Gary Payton admits team up with Karl Malone has been planned years before joining Lakers
The entire NBA landscape changed back in the summer of 2003 when perennial All-Stars Gary Payton and Karl Malone teamed up and joined the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
Although the unexpected move did leave a lot of jaws on the floor, Payton recently revealed that it was planned all along. While serving as a guest in the latest episode of the All The Smoke podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, Payton shared that he and Malone have discussed playing with each other long before moving to Hollywood.
“Well, you know man, it was a lot different. And the way we got to LA is because me and Karl had planned already to play with each other. We had been talking ’bout that for two all-star (games). And we said we knew that we wasn’t gonna be with our same teams for a long period of time because our owners was a little bit different, and they were trying to stay away from us a little bit. They wanted to go young. So he always told me we gonna play together,” “The Glove shared.
The pairing was indeed interesting since Gary Payton’s Seattle Supersonics and Malone’s Utah Jazz were heated rivals in the mid-to-late ’90s. The two Hall of Famers even managed to lead their respective teams to the Finals, only to be denied a title by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Still in search of that elusive Larry O’Brien trophy, the pair pounced on the opportunity to join the Lakers who were led by the fearsome duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant at the time.
“So, when we became free agents and then, all of a sudden, Magic, started calling us and saying that the Lakers want us, they want us, they want us,” Payton continued.
“And then, all of a sudden, Karl called me and said, ‘you know I want to go to L.A., I want to get sun. I want to get out of this coldness, I want to get out of all this crap. Let’s enjoy ourselves at the end of our careers and do what we do. We could sign here for 2 years and then re-up and then end our career here, and it will be fun.’ He said, ‘I’ll take the less money, you take the big money.’ And that’s what we did.”
Unfortunately, their collaboration did not have a happy ending as the Lakers were humiliated by the Detroit Pistons in five games in the 2004 Finals.
Payton would eventually get that ring with the Miami Heat two years later alongside Shaq. Malone, on the other hand, walked away from the game after that season. He joined the likes of Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, and many other Hall of Famers who failed to win a championship.