Why Gary Payton II is star of NBA championship celebration

Why Gary Payton II is star of NBA championship celebration

Photo of CJ Holmes

Gary Payton II said he was going to go full JR Smith at the Golden State Warriors’ championship parade. On Monday, he absolutely kept his word.

Much like the Cavaliers guard who skipped wearing a top after his team beat the Warriors in 2016, there was Payton on the streets of San Francisco, shirtless, rocking black shades and a turned-back championship hat atop the bus he shared with James Wiseman throughout most Monday’s festivities. But the same boldness that made Payton a fixture in the Warriors’ rotation this season was the same thing that made him the life of the parade.

Payton fired water guns into the crowd and showered Warriors fans with champagne. Numerous times through the event, he leaped off his bus to greet fans. And eventually, Wiseman was inspired to hop off the bus and get in on the fun, too.

Payton, 29, was the last Warriors’ player to make the roster in preseason. His season ended with him hoisting a championship trophy with legions of fans screaming his name.

That wasn’t what people might have expected from Payton a year ago. Since playing at Oregon State and entering the NBA in 2017, Payton had bounced through Bucks, Lakers and Wizards between multiple stints in the G-League. His breaking through to finally stick this season as a 29-year-old journeyman was a payoff for the Warriors’ faith in both his defensive skills and his growth on the offensive end of the floor. He earned playoff starts. He came back from a pretty ugly play that broke his elbow against the Grizzlies in the semifinals. His return in time to play in the Finals was inspirational, helping the Warriors even the series in the Celtics.

Gary Payton II seemed to spend as much time off the bus as on it, switching from dousing fans with his water gun to letting off spurts from a golden bottle of champagne. Video: Chase DiFeliciantonio

So in his long journey to get to this parade, he earned the right to soak up every moment of love from the fans.

CJ Holmes covers the Warriors for The San Francisco Chronicle. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @CjHolmes22

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