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NFL Draft

Who Is NFL’s Version of Michael Jordan, Gary Payton?

  • The Draft Network
  • May 11, 2020
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Don't you just love a good meme?

Nothing wakes me up in the morning like hammering my snooze button, rolling over, ignoring text messages from people who actually care about me, logging on to Twitter and seeing the timeline coming together to share what is now a viral sensation in the form of a new meme.

For as great as Michael Jordan's basketball career was, his place in the meme game is Hall of Fame worthy, as well. His first claim to fame was the classic crying Jordan meme, which originated from him understandably shedding a few tears as he gave his Hall of Fame introduction speech in 2009. 

Jordan's place in meme history was only more solidified by screenshots and GIFs with his signature shrug, him saying, "Stop it, get some help" from his McDonald's PSA, and times he clowned opponents throughout his illustrious career.

Jordan last played professional basketball in 2003, and yet he is still giving us content that only the goat could. In the latest episode of the highly anticipated 10-part sports documentary, “The Last Dance,” centered around Jordan and his career with the Chicago Bulls, he provided the world with another all-time meme.

Throughout the series, Jordan has been as candid as we've ever seen him; about his life, his teammates and his opponents. Gary Payton, a former point guard for the Seattle SuperSonics and one of the best NBA players during Jordan's prime, was interviewed for an episode that featured the Sonics-Bulls 1996 NBA Finals matchup. Payton spoke as if it was a close back-and-forth battle and how he eventually got to Jordan like few players ever had before.

The production crew showed that interview footage to Jordan, and well...

I know a good meme when I see it; and that video, from start to finish, was gold. The best part was the multi-use, specifically in the two or three screenshots of Jordan looking at the screen and laughing.

It had all the makings of a top, viral meme, and I was proud of the rest of my Internet friends for recognizing that early. There have already been some great uses of it.

Jordan was savage when he responded to Payton's telling of their matchup, saying: "I had no problem with 'The Glove;'" 'The Glove' being Payton's nickname. But all that got me thinking, who would be the NFL's version of Jordan versus Payton?

There are a few options.

Tom Brady vs. Philip Rivers

In the modern-day of sports, there's only one NFL player who can put his name up there in the same cross-sport conversation Jordan is in, and that’s quarterback Tom Brady. No other player in league history has the kind of success that equates to a matching of stats, longevity, single-franchise impact, rings and winning percentage like Jordan and Brady.

For this Jordan/Payton comparison, I want to mainly focus on when Jordan said: "I had no problem with 'The Glove.''" It’s where the Philip Rivers connection makes sense.

Circling back to the NBA, Payton was a great player; he was a nine-time All-Star and a Defensive Player of the Year in 1996. Payton had a 14-year career with the Sonics. As for Rivers, he was an eight-time Pro Bowl player and the NFL's passing leader in 2010 during his 16-year career with the Chargers. Both are fiery players. Rivers has been known to talk his own brand of smack during games, and Payton was getting in Jordan's face when they faced off in the finals. Payton also lost to Jordan's Bulls four times in the postseason, and Rivers fell to Brady's Patriots three times.

Neither Payton or Rivers ever won a ring during their long careers with their original teams. Payton and the Sonics went to the playoffs eight years in a row between 1991 and 1998, while Rivers and the Chargers entered the postseason four years in a row from 2006-08, and then again in 2011 and 2013.

Rivers still might have one or two more years left in the tanks, so the final chapter of his career has not been written. But both were great players in their own right who had to watch one player dominate in a way they wish they could.

Tom Brady vs. Matt Ryan

This rivalry doesn't have the stats exactly lined up the way it did with Rivers, but it does have a very important aspect of Jordan and Payton that Rivers does not: a face-off in a championship that didn't go the way the challenger hoped.

Payton and the Sonics met the Bulls in those 1996 finals, and it was the only time they reached the finals during Payton's tenure in Seattle. As for Matt Ryan, he and the Falcons reached the postseason many times since 2008, but only achieved a Super Bowl berth once in 2016. When both Payton and Ryan made it to the championship game or series, they were in the best years of their careers. Payton snagged his Defensive Player of the Year award that season, and Ryan won MVP in 2016. But their best was not enough to take down the legends of their sport.

Deion Sanders vs. Andre Rison

Andre "Bad Moon" Rison was a five-time Pro Bowl player and an All-Pro wide receiver who was a first-round pick, had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and even led the league in receiving touchdowns in 1993.

But he wasn't Deion Sanders.

Sanders — who arguably one of the best players ever, if not the best, cornerback of all time — had some heated matchups with Rison over the years. It dated back to their college days when Sanders intercepted a deep pass intended for Rison during a Michigan State-FSU game in 1998.

The rivalry continued in the NFL where Sanders and Rison once got into a matchup so heated that many would tell you they should have both been thrown out of the game.

In the end, Sanders found the end zone more than Rison did, as Sanders limited Rison to just 32 yards on five catches while taking an interception back for a touchdown.

"I had no problem with 'The Glove.'"

No, he did not.

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