Gary “The Glove” Payton was born in Oakland California in 1968. He would become an All-Star, a Gold Medalist, one of the greatest defenders ever to play in the NBA, a Hall of Famer, and Gary Payton’s shoes made him a low-key sneaker legend. He has one of the most underrated and underappreciated signature lines that Nike ever released. Payton is a self-described sneakerhead and even when he didn’t have his own signature line, he rocked some of the slickest models and colorways every year he played. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Gary Payton Shoes: A Full Timeline
When Payton was coming up, he was very spoiled sneaker-wise. GP recalled in an interview that his dad “would always get me what I wanted to get” when it came to sneakers. In the interview, GP recaps a bunch of different models he rocked including Fila models and the Adidas All-Stars. But his go-to was the Converse All-Star (pro leather). Gary apparently got his hands on several different colorways of the shoe and would change his shoes every quarter. A rare luxury for a young sneaker enthusiast.
Before Payton became a household name, he was already leaving his mark on the game, molding another brilliant hooper on the courts of Oakland. Gary’s father Al Payton coached a young man by the name of Jason Kidd. Al, seeing the potential that Jason had, insisted on Gary mentoring Jason as he was coming up. Kidd looked up to Payton and Payton “tortured” Kidd into one of the top guards in the country.
Payton at Oregon State
From Oakland, Payton moved on to Oregon State, where he played for the Oregon State Beavers for 4 seasons. During his time at Oregon State, GP put up an average of 19 ppg, 7.8 apg, and 4 rpg. His last season he was named the PAC-10 Player of the year and put up 25.7 ppg, 8.1 apg, 4.7 rpg and a cool 3.4 steals per game.
While at Oregon State, GP was a Nike guy, specifically a Nike Force guy. Gary Payton shoes in those days were the Nike Air Force II (worn by another all-time great, Sir Charles) and the Nike Force STS. Both of these models were designed for bigger players, but Gary didn’t seem to care:
Nike Air Force II and Nike Force STS
Gary with the Seattle Supersonics
After his years at Oregon State, Payton would be drafted by the, now defunct, Seattle Supersonics. The Sonics took him 2nd overall in the 1990 draft, expecting to get a franchise-transforming player. Instead, they got an arrogant guard that couldn’t back up his trash-talking on the court. For two seasons Gary struggled greatly and seemed to be becoming one of the biggest busts in NBA history. He averaged below 10 points per game in his two first seasons and his signature suffocating defense was nowhere to be found.
When the Sonic hired a new head coach in 1991, things started to look up for GP. George Karl’s first full season with the team came in 1992 which was the season when Gary Payton started to become the Glove. Payton finished the 1992 season with 13.5 ppg and 5 apg alongside flashes of his elite defense.
During his initial years in the NBA, Gary Payton shoes were all Nikes. He switched over to a more guard-orientated model in the Nike Air Flight, rocking both the 89 and the recently re-released Lite version:
Nike Air Flight 89 and Nike Air Flight Lite
By the 1993-94 season, Payton had established himself as one of the premier guards in the NBA and as an elite defender. That year he would end up with over 16 ppg and 6 apg and was named to the All-NBA third team and the All-Defensive first team. This was also the year when he officially received his famous nickname: The Glove. Apparently, after a tough battle with Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns during the 1993 playoffs, Gary’s cousin called him and remarked that he “held Kevin Johnson like a baseball in a baseball glove, real tight!”.
Nike Air Maestro
On top of that, the Sonics were having a ton of success on the court. Gary had the ultimate running mate in Shawn Kemp. The two of them terrorized the Western Conference with their defense and high-flying exploits. The Sonics finished first in the NBA with 63 wins but infamously fell to the lowly Denver Nuggets in the first round in one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.
There was no way of knowing of course, but this had been probably their best chance at winning an NBA title with MJ out of the picture. But still, the Sonics had established themselves as one of the powerhouses in the NBA going into the 1994-95 Season.
Payton had another great year the following season. He averaged over 20 points a game, 7 assists and almost 3 steals over 82 games. He was again named to the All-NBA Defensive first team and this time he broke into the All-NBA second team. The team was rolling as well, putting up 57 wins for the season, with Shawn Kemp and Detlef Shrempf at the height of their powers.
Nike Air Go L.W.P. and the Nike Air Way Up
But as good as the regular season had been for Payton and the Sonics, the playoffs again ended in misery for the team. They fell in the first round to the LA Lakers, and for the second time capped off a very promising regular season with a disappointing postseason. The Sonics were becoming that team that performed very well during the regular season and then got the yips once the playoffs rolled around.
But the Glove wasn’t about to go down in history like that.
Payton and the Sonics attacked the 1995-96 season with a vengeance. The Sonics claimed the second-best record in the NBA during the regular season, amassing 64 wins, smothering rivals with their defense and relentless offensive pace. Payton was an All-Star, led the league in steals, was All-NBA second team, All-Defensive first team, and took home the Defensive Player of the Year. Gary was on fire! This was also the year the Sonics switched over to their iconic jerseys that every 90’s kid knows and loves.
GP’s weapon of choice for the season was a PE version of the Nike Air Thrill Flight (one of the most underrated Gary Payton shoes), and was even one of the featured athletes in the shoes marketing campaign. The Thrill Flight was a popular model that year, and multiple stars around the league used them as their main on-court kicks, including Reggie Miller and Michael Finley.
Nike Air Thrill Flight
Everything was going Seattle’s way, but, unfortunately for them, the 1996 Bulls were in the Eastern Conference tearing the league apart.
When the postseason came around, the Sonics were ready. They had a relatively easy run up until the Western Conference finals where they defeated the Utah Jazz on their way to the Finals. That’s where Michael Jordan and the Bulls were waiting. The Sonics played well against the Bulls but ultimately fell in 6 games, as the Bulls began their second three-peat.
There is some debate surrounding these finals which was brought to light during the Last Dance documentary. GP apparently was hurt going into Game 1 and was unable to guard MJ as he would have liked to from the get-go. GP thinks that maybe if he had been able to body Jordan from the beginning, the series might have been a little different. MJ disagreed.
The 1995-96 season would be the pinnacle of Gary’s career when you take into consideration his individual performance and the team’s success. He would have better individual seasons on worse teams, and win a title with a diminished role, but never both at the same time again.
He did bring home a gold medal that summer which was a nice consolation prize. GP was part of Dream Team 2 that played during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics and shared point guard duties with John Stockton and Penny Hardaway. For the 1996 Olympics GP wore the Nike Air Much Uptempos (as did Reggie Miller by the way), the guard adaptation of the Nike Air More Uptempos that Pippen wore at the same time.
Nike Air Much Uptempo
1996-97 meant more of the same for Seattle and Gary. Payton was again named to the All-Star team, the All-NBA second team, and the All-Defensive first team. The Sonics had a great regular season with over 50 wins and subsequently fell to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
GP rocked one of my favorite, pre-signature Gary Payton shoes. the Nike Air Flight Turbulence. These babies are as 90’s as it gets. GP was featured in commercials for the shoe, which were straight up freaky, as was the previous year’s ROY, Damon Stoudamire.
Nike Air Flight Turbulence
Gary Payton Signature Line
The end of the 1996-97 season meant the end of an era in Seattle basketball history. Shawn Kemp, Payton’s running mate, and lob-catcher was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The trade symbolically put an end to that group’s run, and the Sonics began a new chapter. “Lob City before Lob City” was done.
Seattle would now rely on a core made up of Payton, Vin Baker, and Detlef Shrempf. A less exciting team, granted, but not a bad handful of players.
Payton put up the same stat line as always and actually moved up to the All-NBA first team. The Sonics finished the year with 61 wins and were the second team in the West behind the Utah Jazz, and would fall again in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Now when it comes to sneakers, this was a tremendous year for Payton. The long-time sneakerhead would finally get his own signature model. Well, as close to a signature as you can get without it technically being a signature.
The Nike Air Zoom Flight 98 was designed by Eric Avar, the genius behind the majority of Kobe Bryant’s signature shoes, and it is just flat-out one of the coolest Gary Payton shoes. The sneaker was enveloped in a nylon shroud simulating, you guessed it: a glove. This “glove” hides the shoe’s main support feature known as the Monkey Paw: a five-finger-esque plastic overlay cage around your heel helping it (in theory) stay in place as you play. The shoe features subdued heel and forefoot zoom units and quite literally fits like a glove. The shoe was immensely popular and to date, it is one of Nike Basketball’s top models ever.
Nike Air Zoom Flight 98 "The Glove"
During that 1997 season, GP also wore the Nike Zoom Hawk Flight, a shoe made famous for its role in Spike Lee’s “He Got Game”. They were actually retroed in 2015 and it is a shoe that GP was the “face of ” but again it wasn’t technically his signature shoe.
Nike Zoom Hawk Flight
The following year was a wash in general for the NBA. The season was shortened due to a strike and lockout. Payton put up the exact same stat line and Seattle was sub-par.
We did, however, get one of the best and most wild-looking of the Gary Payton shoes. If the Nike Air Zoom Flight 98 was kind of his signature shoe, there was no doubt the Nike Zoom GP was a true signature. And a wacky one at that. The shoe featured a ratchet lockdown system that actually worked, forefoot and heel Zoom Air, a carbon fiber torsional plate, all in a low profile guard centric shoe. Just awesome. They also came with one of the weirdest sneaker commercials you will ever see:
Nike Zoom GP
The 99-00 season was Gary’s best statistical season. The Glove put up 24 ppg, 8.9 apg, and 6.5 boards with his usual 2 steals per game which is a crazy stat line. But Payton’s play on-court did not translate into wins, and Seattle finished with 45 wins.
The 2000 season brought us another great signature from the GP line. Like its predecessor the Nike Zoom GP II featured forefoot and heel Zoom Air, it added 2 TPU counters for stability and a sleek synthetic upper.
Nike Zoom GP II
In 2000, Payton also brought home his second Gold Medal during the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia and rocked a cool Navy and white colorway of the GP II. Yes, the Olympics where Vince Carter murdered Fredric Weis.
So, all in all, not a terrible year for the Glove.
The last two signature Gary Payton shoes were the Nike Zoom GP III and the GP IV.
The GP III was unveiled during the 2001 NBA All-Star Game in Washington DC, as part of Nike’s MORF series. Standing for “Multiple Option Replaceable Footwear”, MORF technology was an outlandish concept where the wearer could remove an outer shell of the sneaker and replace it with a new one, while keeping the inner frame.
The outer shell was made of synthetics and textiles with a zipper and Velcro-flap enclosure and molded to the outsole, which was solid rubber with herringbone. The inner boot was made of mesh and synthetic with stability support ‘lines’ on the sides to prevent ankle inversion along with the outer shell. The boot also has a visible Air-Sole unit in the heel and Zoom Air in the forefoot.
It was a wacky concept, but an interesting one. Scottie Pippen and Jason Kidd also had signature shoes that were part of the MORF series and the idea was you could change the shells and have a completely different looking shoe and keep the innards the same.
Nike Zoom GP III
The GP IV felt like a futuristic mix between the GP II and the GP III.
Nike Zoom GP IV
It wouldn’t only be GP’s last signature shoe, it would be his last year as a Sonic as well. Payton also wore a very similar shoe to the GP IV that season, the Nike Zoom Ultraflight. Both models featured almost identical tech specs and similar design cues. The Zoom Ultraflight felt a bit more stripped-down, streamlined and customizable. The hard heel counter came in a wide variety of different colors and Payton received a ton of different PE’s, which is something the sneakerhead inside of Payton must have loved.
Nike Zoom Ultraflight
Payton to the Bucks, Lakers, Celtics, and Heat: The PE Era
At this point in his career, Gary Payton was only missing one thing: an NBA championship. He still had a couple of good years left in him on the court and he set out to try and help a franchise bring home a ring.
He was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks mid-2003 and after the season he signed with the star-studded Lakers. The Lake Show already had two superstars in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. That summer they brought in Karl Malone and GP, who were both looking to retire on a high note. The team made it all the way to the NBA Finals, even as the team was enveloped in controversy and bad blood among its players. But in the Finals, they met a hard-nosed defensive team in the Detroit Pistons and were soundly defeated.
In any case, GP gave sneakerheads a show with his on-court kicks that year. During this period of his career, we got some of the coolest Gary Payton shoes ever. GP had signed with Jordan Brand and seemingly every night he busted out a new exclusive PE that made you drool. He got Jordan 12 PEs in a Lakers colorway, Jordan 18.5 PEs, Jordan 19 and Jordan 19 SE, and Team Hustles. You name it, GP had it.
Jordan 19 SE, Jordan Jordan Team Hustle, Jordan 18.5 and Jordan 12 PE
From the Lakers, Payton went on to join the Boston Celtics where he again failed at winning a chip but kept up the Jordan PE game:
Jordan 19 and Jordan Jumpman Work'em
In one last effort to get the ring he needed to seal his legacy, GP moved on to the Miami Heat where, finally, in 2006, he would complete his journey. The Glove played alongside D-Wade and Shaq at the height of their powers, and actually had a big contribution in the finals. During his two-year stint with the Heat GP broke out a bunch of his old signature shoes in Heat colorways.