A Letter From Mom: Gary Payton II Wins NBA Community Service Award

The following is a guest essay from Monique Payton, mother of Warriors goaltender Gary Payton II.

Seeing your smile on TV always touches me. Still.

I could get intensely caught up in the game, screaming and screaming. But let your bright smile show on the screen, and it will surprise me right away. I can’t be a fan when I see it. I can’t be lost in everything that happens on the pitch. This is because immediately I am overwhelmed with heat. All I am in this case is your mother.

You are no longer Gary Payton II, or GP2, or Young Glove, or whatever they call you. You are just my baby. My little G

You and your brother and sister all have that beaming smile. Now my grandson – my little “Stinka Butt” – has one of those smiles too. They all give me butterflies. That smile is a reminder of the joy you bring to my life. You are filled with such goodness. It just brews inside of you and springs forth. Everyone around you is blessed with the joy you have within. This smile is like the logo of your heart. It is the mark of your perseverance and your conquering benevolence.

Let me tell you, son: I love the player you’ve become. I love your passing story and how you had to come the long way to the league. You know, the hardcore Oakland girl in me likes her babe to be able to handle the grind and come out shining. I’ve always told you that I think your game is dignified and electric and unique. But nothing, nothingmakes me prouder, happier, fuller than how good a person you are and how you share your goodness with the world.

The fact that you have been named the winner of the Bob Lanier Community Assist Award for 2021-2022 is an incredible achievement. I know you don’t do it for the glory, but your character is worthy of such prestigious recognition. Not just because you are chosen from 450 players, but because your service to others is the fruit of perseverance. Just like your career, you had to endure before you could reap the rewards. Do you remember when I told you that when you were ready to share your learning disability with the world, you would have an amazing platform to help people? Look at you now. My little G

I will never forget the day you were first diagnosed with dyslexia.

Your second year teacher has suggested that you take an exam. The lady who tested you came to the house to give us the results. Your father wanted me to get the details and tell him what happened. So I went downstairs, opened the door, walked into the kitchen and sat down with this lady. She told me my son was dyslexic.

All I could do was cry. I felt so awful.

Suddenly, I could only think of all those nights when I had forced you to read, every night for at least 30 minutes. I remembered all those times I yelled at you to talk because you always spoke so low in that mumbling tone. I imagined all those times when you were asked to read aloud at school and you felt so small.

I cried like a little girl that day. Do you remember how I gave you all summer without reading? I felt so bad.

I remember being on a plane to Los Angeles. I heard you cry and looked around as my heart sank, wondering what was wrong. And you said to me: “Mom, I don’t want to be stupid!” I assumed it was a trust issue that we could sort out. So I looked you in the eye and told you emphatically, “You’re not stupid. You’re very intelligent. You just learn differently! It never even occurred to me that you were struggling with a learning disability.

I started researching who was dyslexic in the industry and how can I get my son in front of that person. It was then that I discovered that a few people had the same learning disability. Albert Einstein (although he passed away and couldn’t meet you, it was still cool to know). Actor Danny Glover. Even Henry Winkler, aka “The Fonz”. I contacted the folks at Henry Winkler and managed to set him up so he could talk to you. He was so good to you too. He told you how he was given his lines for each scene, and that’s how he got to say his lines. He assured you that you are very smart and will be amazing at whatever you want to do.

You had no idea who he was. The show “Happy Days” was made years before you were born. But damn it, I knew who he was – The Fonz! And he was dyslexic, and he agreed to meet you. It meant the world. I wish he could see us now. He would be so proud, and I would shower him with thanks!

Now you are that inspiring figure who fills children with confidence and self-belief. What still amazes me is how, despite the insecurity you must have felt at such a young age and the pressure you were under, you never lost that smile. Your kindness has never been suppressed. Now that I think about it, you and your brother were always fighting. None of you would give a thumbs up. But then you would turn around and be so kind and generous to others. You always shared your toys, your lunch, whatever. You had these little cars that you played with, and when your friends came over, you let them play. You have never become miserly and selfish. If they were having fun with your toys, just wait until they are done. You always seemed to enjoy making other people happy.

I find the greatest satisfaction in knowing that this nice boy has become a kind and generous man. This same spirit is alive and well in you today. Even when you were injured, you still had locker room meetings and brought families to games. I hear thank you notes pouring into Warriors offices from fans and kids who appreciate you inviting them to games and spending time with them. I swell with pride when I think of all the children you help find confidence and inspiration, even with their learning disabilities. You are the perfect ambassador to raise awareness among people with dyslexia and promote early detection. Even parents need the education you provide. You help families avoid some of the trauma that comes from the ignorance and stigma associated with learning disabilities. The work of the GP II Foundation is a goal in progress, and all because you had the courage and the attention you give to vulnerable people.

People respond to you because of your authenticity. You are always appreciated everywhere. I was struck by this quality when we were on campus at Oregon State. You, your father and I were walking, and these two little boys ran towards you. They were 8 or 10 years old. They were like, “Oh my God!” They put their hands to their faces and just stared in amazement. They were so in awe of you that I had to encourage them to get an autograph from you. I gave them a Sharpie – you know I keep one on me at all times – and I said, “Go get his autograph.” They were so excited. And, of course, you were more than willing and so kind to them. I had to tell them, “It’s his father. Gary Payton. The glove. Do you want his autograph too? And they were like, “Yeah!”

It really warmed my heart to see how these kids reacted to you. It was so cute. It was also powerful to witness the way you have with people. I’ve seen your dad have that effect on people. Now my son? It’s just amazing.

To them, seeing you on TV, seeing you perform on that big stage with the Warriors, gives you a larger-than-life personality. You become more mythical than human in their eyes. I watched it with your dad. It makes it all the more amazing when they meet you and experience you being so nice. Being tangible means so much to people. They are inspired by connecting with someone they consider a celebrity or a star. When you look up to someone and they have the same challenges as you, it gives them hope. It’s what you provide to people with the work you do. Because “if Gary Payton II is dyslexic and I have it, I can be successful.”

You sincerely feel for these children and their learning difficulties. I know you remember what you went through and you wouldn’t wish that on any other child. What you are doing, connecting with these young people, letting them know that you understand, connecting with them on a personal level, giving them confidence, is a testimony of your big heart.

The kindness and selflessness it takes to win such an award – all I can say is I’m so proud. And I love you, my little G, and I’m so looking forward to what’s to come. You are just getting started. You will do even more excellent works. You will have a significant impact on people’s lives. Your career only grows from here, and so does the hope and inspiration you bring to the world.

I remember this every time I see your smile.

(Photo courtesy of Warriors.)

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