My buddy James Dailey grew up with Gary Payton in Oakland, and the two of them used to play basketball together all the time. Back in the day, Dailey was also one of several young boys that Gary Payton’s dad, Al Payton, used to shuttle around all the time – you know, to games and gyms around the Bay Area and beyond.
Al Payton, known affectionately as “Mr. Mean,” passed away on Sept. 2. He will long be remembered for his tough exterior, no-nonsense approach and, quite frankly, his nasty look.
But Dailey, who grew up playing on Al Payton’s “We Are Family” teams doesn’t think of him like that at all. In fact, he remembers Gary’s father as someone who was as kind, gentle and caring as you could find. And also someone who was indispensable at keeping him on the straight and narrow as a kid.
“When I was in fifth or sixth grade, look, I had issues at home,” said Dailey, who played collegiately at St. Mary’s and is now a successful business owner. “We had some problems there, let’s just say. I lived three blocks away from Gary so I always was the last one to be dropped off, me and Gary. He used to take us to Giant Burger or somewhere and we’d eat. He never said a word, it was never brought up, but he knew what was going on at home. He figured if I was with him for the night, it would be cool and that I’d be fed.
“Back then, you don’t think anything about it as a kid, what you’re going through, but then you grow up and you realize what he was doing. Yeah, he had that scowl, he had that look when he was coaching, he was intense, but it wasn’t that way if you knew him, you know?”
Al Payton used to drive around some darn good teams. The legendary Hook Mitchell was around, along with Gary Payton, Dailey, who played at St. Mary’s, and former pros Greg Foster, Antonio Davis and Henry Turner. Plenty more Division I players, too, including Terrence Mullins and Terrell and Josh Lowery.
Dailey said he still remembers the times when Al Payton’s van would pull up to his house and he’d head off to a game or a tournament with eight or ten of his best friends.
“He’d go to a sporting goods store and buy, like, 10 pairs of shorts and 10 plain tops,” Dailey said. “Then he’d take the tops somewhere else and go put numbers and our nicknames on them. It was all out of his own pocket. He never asked for any money. Ever. So I knew someone a little different than ‘Mr. Mean.’”
So, what kind of coach was Al Payton?
“You know he was never soft on Gary,” Dailey said. “Never. He never gave Gary anything. But whenever we were in a tight game late, he’d say ‘Get the ball to Gary!’ I remember always thinking: ‘I know, I’m one step ahead of you.’”