Originally created 01/19/01

Gary Payton suspended for one game



SEATTLE -- Gary Payton finally "crossed the line" with Seattle SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan.

The SuperSonics suspended the All-Star point guard Thursday for Friday night's game against Minnesota at the Key Arena, ending Payton's streak of 356 consecutive starts.

The Sonics said the suspension was for "conduct detrimental to the team" following Seattle's 89-80 home loss to Phoenix on Wednesday night. During a fourth-quarter timeout, Payton and teammate Ruben Patterson had an angry confrontation.

"It wasn't anything that was on the floor," McMillan said. "It happened after the game in the locker room.

"This was something that I felt that we had crossed the line. There are certain things we want to do and when we cross that line, we will take the appropriate action.

Payton, 32, hasn't missed a game since March 15, 1996, when he was suspended by the league for head-butting Joe Wolf.

The only other regular-season game he missed in his 827-game career was Jan. 14, 1992, due to a chest contusion.

The decision to suspend Payton, 32, was made by McMillan after consulting with Wally Walker, the president and general manager.

"It was a situation where some things happened and I made a decision. Wally agreed," said McMillan, Payton's friend and former teammate who took over as Seattle's coach Nov. 27.

Walker said he attempted to reason with Payton after Wednesday night's game.

"My conversation with Gary and I talked to him for over an hour was, 'You're too, you're too smart not to conclude that some of the things you're doing just don't work, particularly as it relates to other people,"' Walker said.

"We know he's competitive, we know he loves to win. We just can't accept some of the things he does and says."

Payton was suspended for one game this season after a confrontation with then-coach Paul Westphal in the huddle Nov. 21 at Dallas.

The emotional Payton had to be separated from Westphal on the court. Afterward, he criticized Westphal to reporters. Westphal was fired six days later.

Walker announced the next day that Payton was suspended for the Sonics' game that night at San Antonio. Payton met with Westphal, apologized and got the suspension lifted.

The Sonics replaced Westphal with the popular McMillan, who became an assistant coach after he retired as a player.

McMillan won't tolerate the emotional Payton's antics.

"As I took over this team, I felt there were necessary changes that needed to be made," McMillan said. "I've said all along that there are certain ways we want to do a lot of things around here now and I'm trying to stick to that."

Payton is an 11-year veteran and six-time All-Star who is the team's career scoring leader. He often has clashed with teammates and coaches.

Payton is expected to return to practice Saturday and play against Sacramento here Sunday night.

"When Gary comes back Saturday, I would expect him to play well and support the team and do all the things that we have been and will continue to do to get this team competitive," McMillan said. "I fully expect that to happen."

The Sonics were sold Jan. 11 by Barry Ackerley to a group of investors, including Starbucks founder Howard Schultz for $200 million. Walker will become a minority owner of the franchise when the deal is approved by the NBA Board of Governors.