By the time Gary Payton retired in 2007, he had cemented himself as one of the best guards in basketball history. A 9x All-Star, 9x All-NBA player, and NBA Champion, he accomplished more during his tenure than most players can dream of.
Still, it doesn't mean his journey to stardom was easy.
His very first NBA game, in fact, was against Michael Jeffrey Jordan at the peak of his powers. It was, no doubt, a rude awakening for the Oregon State product. In an appearance on VLAD TV, he spoke about what his debut was like.
"I still thought I was one of the best players on the planet. But it was a joke because I got killed for two years. When I went up against Michael Jordan and all of them, they didn't play pre-season hard. They just cruised through it and then when the season got there he took it personal because I had like 20 on him in the preseason. The first game was against him. The first thing he said: 'everybody, I got the youngster. I got the rookie.' The first regular-season game was against Michael Jordan, man. I played him for about 8 minutes, had no points and he had 35 and like 12 and then he looked over and said 'welcome to the NBA.'"
Unfortunately for Payton, it wouldn't be the last time he fell victim to Michael Jordan's greatness. They faced off multiple times over the years and Payton never won a ring until after Jordan retired.
On the bright side, his matchup with Jordan during that first game was the perfect initiation. What better way to be introduced to the NBA than being humbled by Michael Jordan?
It would take more than three years before Payton became an All-Star but he was given lots of stories to tell as he grew to become the legend he is today.