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Gritty by the Bay, Payton acquired his legendary toughness growing up in Oakland, from a father known as 'Mr. Mean'
by J.A. Adande

OAKLAND — There has been one constant in Gary Payton's life, from the first shot he made on a hoop tacked to a tree in the driveway through every jumper he swishes at Staples Center, from the days Payton didn't measure 6 feet, even if you included his Jheri curls, until the top of his bald head stood 6 feet 4 inches above the ground.

It's the man they call Mr. Mean.

"Mean guy, man," Payton said. "He never smiled. He'd always go around not smiling."

"Everybody knew who he was," said Brian Shaw, an Oakland buddy of Payton's who also made it to the NBA. "Everybody was kind of intimidated by him."

Gary Payton's father wears the title "Mr. Mean" with pride. He has it printed on caps, shirts and his license plates. But he does want to set the record straight.

"I'm not mean," Al Payton said. "I just believe in doing the right thing."
The right thing changes, depending on the situation. Sometimes it required taking the ball from an older son and handing it to little Gary to stop him from crying. Another time it might have required whupping Gary in front of his high school classmates to stop him from misbehaving.

If teenager Gary scored 40 points in a game, Al harped about the pass Gary missed or the times he let his man drive by him.

Now, when Gary complains about a lack of playing time, Al tells him to calm down, that the 35-year-old Gary isn't as young as he used to be and that Laker Coach Phil Jackson knows what he's doing by conserving his point guard's minutes to keep him ready for the playoffs.

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