Jayson Tatum has been a famous basketball player for a long time. Dating back to his days at Chaminade, basketball fans have known Tatum’s name, anxiously awaiting his NBA career. So while it’s an extraordinary feat to develop into an NBA superstar, many were hardly surprised when Tatum made that leap this season, scoring nearly 24 points per game on impressive efficiency.
At age 22, in just his third season, Tatum was going toe-to-toe with the NBA’s best players, scoring 39 in a nationally televised victory over Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers just before his first All-Star game. Out of the break, Tatum kept spewing fire, peaking in one of the best games of the NBA season on February 23 against LeBron James and the Lakers. Though the Lakers won and James outplayed Tatum, the young Celtic’s performance was enough to earn praise from the King.
In an Instagram post after the game, Tatum received incredibly nice praise from James, who is never one to be unnecessarily flowery to his competitors.
Though Tatum has been famous since he was a teenager and memorably dominated the Eastern Conference playoffs as a rookie, 2019-20 was a culmination of his hard work. This is the Tatum basketball fans thought they were getting when they hit YouTube for highlights shot at a rural Missouri gym a half-decade ago.
After Tatum and other members of the Gatorade team came together to announce on Twitter that Ypsilanti sophomore Emoni Bates won the Gatorade Player of the Year award, the significance of being on the other side of that moment was not lost on Tatum. For years, Tatum looked up to legendary pros, posing for pictures and clinging to their advice. Now, he’s one of the NBA stars lending a hand to a new generation.
“Talking about the NBA, it is a brotherhood,” Tatum told Dime over the phone. “It’s cool, I remember coming up through high school, any time I got to meet or talk to an NBA player, whether it was quick or if I saw them in person and got to ask for a picture. I remember talking to Kevin Durant on the phone, I remember meeting LeBron, then you fast forward and you’re playing against these guys your rookie year and they remember you and they say what’s up before the game. That’s really, really cool, because by the time you get to the NBA, you’re 18, 19 years old. So you’re still a kid and you’re still looking up to all these guys, but now you’re competing against them. That feeling is really special.”
Growing up in St. Louis, his first connection with a star was Bradley Beal, someone he watched excel at the high school level and then was able to get advice from while he was going through the same process
“Yeah, I think Brad Beal, he’s like my big brother. When I was in seventh grade, he won this award at my high school and I remember the day that he was (so) surprised. They gave him the award in front of the entire school and I remember that day like it was yesterday, and I remember telling myself, ‘I want to win that some day.’
“Me and him talked about it many times, and going through high school, he always gave me advice and he would come watch me play, and I eventually won it my senior year. It was just cool for me because I remember being in the gym as a seventh-grader watching him win, then five years later, fast forward at the same school and I was able to win.”
Now, he gets that chance with Bates, who he’s been able to see up close and personal a few times.
“The first time I met him, he was in L.A. working out in the gym that I was working out in [after my rookie season],” said Tatum. “That was the first time, but I had seen his highlights on Twitter and Instagram, that’s when I first was aware of him. Then a year ago around this time, I was down in Dallas with my former AAU team and my dad was down there. We went to go watch (Bates) play in the same tournament, so that’s how that came about.”
Bates is a special talent, as evidenced by him winning Gatorade Player of the Year as just a sophomore, and he figures to follow in the footsteps of guys like Tatum that go from high school star to challenging his idols in the NBA in a few years. Having already been welcomed in by that brotherhood will only help him navigate that path.