A Who’s Who gathering of some of the most distinguished athletes in Seattle sports history showed up Sunday for the Richard Sherman Celebrity Softball Game at Safeco Field.
The guest list included one prominent out-of-towner whose only association with Seattle was as an opponent. That Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant committed to the charity event — proceeds will be used to buy school supplies for underprivileged kids in Seattle and Sherman’s hometown of Compton, California — underscores the charismatic sales skills of its namesake.
“When we met,” Bryant said before the game, “we just hit it off. I told him: ‘You can count on me. If I’m around and in town, I’m there.’ ”
And yet even with Bryant in the house, no celebrity was regarded more reverentially by his peers than NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton, the feisty motormouth guard who during his playing days with the Sonics was Richard Sherman before, well, Richard Sherman.
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“Gary,” said Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, a Rainier Beach grad, “is probably the biggest thing Seattle’s had in sports.”
That contention can be debated and, in any case, is not irrevocable, especially if Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — among the participants Sunday — leads the team to another NFL championship. But Payton always will be in the mix, because he always was mixing it up with opponents.
When Payton sees Sherman, he sees a football version of himself about 15 or 20 years ago: A lockdown defender whose drive to compete was enhanced by the ability to give better than he got during verbal skirmishes.
“He’s old school,” Payton said of Sherman. “He thinks he can get in somebody’s head. ... If you can talk it and walk it and you can do it, that’s what he’s been doing. I like that, because that’s what I did in basketball.”
When Payton played, wars of words were commonplace in the NBA. Michael Jordan and Larry Bird might have been beloved by fans, but they were masters of the same head-game tactics that have turned Sherman into a pariah beyond Seattle.
“They don’t want trash talking in any of our sports,” Payton said. “A lot of these commissioners are trying to change up things. They don’t want kids talking crazy. I think it’s part of the game.”
The similarities are uncanny between “The Glove” and somebody whose charity foundation is called “Blanket Coverage.” Turn back the clock, you can envision the 6-foot-4 Payton fitting the newer, taller mold of an NFL cornerback. And what basketball coach wouldn’t want Sherman applying blanket coverage on a dead-solid perfect jump shooter?
But there’s one Sherman characteristic about which Payton can’t relate, and it points to a generation gap. Sherman’s famously edgy Twitter text about his 2012 postgame encounter with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — “U MAD BRO?” — would not have been sent by Payton.
“I don’t do social media,” he said. “I don’t tweet, I don’t Instagram, none of that. That ain’t my era. That’s what the young generation is about. They want to show people what they’re doing. I tell them, just be careful what you do. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I’m not into it.
“I’m not telling everybody I’m at McDonald’s eating a burger on Fifth Avenue. I can’t do that, because 20 people will roll up on you.”
Payton’s smack appetite was second to none, but why waste a delicious smack on some newfangled gadget?
“I would talk smack to your face,” he continued. “That Twitter ain’t gonna do nothin’ to me. I’d rather talk to a person. I can see him then and he can see what he can do after that. With Twitter, you can’t do a thing to each other.”
As for Sherman as a celebrity softball entrepreneur, he managed to put an estimated 22,000 fans in the stands, typical for a Mariners game and three times the size of the crowd for last summer’s event at Cheney Stadium.
“I talked to a lot of fans who said they didn’t get a chance to see that game and were frustrated,” Sherman explained. “They felt like we should have it at a bigger park. So we moved it into the biggest park you can have it in.”
Aside from the philanthropic call to assist the schoolchildren of communities dear to his heart, Sherman’s motivation to stage the game again was steeped in the drive of an old-school athlete.
“I enjoyed the competitiveness,” he said. “Everyone here is a great player in their own sport, and we come here and do something we don’t really do. Everyone still has that dogged, competitive, win-win mentality.”
A “dogged, competitive, win-win mentality” for celebrity softball?
Gary Payton, who turns 46 years old Wednesday, still loves those kinds of words, as long as he isn’t asked to read them on Twitter.