Two players face NBA tensions, thanks to their dogs

Two players face NBA tensions, thanks to their dogs

Professional sports can be a tough business. When Mikal Bridges was traded from the Suns to the Nets, his friend Cam Payne had to break the news to Sonny and Uno.

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

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

Bridges’ dog, Sonny, is a yellow Labrador. Payne’s dog, Uno, is an 80-pound French bulldog. They were lounging around Bridges’ Phoenix home when Payne approached them. He directed his comments primarily at Sonny, whose routine would be further disrupted.

“Boy,” Payne recalls him saying to the dog, “Uno’s staying and, Sonny, I think you’re going.”

Sonny and Uno seemed to weigh in, or maybe they had no idea what was going on.

Payne said to Sonny, “Mikal said he wanted you there. Mikal is leaving. They negotiated it.”

But he tried to reassure the dog, “You and Uno are going to stay best friends forever.”

“He looked at me like I was crazy,” Payne recalls. “It just made me laugh. I thought: they really are human beings, really. They know exactly what we’re saying.”

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

But trades can be tough on NBA 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 would meet at each other’s homes. They would talk about their schedules, the best layups and what they saw on Instagram.

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

“Just, I’m going to miss just the fun, the icebreaker that makes everything great, always having a good time,” Payne said of Bridges. “Always smiling and stuff. I’m going to miss that kind of stuff. He always brightened up every work day.”

In addition, the two friends were bonded by a love of dogs – Sonny and Uno, whose relationship included car rides and fights over toys, which they chronicled on Instagram.

If the disruption of these friendships isn’t exactly a tragedy-Bridges and Payne are young millionaires who admit to spoiling their dogs-it gives a sense of how personal and poignant the business of sports can be.

‘Why are you jealous, kid?’

Bridges, 26, who is from Philadelphia, was a first-round pick after helping Villanova win two NCAA, the college league, championships. Known as a great defender, he will make $21 million this year. He describes himself as “a people person” and had many friends on the Suns. But on the Nets he is making friends fast.

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

In Phoenix, Bridges lived with a friend who would sometimes walk Sonny before he got out of bed. One of Sonny’s favorite tricks was to wait for Bridges to get up, pretend he’d been neglected and beg him to come back out.

“He thinks he can outsmart humans,” Bridges says. “I look at him from afar and think, ‘Look at him trying to be so sneaky.”‘

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

Payne has had Uno, who is 4 years old and loves to run around, since he was a puppy and takes him almost everywhere. A few years ago he took him to a game when he was playing for the Texas Legends, a G-League team. One sat near the bench, and Payne scored his first triple-double and was thrilled that his “son” was there.

As Payne prepares to leave for a trip, Uno sits next to his suitcase. In the past, he has sat inside Payne’s girlfriend’s travel suitcase, presumably to keep her from leaving without him.

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

Sonny would even get jealous if Payne paid attention to his own dog, neglecting Sonny. This puzzled Bridges, “It’s like, ‘Bro, that doesn’t have… Why are you jealous, kid?'”

Tensions eased with time and mutual exposure. Suns players and their dogs hung out at the team’s training facility and at the home of Suns star Devin Booker, whose Italian mastiff, Haven, is perhaps the team’s most famous dog because he appears on Booker’s Instagram account, which has 5.4 million followers.

When the Suns lost to the Dallas Mavericks in seven games during last year’s Western Conference semifinals, the dogs provided a sort of solace. When Bridges arrived home after the series finale, Sonny immediately started whining for Bridges to pet him.

“I said, ‘Well, now I’m going to be home with you every day,'” Bridges says despondently as he recalls that day. “It takes your mind off basketball. You come home and somebody’s excited to see you.”

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

“Two toys each,” Bridges told them in the video. He let Uno know that he would be as spoiled with him as he was at home.

Later that day, Bridges dribbled a tennis ball in front of the two dogs. Uno tried, unsuccessfully, to play defense and snatch the ball from Bridges. He chased the ball as Bridges crossed him. Sonny had it figured out. He waited for Bridges to drop the ball and ran after it.

“Sonny’s been fried since he was little, so he relaxes,” Bridges wrote in the video’s caption.

Compatible personalities.

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

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

“Sonny and Mikal, too.”

“Uno comes in and is the energy of the room, no matter what. He’s a little smaller than other dogs, but he’s still the energy when he comes in,” Booker continued, perhaps making a vague reference to Payne’s relatively small stature at 6’4″.

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

Bridges and Payne will miss each other, but affirmed that they and their dogs will remain close.

“C. Payne is my best friend,” Bridges said, “And Uno, he’s small.”

Bridges pantomimed carrying the little dog like a running back would carry a soccer.

“That way, when C. Payne flies, he can take it with him. It’s a little easier for traveling. But Sonny will really miss his friend.”

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

“He’s been one of the few dogs he’s spent time with,” she said, adding, “I have to get him a new team friend.”


Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.