warriors visit the Phoenix Suns on Saturday.

“For him to finally play on Christmas after everything he has been through is a really big deal,” Monique Payton said.

Said Payton II after Thursday’s game: “Oh, it’s going to be a fun day and a fun game on Christmas.”

On Tuesday, Monique Payton proudly wore a custom-made Gary Payton II T-shirt with her son in a Warriors uniform with the words: “Payton II. Young Glove.” Her daughter, Raquel Childs, took several pictures in front of a Christmas tree in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel. Childs is married to Jesse Childs, a G League Austin Spurs assistant coach who is the son of former NBA guard Chris Childs. The Phoenix-based couple plan to be at Payton II’s game on Christmas Day.

Monique Payton, however, is a game-time decision as she is a flight attendant based in Las Vegas who is on call on Christmas Day. Christmas has always been a family affair for the Paytons. And Monique Payton is really excited that her son, whom she calls “Lil G,” is playing on Christmas Day for the first time and is holding out hope that her present could be her presence.

“Wherever I am, I’m going to go watch it somewhere. But if I’m at home, and if I’ll know in the morning I don’t have to work, I will fly to Phoenix,” Monique Payton said.

Monique Payton, mother of Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II, in Las Vegas this week.

Payton II’s defense helped him go from barely making the Warriors’ roster entering this season’s training camp to earning his way as the backup for star guard Stephen Curry. The Warriors chose Payton over NBA veterans Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. But what has landed Payton II the most notoriety and SportsCenter highlights are his dunks.

Among his many alley-oops this season, Payton II caught one two-handed reverse against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He got Curry and injured guard Klay Thompson to their feet in amazement by dunking hard left-handed on Charlotte Hornets swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. Payton II has surprised big men by sliding through openings in the air for thunderous putback jams.

The 29-year-old, however, has said he is an “in-game” dunker and he would defer the Slam Dunk Contest during NBA All-Star weekend to the “young guys.”

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has been a huge fan of what Payton II has brought with his defensive, energy, athleticism and unselfish play.

“He plays like a power forward in a point guard’s body,” Kerr said. “He’s very unique. He’s tough for guys to guard because if you’re used to guarding someone that size, you’re on the perimeter. You’re guarding pick-and-roll. That kind of stuff. With Gary, you’re having to block him out. You’re having to treat him like a big guy. And guards just aren’t doing that.

“He just finds gaps and seams and makes plays at both ends that are unique. He does it with anticipation and tremendous athleticism. And length, too. He has really long arms.”

Said Curry: “He’s the tallest 6-3 guy in the world.”

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Gary Payton II of the Golden State Warriors dunks the ball during the game against the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 20 at Chase Center in San Francisco.

While Payton Sr. was one of the Top 75 NBA players of all time, he was known more for his layups than his rare one-handed dunks. That is why Payton II credits his mother for giving him his athleticism.

Then named Monique James, she played basketball for Skyline High School in Oakland, California. She also participated in track and field, running the 100 meters, 200 meters, hurdles, long jump and high jump.

“I always started on the basketball team. Never came off the bench. Just letting you know. I had the highest vertical leap amongst the girls in high school,” Monique Payton said. “And I was the fastest. So when we did up and back [running exercises], I was the fastest. Always first. So my coach was like, ‘You’re running track.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ It was my senior year. I was like, ‘OK.’ ”

She took her athleticism to a junior college in Oakland called Merritt College, where she is still viewed as one of the greatest women’s basketball players the school has ever seen.

Former Merritt College head women’s basketball coach Fred Brown said she had a great basketball IQ and top-notch grades along with a memorable game from 1985-87. The two-time all-Golden Gate Conference athlete still holds the school record for most steals in a game with 15 during her sophomore year. The 5-foot-7 guard also still ranks third in school history in steals (291) and ninth in assists (182). The former team captain also played a big role in Merritt winning Golden Gate Conference championships in both of her seasons, including a 26-4 record as a sophomore.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment that displayed her athleticism was James’ vertical jump that was once measured at nearly 30 inches, Brown said. She didn’t continue playing college basketball as she went on start a family with Payton Sr. and marrying him in 1997.

“Her athleticism was quickness and jumping ability,” said Brown, who is an assistant at Merritt. “I don’t know where she got it. She probably got it from her mother, too. She was an active player. Monique was one of my favorites. I coached a lot of athletes, but she was outstanding.”

Along with giving her athleticism traits, Monique Payton also gave her son tough love and support while he grew up in Las Vegas competing in basketball, football and swimming. With Payton Sr. busy playing in the NBA for the Seattle SuperSonics, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat from 1990-2007, she was the main one often taking him to practices and games.

Payton Sr. and Monique Payton, now divorced, also used to make their children sign contracts promising that they would finish a season to a sport they were playing. Monique Payton gave her son, however, a pass when he didn’t like playing water polo.

She recalled her son first taking basketball seriously around junior high. She also recalls giving him some tough love words of wisdom, as well as permission to curse, after some kids in junior high said he wasn’t as good in basketball as his father.

“He was like, ‘Mom, the kids keep telling me: ‘You’re not your dad. You don’t play like your dad. You think you’re all that.’ I said, ‘This is the first time you get to cuss people out. You tell them: ‘Look, I am not my f—ing dad. I am who I am. And don’t compare me to my dad. That’s him,’ ” Monique Payton said. “And they are two different people. Everyone’s going to see they’re two different people. And he’s now made a name for himself. And now he’s proud to be who he is, and his name. And he’s definitely proud of his dad. Loves his dad.”

Monique Payton said she first started believing that Payton II could become an NBA player when he was named a 2014 National Junior College Athletic Association second team All-American at Salt Lake Community College. He went on to star at Oregon State, just like his father, and was a two-time first-team all-Pacific 12 Conference selection. But the Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American went undrafted during the 2016 NBA draft.

The next five years included a roller-coaster ride for Payton II, who is still trying to solidify his footing in the NBA. Since 2016, Payton II played 61 NBA games for the Bucks, Wizards, Lakers and Warriors entering this season. He has signed 11 different contracts that have included six standard contracts, three 10-day contracts and two two-way contracts. Payton II has also been waived five times by NBA teams, including the Warriors this season on Oct. 16 before re-signing him to a non-guaranteed one-year, $1.9 million contract three days later after he cleared waivers.

Moreover, he also played more games in the G League (128) than in the NBA suiting up for Rio Grande Valley (twice), South Bay (twice), Wisconsin, Capital City (twice) and Raptors 905.

Monique Payton said she has a box full of her son’s jerseys, and she is proud of them because “that is his journey.” And when Payton II has been frustrated about his challenge to have a stable NBA career, she has kept it in perspective by asking such things as, “Do you want a 9-to-5 job, or do you want to do something that you love?”

“He understands the business now,” Monique Payton said. “They’ll tell him, ‘We love you. We want you.’ And next thing he’s waived. So it’s like a roller coaster for him. And it makes me feel so bad, for him to go through that. But I’ve told him, ‘Just stick it out. You want to work two hours a day and then play video games? Or do you want to have to work in a cubicle for eight hours or so?’ ”

Payton II says that his mother’s daily support has been invaluable as he has fought to stay in the NBA. He added she gives him motivation to put his “heart and soul” into being an NBA player.

“She’s just so proud every day,” Payton II said. “She texts me every day, tells me how proud she is of me. And especially for not quitting, giving up. I took the long route to get where I am now. But she’s just proud and happy that I didn’t quit. That’s probably the biggest thing about it all …

“She’s everything. She’s my world. That’s the easiest way I can put it. Whatever she needs, whatever she wants, it’s good. She got it. She’s been putting in the time in the years and the love and caring. And hopefully, I can give all that back to her very soon.”

The Warriors are expected to guarantee Payton’s entire contract this season if he is on the roster past the Jan. 7 deadline, several sources told The Undefeated. Considering the interest a rising defensive star could get in free agency, there has also been talk of the Warriors signing him to a longer deal. With his past in mind, however, Payton II will not get too excited about his contract situation until any good news is official.

“It’s either they’re going to keep me or they’re not,” Payton II said. “I can’t stop. I can’t let up, relax, or nothing. I just try to play every game like it’s my last and continue to do things to help this team win.”

Said Monique Payton: “At one point Houston was like, ‘You’re good. Don’t worry about it.’ [Then-Rockets star] James Harden was like, ‘You good.’ And then they waive you. So now he understands, just because they say they love you and say, ‘We got you,’ and ‘You’re going to be here,’ it doesn’t mean anything. So now we got to wait for the date to come, and then we got to wait for that big contract to come because he still hasn’t gotten a big contract …

“I might cry when he finally gets a contract. I might f—ing shed a tear because he’s solidified then.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.