Gary Payton played for five organizations over 17 seasons, but he was a champion only in Miami.
Before he returns here this weekend — as an ambassador for an early round of the Dew NBA 3X, the league’s first-ever nationwide elite 3-on-3 basketball competition — Payton spoke to 790 The Ticket about the Heat’s 2006 championship. There’s been plenty of conversation about that championship, since Monday marked the 10th anniversary, and 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade responded to an oral history on ESPN.com by defending the validity of the title on his Instagram account.
“Now what I’m reading about the series is unfair to me as a basketball player,” Wade wrote, next to a photo of him getting fouled by Devin Harris. “Did I get some calls that I could have played through? YES. We all do... but was I attacking every time I touch the ball? YES.”
Does Payton think that team’s accomplishment has been overlooked or disparaged?
“Well, no, I don’t care,” Payton said. “I don’t really care about that. We won it. You know what I’m saying? That team was put together by a great man in Pat Riley. When he put this team together, a lot of people said that he didn’t know what he was doing, he took a chance on all these guys, had attitudes, they were always this person that time, all of them had a different attitude toward the game. When we pulled it together and won it, and came back and won four in a row, and beat Dallas in the championship, I don’t care, that’s the first championship Miami Heat ever got.”
Payton said when he’s approached by people from Miami, they say, “Man, lot of respect. You gave me our first championship. That’s the best championship we’ve ever seen. Then LeBron came and won two of them. I feel what Dwyane is saying, that we don’t get enough publicity about winning in 2006, but I don’t care about that. We did what we had to do. We were the best team that year. And no one can take that away from us.”
He also recalled a turning point in that season.
“We had lost in Dallas, and we had gotten beaten pretty bad and people came in with their heads down and acted like they didn’t care,” Payton said. “Pat came in and said, ‘What are we gonna do? And I was like, no, ‘What you gonna do? You got to make changes in here, you’re gonna need to make changes in here. Because you are the one who runs this. You’re the President. You’re the coach now. What you gonna do?’ ... He put us all accountable for something, and made us understand that we have to be accountable for what we do. And then I took the team to a players’ meeting and said, ‘Look, this is for us. We play for ourselves. You know what I’m saying? Ain’t nobody go out there and play for us. He can put X’s and O’s on the table, but we have to execute that stuff and be a good basketball team.’”
The Heat then won 15 of their next 16.
“And everything else was history from there,” Payton said.
Now Payton’s back, if just for a weekend. The tournament, which is at the National YoungArts Foundation in Wynwood, will feature more than 30 preselected men’s and women’s teams. The winning teams in each city will qualify for the championship event of the tour in Los Angeles in October. The NBA brought the tournament over from overseas.
“We can pump up the United States and show that we don’t just have basketball players in the NBA, but we got some players on the streets who didn’t make it, and failed a little bit, and we can see them in this format,” Payton said. “And some of these women out here have the talent to get into the WNBA too, they’ve just got to be seen. We can see them. We can put them on the map.”