Former top NBA star Gary Payton is in Estonia this week, ERR's Sport portal reports. Payton, regarded by those in the know as one of the top point guards of all time, is promoting the world's most prestigious basketball league as one of its ambassadors, and stopped off in Tallinn as part of a world tour aimed at motivating young people to get involved in the game.
Payton's presentation also featured the Larry O'Brien Trophy, the NBA's annual cup presented to the finals winners – a feat which Payton managed himself in 2006, with the Miami Heat.
Speaking to ERR's Aet Suvari, Payton (pictured) said of his mission that: "It brings a lot of joy. This is what I'm here for. The NBA started me off, so for me to come back and help kids – I'm getting to help a generation, to help someone get a foot up."
"We are the people that come in there and do that, and help the NBA show people what the NBA is all about, and give them experience; to tell them how it was when we were in the NBA, so other people can be motivated to get into the NBA," he went on.
The event was sponsored by Olybet, a casino and sports betting company, whose CEO Corey Plummer said: "We can see the interest: More people are watching the games on our platform, or people are engaging on social media, when we travel and do things with the league, or when we do things like this."
"So we know the interest level is high, and right now we have some local guys playing in the US in university basketball, so there's local help as well, to have some representation soon in the NBA. We think it's super important to do things like this, and we're really lucky as an Estonian company to engage in a global sport with the best league there is in that sport, and be able to bring it to local people," Plummer went on.
Payton also presented a signed vest from his time at the Seattle Sonics, the team he is most closely identified with, having spent 13 seasons there in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Payton noted that the NBA is becoming more and more international, with many players from outside North America now taking part (most notably, in this region, Finn Lauri Markkanen, of the Utah Jazz, who this week turned to for military service-ed.), a trend which could continue with the current initiative.
As to who will bag the NBA title this year, Payton said it was too early to tell, though by the third round, you usually get a clear picture, he said. The playoffs began last Saturday and of all 16 teams to qualify, none has yet been eliminated.
An open event took place Tuesday evening at Noblessner, in North Tallinn, while – and this still applies at the time of writing – those in Tallinn can swing by at the Olybet Bar & Grill close to Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square) on Wednesday afternoon from 3 p.m., for an additional chance to meet Payton and event organizers.
Martin Müürsepp is the most well-known Estonian player to have competed in the NBA in the past, which he did in the 1990s, with the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. Among the current crop of top Estonian players is Kerr Kriisa, named after former top player and current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, and the son of former national team player Valmo Kriisa. Kerr Kriisa currently plies his trade with college team the West Virginia Mountaineers, and was formerly with the Arizona Wildcats, the University of Arizona (Tucson) team.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kristjan Kallaste
Source: ERR Sport