The Glove. The nickname fit Gary Payton like Isotoners.
He got his nickname “The Glove” when Payton’s cousin called him during the 1993 Western Conference Finals series against Phoenix and told him, “you’re holding Kevin Johnson like a baseball in a glove,” and the nickname was born.
The only point guard ever to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, Payton is widely considered one of the greatest of all time at that position. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times, an NBA record he shares with Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. He was selected to the All-NBA team nine times and voted to the All-Star game nine times.
Payton was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year. During his acceptance speech, the Oakland native bragged that he was the best trash talker in the history of the NBA.
Payton talked a good game, but he backed up his bravado with plenty of skill. Defense was his calling card, and he’s considered one of the best lock-down perimeter defenders the game has ever seen.
OneManFastBreak.net ranks the 10 best perimeter defenders in NBA history:
10) Michael Cooper – Larry Bird paid Cooper the highest compliment when he called him the tougher defender he has ever played against. That’s high praise coming for Larry Legend. Cooper possessed the perfect body and mindset to be a great defender: lean and mean. He made the NBA All-Defensive First Team five times, and named NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1986-87 season.
9) LeBron James – The only reason why LeBron isn’t ranked higher on this list is because he’s far from finished. James is one of the few people in the world who can defend all five positions. LeBron’s power, speed, and agility allows him to cover so much ground. Since joining the Miami Heat, LeBron’s defense has gone from good to great. He could have easily been named defensive player of the year in 2012-13. It’ll just be a matter of time.
8) Joe Dumars – The great Michael Jordan calls Dumars the best defender he’s ever gone up against. Along with Dennis Rodman, Joe D was the cornerstone of Chuck Daly’s “Jordan Rules” defensive playbook that powered the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles. The scheme ultimately forced the Chicago Bulls to alter their game plan and feature other players on the court so defenders can’t load up on Jordan.
7) Ron Artest – Whether he’s Ron Artest or Metta World Peace, the 6-7, 250-pound bully from Queensbridge, N.Y., is a feared defender because he’s flat-out crazy. Crazy in a good way. Artest is blessed with strong hands, and he knows how to use them. Artest is extremely physical and no guard or forward in the world could back him down. His on-court antics sometimes borders on lunacy, but you’d want Artest on your side when there’s a brawl.
6) Alvin Robertson – Defense was Robertson’s forte, and defense was the reason why Bobby Knight invited him to the 1984 Olympic Trials. Robertson earned a spot on the squad — a team that featured Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Chris Mullin — and won a gold medal in Los Angeles. Robertson was the 1985-86 defensive player of the year, leading the league that season with 3.7 steals per game. He amassed 2,112 steals for his career.
5) Kobe Bryant – About the only void in Kobe’s brilliant and soon to be Hall-of-Fame career is that he never won defensive player of the year. But that’s not his fault. Voters tend to favor big men, as only seven non-centers have won defensive player of the year. Bryant will go down in history as one of the best on-ball defenders the league has ever seen. He is such an offensive genius that his man-to-man skills sometimes gets overshadowed. Kobe has been named to the all-defensive first team nine times.
4) SIDNEY MONCRIEF — During the 1980s, there were plenty of top perimeter defenders in the league – such as Michael Cooper, Alvin Robertson and Joe Dumars – but Moncrief was regarded as one of the best at his position. The former Milwaukee Bucks star was the first to receive the defensive player of the year award, winning it 1982-83 and again in 1983-84, and his effort and energy powered the Bucks to the third-best winning percentage in the ’80s behind only the Lakers and Celtics. “When you play against Moncrief, you’re in for a night of all-around basketball,” Michael Jordan said. “He’ll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court. You just expect it.”
3) GARY PAYTON — The Glove won defensive player of the year in 1996 and amassed 2,445 steals during his 17-year NBA career that included stints in Seattle, Milwaukee, L.A., Boston and Miami. At 6-4, Payton could cover point guards as well as shooting guards, and his trash talking was second to none. GP loved to get in his opponent’s head with incessant dialogue, and it wasn’t always playful. Payton credits former Seattle Sonics assistant coach Tim Grgurich for turning him loose on the defensive end. Grgurich, who worked under Hall-of-Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian, gave Payton more freedom and allowed him to wreak havoc. With Payton and Nate McMillan hounding you in the backcourt, the Sonics were no walk in the park.
2) MICHAEL JORDAN — Jordan is regarded as one of the greatest — if not the best — offensive players in basketball history, but his defense was just as good. He could have easily been the No. 1 player on this list. Jordan took great pride in shutting down his man, making him the gold standard in terms of being a two-way player. He never backed down from a challenge, and he often volunteered to guard the other team’s best player. Jordan was named defensive player of the year in 1987-88 and made first-team all-defense nine times. If there was one chink on Jordan’s armor — and this is a total nitpick — he occasionally gambled on the defensive end and left the back end vulnerable to backdoor cuts and dribble penetration. And he also got away with more fouls because of his legendary reputation, as referees tend to swallow their whistles when Jordan pushed up on his man.
1) SCOTTIE PIPPEN — Phil Jackson calls Scottie Pippen one of the smartest defensive players he has ever coach. This is tall praise from a man who coached Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman. Pippen disrupted many offensive plans with his quickness, length and incredible instincts. He was named to the all-defensive first team eight times and amassed 2,307 steals. During the 1991 NBA Finals, Pippen flipped the series around when he suffocated Magic Johnson in Game 2 and made it extremely difficult for the Lakers to get into their offensive sets. Pippen started the game on James Worthy and when Jordan picked up two pick fouls, Phil Jackson switched Pippen on Magic and the series took a stunning turn in favor of the Bulls. In the 1998 Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers Pippen smothered Mark Jackson from end-to-end, disrupting Indiana’s attack and forcing coach Larry Bird to turn to the quicker Travis Best. Jordan earned a reputation for being a shutdown perimeter defender, but when you break it all down Pippen was the quarterback of the Bulls on defense.
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.