The moment Michael Jordan knew he had Gary Payton in ’96 Finals, per Ahmad Rashad
Michael Jordan had to test himself yet again in the 1996 NBA Finals after climbing the mountain three years after his first three-peat with the Chicago Bulls. As “The Last Dance” vividly describes in Episode 8 of the series, Jordan was not short of confidence when it came to then-Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton.
Payton memorably didn’t guard Jordan as the primary defender until the Seattle SuperSonics faced a 3-0 hole in the NBA Finals, but made the switch for Game 4, as Jordan struggled to put the series away. The Sonics would go on to win two games before Jordan and the Bulls put the bow on the series and a historic 72-win regular season in Game 6.
Looking back at Payton’s description of the series, Jordan laughed, quickly making a distinction:
“The Glove (laughs). I had no problem with The Glove,” said Jordan. “I had no problem [dealing] with Gary Payton.”
As Ahmad Rashad recalls, Jordan knew he had Payton in his bag from Game 1 of the series, once Payton asked for his shoes at the end of the game.
“The Last Dance” tells it a different way, however, noting that Game 6 of the NBA Finals coincided with Father’s Day — making it all the tougher for Jordan to clinch that title without his father, James, in the stands. Jordan had his father present for many of those championship runs. To see he wasn’t there anymore must have had a deep impact on his psyche.
Ultimately, Jordan was able to get past The Glove and those other Sonics, putting down the building block on what would be a second three-peat. To Payton’s credit, though, he did do an admirable job on Jordan in the series, no matter what some of these other narratives say about the battle.