When looking back at the NBA greats, one would not imagine that Gary Payton would only have one NBA title. One would also not imagine that his lone ring came when he was a member of the Miami Heat.
The former NBA All-Star joined the Heat in 2006 after stops with the Lakers and Celtics and he was a key player in the team’s first title.
In an interview on The Draymond Green Show, “The Glove” talked about that season and how he decided to ask Shaquille O’Neal to do something that would have been considered inconceivable throughout the big man’s career.
Payton Showed Shaq Who Was ‘The Man’
Could there be merit to saying that Payton helped Wade become the star that he eventually became? Well, if you ask the former Supersonics point guard, there could be a bit of validity to that. Although, one should not get carried away.
That 2006 season saw Miami struggle to find their game, but as the campaign progressed there were certain breakthroughs that were made. For Payton, there was one that he helped pave in order to define one of the most important aspects of the team’s play.
“I started seeing Shaq be mad about we’re not getting him the ball,” Payton emphasized. “I just told Shaq. I said, ‘Shaq, listen here. Look what young fella (Wade) did last year. You see how he took over stuff. … You guys lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s why Pat came and put all of us together; he wanted a championship. We’re here now. We gotta stop this, man.’ I said, ‘Man, we’re gonna make him be the first tier. Period. You gotta do this for me.’”
Wade Takes Control And It Pays Off
Shaq’s frustration was compounding as they were unable to get over the hump in his previous campaign with Miami as they fell to the Pistons in 2005 in the Conference Finals in seven games.
Payton was no longer the elite guard he used to be when he joined Miami, but he was still a valuable leader in that locker room. His role as the elder statesman led to him having an important conversation with Shaq during that 2005-06 season. This was why that conversation with the legendary center shifted the focus and allowed the Miami to overcome a season filled with struggles in 2016.
At the same time, for Payton, this stop was special, as it was a team that he arrived to in order to tick the one box that he still had pending in his eventual Hall of Fame career. So his contribution behind the scenes was quite evident as soon as that change was made.
The Heat ran through the Eastern Conference again before meeting the Pistons in the conference finals for the second straight year. And this time, Miami outlasted Detroit, winning the series in six games.
All this would have not been possible without Wade taking his game to another level as soon as the keys to the Ferrari were in his hands.
In the NBA Finals, Wade and company faced the Dallas Mavericks, and the Mavs stormed out to a 2-0 series lead. But Miami then won four straight to win the championship series 4-2.
The Heat wouldn’t have won it all had Wade not been the focus, either. “Flash” responded to the confidence instilled in him by his teammates. He averaged 28.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists during that playoff run before recording a remarkable 34.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game during the Finals.
O’Neal was already a legend beyond what he did as it was well known that he could lead teams to championships. Yet it was his decision to allow the Heat be Wade’s team resulted in him winning his fourth title. In the process, he was also passing the baton to a player that would end up ushering in an era without precedents in Miami becoming the greatest athlete to ever play in that city.
But a lot of the credit should have to be given to Payton for his recognition of a once-in-a-lifetime talent.