Gary Payton played his high school basketball at Skyline High School in Oakland, California before attending Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Throughout his four-year career at OSU, he became one of the most decorated basketball players in OSU history. During his senior year, Payton was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine as the nation's best player in 1990. He was a consensus All-American in 1990; three-time All-Pac-10 selection, and named the Pac-10 conference's 1987 Freshman of the Year. He was the MVP of the Far West Classic tournament three times and was the Pac-10 Player of the Week nine times. He also was named to the Pac-10's All-Decade Team. At the time of his graduation, he held the school record for points, field goals, three-point field goals, assists, and steals. During his career at OSU, the Beavers made three NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT appearance. He was elected into OSU's Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
At the conclusion of his college career, he was the second overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. During his NBA career, he has been on the All-NBA First-Team in 1998 and 2000; the All-NBA Second Team in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2002; and the All-NBA Third Team in 2001. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine consecutive seasons (1994-2002), and was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 1996. He has been selected to the NBA All-Star Team nine times and was voted as a starter in 1997 and 1998. He was a member of the gold medal-winning 1996 and 2000 U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball Teams.
He was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Desmond Mason for Ray Allen, Kevin Ollie and Ronald Murray in February 2003. The Los Angeles Lakers signed him as a free agent in July 2003.