MIAMI, July 13 â€” Gary Payton seriously considered accepting a free-agent offer from the Miami Heat last week, but opted instead to join the Los Angeles Lakers because the lure of winning a championship was impossible to ignore. Payton, in Miami for the weekend to participate in a charity event hosted by Alonzo Mourning, said Heat coach Pat Riley offered him a multiyear deal and nearly enticed him to accept it.
HOWEVER, WHEN PAYTON learned that Karl Malone was headed to the Lakers, he said the final choice was easy.
â€œWhen Karl said what he was going to go, I figured I couldnâ€™t miss that chance, playing with the Lakers,â€? Payton said. â€œWith four great players like us playing with each other, weâ€™re going to have a great chance to win a championship.â€?
Payton and Malone, who can sign free-agent deals with the Lakers on Wednesday, will join Shaquille Oâ€™Neal and Kobe Bryant on a team that will be heavily favored to win its fourth NBA title in the last five years.
Neither Payton nor Malone have ever won a championship. Both will take significant pay cuts this coming season; Payton will earn $4.9 million, Malone will likely earn $1.4 million.
â€œMoney and all that stuff doesnâ€™t equal a ring, because youâ€™ll always be in the books as winning a championship and being on one of the best teams ever to play the game,â€? Payton said. â€œAnd Iâ€™ve been in the league 13 years. Iâ€™ve already gotten the big paychecks. Iâ€™ll be fine.â€?
Payton averaged 20.4 points and 8.3 assists last season with Seattle and Milwaukee, where he was dealt midway through the year. Although he turns 35 later this month, the numbers he posted last season both exceed his average marks over his career â€” 18.3 points and 7.4 assists.
Though he has won an Olympic gold medal and been an All-Star nine times, Payton said his career wonâ€™t be complete without a title.
â€œAdding one of these would just be the icing on my career, saying I did everything that I could possibly do,â€? Payton said. â€œThis would just make it easy for me to go out without saying I never kissed one of them trophies or wasnâ€™t in a parade."