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Gary Payton Has Unfinished Business

The NBA legend speaks with Boardroom about continuing to help others in need, resonating with today’s NBA fans, and seeing his son’s hard work pay off with the Warriors.

It’s been 15 years since Gary Payton retired from the NBA, yet the Hall of Fame point guard eternally known as The Glove remains in high demand.

Payton recently partnered with Hennessy to support the brand’s Unfinished Business initiative, an effort to uplift and invest in minority entrepreneurs and business owners. To commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the NBA, the official spirit of the league will highlight 75 Unfinished Business funding recipients for the impact they are making in their communities.

To date, the initiative has distributed more than $7.5 million in funding to help Black, Latinx, and Asian-American- and Pacific Islander-owned small businesses from the financial challenges presented by COVID-19. For Payton, the partnership is one of special importance due to all the small businesses he saw disappearing over the years when he would return back to his hometown of Oakland, California. He relishes any opportunity by which he can continue to use his voice and his reach to provide assistance to those among us who need it the most.

Earlier this month, the NBA legend spoke with Boardroom on the partnership with Hennessy, as well as how he got into the cannabis industry and his thoughts on watching his son, Gary II, flourish with the Golden State Warriors this season.

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CHRISTOPHER CASON: How has it felt to get involved with Hennessy and the work of the Unfinished Business initiative?

GARY PAYTON: It’s a great thing to be partnered with them because we’re helping these small businesses get back on their feet. When you bring your entire life savings into something and unfortunately we have a pandemic that messes up our world and there’s no money coming in, so your business goes in the tank – we have an opportunity to help them.

We have 75 recipients to go along with the 75-year anniversary of the league. We picked these 75 who have gone above and beyond in the community. Now, we’re basically giving them a reward, and we’re going to announce that at Hennessy and my Instagram.

God has given me the ability to play basketball and help people in different ways. That’s what I want to do, and this was a great campaign for me to partner up with and give back to people.

CC: How much more does this work mean knowing that it’s helping people in communities like the one you grew up in?

GP: It’s very rewarding. When you go back to your neighborhood, you look at all those boarded-up businesses with all the graffiti on it. You want those businesses to open back up. It might have been a store in your neighborhood that you went to, and it was owned by a family you knew and that was the store you went in and gave your money to. I want those boards to come down so they can open back up so we can get back to empowering the community.

Growing up in Oakland, California, I saw a lot of that. A lot of these small businesses I used to go in and try and buy a lot of stuff to help; I can’t go back to those places now. That’s why I’m a part of this — because I want those boards to come down. I want those owners to qualify for this money and open back up.

CC: Your business portfolio doesn’t always the acknowledgment it deserves. What all do you have your hands in now?

GP: Me doing my cannabis, restaurant, and tech business, it’s rewarding to me because I’m helping people, especially with the cannabis business. It’s so great that they gave me the opportunity to help because I watched my mom die from cancer, and if I could have gotten the cannabis to her a little earlier — I wouldn’t say I would have cured the cancer – but it helped her get back to being herself. I watched my mom go from the person who raised me to not even being able to speak to me and then she died. When I would give her the cannabis, she was just alive, and she would say she didn’t feel any pain, but it was just too late. I went into that business because of that.

I’m so fortunate to have businesses that I can do on my own time. My life is 24/7. I respect people who have a 9 to 5 because it’s a lot of work. For me, even when I go out, it’s like I’m still working because I have to be that person. People ask for autographs; I have to be that person. I can’t say no and be mean. I have to be Gary Payton. 

CC: When you look back and see the impact you’ve had not just on the game of basketball but more broadly in culture, what do you make of it all?

GP: It’s one of those things that if no one is talking about you, then you’re not relevant anymore. I’ve been out of the league 15 years and I’m still relevant. People still love me and want me to be a part of things, and that’s great. Just like this Hennessy campaign, they wanted me to be a part of this. That’s big that someone still recognizes me for what I’ve done and what I’ve become. I’ve become a business person, a person in the community that you want to get that message out to people and I feel really great about that.

I retired when I was 37. That’s young! You have to figure out what you’re going to do in your next life. For 37 years, I didn’t have a 9 to 5 and I had to adjust and use my smarts to do other things. That’s why I admire Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson; they didn’t make as much money when they played. Magic signed a 25-year deal that paid him a million each year. Jordan didn’t start making the big money until the end of his career when he signed the first $35 million contract, and now he’s a billionaire. Magic is going in that direction also. It’s just good to see us do that and show the others how to do it.

CC: As someone who made his name on the defensive end, how do you evaluate the way today’s game is played?

GP: It’s different because we were in a different era. Our era was us taking pride in more than one thing; this era is about scoring.

Our era was about defense, being rough, getting out there, and getting it done. This era is about shooting threes, getting up and down, and entertainment. It is what it is, and I can’t knock anyone for it. We might have our opinion about it and judge it, but I played in what I think was the best era ever. I think the ’90s was the best era ever.

CC: What’s it been like to see your son, Gary Payton II, flourish with the Warriors this season?

GP: It feels good as a father. I don’t look at it as basketball because it’s just stupid when teams are trying to just get a certain kind of player. Why wouldn’t you get an all-around basketball player that can do everything? Golden State gave him an opportunity and look what they found – they found a gem. Now, they’re in the Finals and hopefully, he gets to play.

He worked hard enough for the opportunity he got and now he’s getting rewarded. He stuck with it, did what he had to do, and kept himself humble. And I’m very happy for him winning the Community [Assist] award more than anything.

With him being dyslexic and showing kids they don’t have to give up, that’s what big to me, because you’re helping other kids get through something tough. Even with the bullying, people think that these kids are different because they have a disability, and that is just stupid. I think my son has done a good job with his foundation and I’m happy he won [the award].

My son went through a lot. He kept working and I think God is going to bless him this summer when he signs his first big-time contract. He’ll get his first guaranteed money and he’s going to get a lot of it. I’m just happy it has worked out for him.

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