Lahaina, Hawaii — Gary Payton has been trash-talking nonstop during scrimmages, after practice and on the team bus. No one is immune and no topic is off-limits to Payton, who on Wednesday became one of the captains of the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team.
"He's a character. He's the life of this team," teammate Vince Carter said.
Payton, Alonzo Mourning and Jason Kidd were voted tri-captains of the U.S. team, which will begin exhibition play today against Canada.
The American team had its first informal competition Tuesday and Wednesday in scrimmages against the U.S. Select Team, composed of many of the nation's top collegians who got their first taste of what it's like to be on the receiving end of one of Payton's diatribes.
His mouth moving at hyperspeed, Payton was at his trash-talking best during Tuesday's scrimmages at the sauna-like Lahaina Civic Center as the Olympic team crushed the Select Team four straight times.
The jibes were relentless, accompanied by Payton's uniquely dismissive facial expressions, whether he was on the court or cheering from the bench. Many were directed at guards Jason Williams of Duke, Jamal Tinsley of Iowa State and Jason Richardson of Michigan State, and they had everybody from coaches to team trainers to USA Basketball officials to security guards in stitches.
"I'll talk about anybody's mother, anything. I cuss a lot," Payton said. "They started listening to me, then it started blowing up. They missed shots, took shots they weren't supposed to that let us get off to a fast break.
"That's what you want you want them to listen to it and try to take shots they're not supposed to because they're trying to prove to me that they can shut me up."
No one ever succeeded in quieting Payton, who didn't let up after the scrimmages ended. Sitting in the bleachers and feeling bold as ever, Payton called Tinsley over and asked him when he was coming to the NBA, then promised to talk even more smack while scoring 30 against him when that day finally arrives.
"They're from the States, we have big fun with them," he said. "We're not going to talk like that in Sydney. We've been having three or four hard practices, and when I start talking like this it gets everybody juiced and hyper. It puts a little more fun in the game and takes some of the tension off."
Payton is widely considered the NBA's biggest trash-talker, and it's tolerated and even admired because Payton has the talent to back it up. He had the highest-scoring season of his career in 1999-00, averaging 24.2 points for Seattle. The only holdover from the 1996 Olympic team, Payton did not discriminate when yapping his way through those games alongside notorious motormouths Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller. It didn't matter if the opponent was from China or Canada and spoke Cantonese or English.
The non-English speaking opponents responded as if they were "curious, acting like they were scared or whatever," Payton said.
That's because trash talk, in the basketball world, hits its target through a sort of universal translator.
"You might not know what he's saying, but you know it can't be good because you're going to hear it right here for 40 minutes," Carter said, pointing to his ear. "You're just glad when the game is over."