How a trade changed everything for two NBA players and their dogs

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2023 4:00 pm    Post subject: How a trade changed everything for two NBA players and their dogs

How a Trade Changed Everything for Two N.B.A. Players and Their Dogs

When Mikal Bridges was traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Nets in early February, he had to join his new team without stopping at home in Arizona first.

So it fell to Cameron Payne, one of Bridges’s close friends on the Suns, to break the news to their dogs, who are best pals, or so their owners say. The moment called for compassion and candor, and Payne brought both.

Bridges’s dog, Sonny, is a yellow Labrador retriever. Payne’s dog, Uno, is a 25-pound French bulldog. They were lazing around Bridges’s house in Phoenix when Payne approached them. He addressed his comments mainly to Sonny, whose routine would be most disrupted.

“Man,” Payne recalled telling the dog, “Uno’s staying, and, Sonny, I think you’re leaving.”

Sonny and Uno seemed to consider this, or perhaps had no idea what was going on.

Payne told Sonny, “Mikal said he wanted you out there. Mikal’s leaving. He got traded.”

He tried to reassure the dog: “You and Uno are still going to be best friends forever.”

“He looked at me crazy,” Payne recalled. “It just made me laugh. I was like, they really humans for real. They know exactly what we’re saying.”

The trade brought Kevin Durant to the Suns, transforming them into championship contenders, and offered a professional upside for Bridges, who will have a bigger role on the Nets.

But trades can be hard on N.B.A. players, who often develop close friendships during long hours together on the court and on the road. Bridges and Payne lived in the same neighborhood in Phoenix. They hung out at one another’s homes. They talked about their schedules and the best shoe insoles and what they saw on Instagram.

So when Bridges was traded away on Feb. 9 while the Suns were in Atlanta, Payne went straight to his friend’s hotel room and said an emotional goodbye.

“I’m just going to miss just the funniness, the icebreaker making everything cool, always having a good time,” Payne said of Bridges. “Always smiling and stuff. Those type of things I’m going to miss. He always made every day at work happy.”

The two friends were bound together, too, by a love of dogs — Sonny and Uno, whose relationship involved car rides and tussles over toys and was itself chronicled on Instagram.

If the disruption of these friendships is not exactly a tragedy — Bridges and Payne are young millionaires who admit to spoiling their dogs — it gives a glimpse into how personal and poignant the business of sports can be.

‘Why are you jealous, man?’
Bridges, 26, who is from Philadelphia, was a first-round draft pick after helping Villanova to two N.C.A.A. championships. Known as a strong defender, he will earn $21 million this year. A self-described “people person,” he had a lot of friends on the Suns — “I’m going to miss them so much,” he said. But he is making friends quickly on the Nets.

Sonny, who is 7 and barks when he wants to play with someone, has been in Bridges’s family since his sophomore year of college, mostly staying with Bridges’s mother. During the 2020-21 season, Sonny came to live with Bridges for what was supposed to be two weeks. But he never really left.

In Phoenix, Bridges lived with a friend who sometimes walked Sonny before Bridges got out of bed. One of Sonny’s favorite tricks was to wait until Bridges got up, pretend he’d been neglected and beg to go out again.

“He thinks he can outsmart humans,” Bridges said. “I watch him from a distance and I’m like, ‘Look at him trying to be so sneaky.’”

Payne, 28, was also a first-round draft pick, but he bounced around lesser leagues until finding a home with the Suns in 2020. Known as a high-energy guard, he is now an important role player in Phoenix.

Payne has had Uno, who is 4 and loves to run around, since he was a puppy and takes him most everywhere. He took Uno to a game a few years ago when he played for the Texas Legends, a G-League team. Uno sat near the bench, and Payne notched his first ever triple double and was delighted that his “son” was there.

When Payne gets ready to leave for road trips, Uno sits by his suitcase. He has, in the past, sat inside Payne’s girlfriend’s travel bag, presumably to prevent her from leaving without him.

Bridges and Payne started playing together on the Suns in 2020. They became friends faster than their dogs did. Sonny and Uno were wary of each other at first, and neither liked it when his owner paid attention to the other dog.

Sonny even got jealous if Payne paid attention to his own dog, neglecting Sonny. This befuddled Bridges: “It’s like, ‘Bro, that’s not even — why are you jealous, man?’”

Tensions eased with time and more exposure to each other. Suns players and their dogs hung out at the team practice facility and the home of the Suns star Devin Booker, whose Italian mastiff, Haven, is perhaps the most famous dog on the team, given that he is featured on Booker’s Instagram account, which has 5.4 million followers.

When the Suns lost to the Dallas Mavericks in seven games during the Western Conference semifinals last year, the dogs provided a kind of comfort. When Bridges got home after the series ended, Sonny immediately started whining for Bridges to pet him.

“Just told him, ‘Well, I’m going to be home with you every day now,’” Bridges said glumly, as he remembered the day. “It kind of gets your mind off basketball. You come home; someone’s just excited to see you.”

A month later, Bridges dog-sat Uno while Payne was away and posted the highlights on Instagram. One video showed Uno wandering around the back seat of Bridges’s car while Sonny sat in the front with Bridges. In another, Bridges took the pair to the store to look at toys.

“Two toys each,” Bridges told them in the video. He let Uno know he’d be spoiled with him just like he was at home.

Later that day, Bridges dribbled a tennis ball in front of the two dogs. Uno tried, without success, to play defense and snatch the ball from Bridges. He chased the ball as Bridges crossed him over. Sonny knew better. He waited until Bridges let the ball go and then ran to get it.

“Sonny been gettin fried from birth so he chillin,” Bridges wrote in a caption for the video.

Matching personalities
It is said that dogs and their owners often develop similar traits. Asked if he ever noticed similarities between Payne and Bridges and their dogs, Booker paused for a moment to think.

“Definitely Uno and Cam,” he said. He raised his eyebrows as he thought more about it.

“Sonny and Mikal, too.”

“Uno walks in, he’s the energy of the room no matter what. He’s a little bit smaller than other dogs, but he’s still the energy when he walks in,” Booker continued, perhaps making a sly reference to Payne’s relatively small 6-foot-1 stature.

“Sonny’s all over the place,” Booker said, suggesting that Bridges is, too.

Bridges and Payne will miss each other, but they said they — and their dogs — will remain close.

“C. Payne’s my best friend,” Bridges said, adding: “And Uno, he’s little.”

Bridges pantomimed carrying a little dog the way a running back might carry a football.

“So when C. Payne flies, he can just tuck him with him. It’s a little easier for travel. But Sonny’s definitely going to miss his guy.”

Payne said he knew that Sonny’s move to Brooklyn would leave a hole in Uno’s life.

“That’s really been one of the few dogs that he’s been hanging around,” he said, adding: “I’ve got to get him a new friend from on the team.”
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