When 12-year-old Jayden Jones becomes overwhelmed by the idea of tackling his schoolwork, he remembers what Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II taught him.
“Never give up.”
“Don't be afraid to ask for help.”
“Block out the bullies."
The Bay Area sixth-grader has dyslexia, severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dysgraphia, a neurological disorder that can make writing difficult. At times, he feels completely intimidated at school. Payton's words help him.
The Warriors fan favorite spoke to Jayden and more than 80 other children with learning challenges in December during a video webinar as part of a Read to Achieve event, then the boy got to meet Payton at a recent home game.
“I really appreciated it,” Jayden said while sitting courtside at Chase Center on Jan. 18. “He was really encouraging. He said it was hard and he got bullied. He said to ignore the bullies.”
Payton understands, because he was that boy years ago. He endured similar lows to reach his recent triumphs with the Warriors and now share his experiences to try to help others.
“Just because you learn a different way than everybody else doesn’t mean you don’t learn,” said Payton, who was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 8. "You’ve still got to fight through it. Once you find your way how to learn it, it becomes more clear and more positive.”
Payton's mother, Monique Payton, used to require her kids to read 30 minutes every night, not always monitoring them during that time, and she didn't initially know of her son's challenges. It wasn't until Payton's second-grade teacher urged his parents to have him assessed for a learning disability that they realized the extent of it.
“Little Gary would always mumble. I would say, ‘Son, speak up, I can’t hear you,’" Monique Payton said. “I would be so harsh, ‘What are you saying?’”
So once he was diagnosed she felt terribly, yet she was determined for Payton to persevere. No more daily reading rules. They would adjust their expectations on some things.
His greatest struggles and frustrations as a boy were when he had to read in front of his class or a group. Everything got mixed up and “my parents were so hard on me,” thinking he wasn't doing enough to understand the work.
“Some parents don't know about it early and then you're just really on your own,” Payton said. “You don't know yourself so you don't know why it's difficult for you to learn just like other kids in the class. We identified it and when we did, I got help. After that I understood that it's OK to ask for help."
When the Paytons moved to Los Angeles as the elder Gary Payton spent a season with the Lakers in 2003-04, Monique reached out to anyone of notoriety she could find who dealt with dyslexia — determined to show her son how far he could go in spite of it all.
She went to see “Happy Days” actor Henry Winkler.
“I took little Gary to his office and he spoke to little Gary, ‘You’re not dumb, it’s just a different way of learning,’” she recalled. “He had people give him his lines because he couldn’t read them.”
Now, Payton is the one providing light for others.
The high-flying journeyman guard and defensive stopper overcame his struggles and a bumpy basketball road to stick in the NBA at last, shining alongside Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
The kids went wild when Payton hurried out to greet them with handshakes, to pose for photos or offer some encouraging words before that Jan. 18 game against Detroit where he met Jayden. Payton helped host a group with support from the grassroots organization Decoding Dyslexia California.
Lisa and Danny Neith, Jayden's grandparents and legal guardians, are beyond grateful. They're also optimistic Payton's involvement will bring much-needed awareness for continued strides in early intervention and universal screening that might help so many others facing similar challenges.
Other parents are also appreciative. Megan Bacigalupi posted a photo of her dyslexic 9-year-old son Josh at a Dec. 23 game against the Grizzlies holding a sign thanking Payton that read, “You're a role model for kids w/dyslexia!”
“He’s so inspired after hearing (at)Garydwayne talk to Dyslexic kids and share his story!” the mother said.
Stephen Curry can imagine what Payton's efforts mean.
“It's all about whatever you represent, in terms of your upbringing and your experience in life. Everybody knows the amazing opportunities that basketball creates in terms of the platform that you have,” Curry said. “You've got to find different ways to use it. For him that's a great thing to do, to try to make an impact and be inspirational and maybe change the course of somebody's life in some way.”
Jayden will probably forever cheer Payton.
The boy attends a special education school called Star Academy in nearby San Rafael and is being raised by the Neiths, who adopted him. Jayden — who won the raffle for a basketball signed by Payton that he keeps safely in his bedroom — wasn't diagnosed until "he was already way behind, years behind," his grandmother said.
“This is big and huge for him to see somebody like Gary Payton. Jayden is just starting basketball himself as a beginner, so this is going to spur him on to know that he's not alone with the challenges,” Lisa Neith said. “We're just beyond the moon.”