Friday, December 8, 2023

Jayson Tatum on being a Celtic: 'I didn't understand how special of a place Boston was until I got here'

Jayson Tatum is having a great start to 2023-24 campaign, as the Celtics are currently 15-5 and he's the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month for October/November.

On a recent episode of the Point Forward Podcast with Andre Iguodala and former Celtic Evan Turner, Tatum spoke about playing in a sports city like Boston and having the pressure of winning a championship. Now in his seventh season, the All-Star forward has racked up quite an impressive list of accolades, but raising a banner at TD Garden is still what drives Tatum above anything else.
"I know I can average 30, was first time All NBA a couple of years in a row," Tatum said. "I know I can do that. Now, I've just got to win one."
While Tatum has reached the conference finals in four of his first six seasons, which also includes an NBA Finals berth in 2022 -- where he fell to Iguodala's Golden State Warriors in six games -- ultimately the Celtics, who haven't won a title since 2008, have been trying to win that elusive 18th championship in franchise history but haven't been successful.
"It don't mean nothing in Boston if you don't win the championship," Tatum said. "We lost to y'all and I didn't play well enough, and it's like, as much as you can say you don't pay attention to that stuff, you hear it [the criticism], it's there. Even the toughest minded person, subconsciously, that's on your mind."
Still, Tatum recalls that run from two seasons ago very vividly taking a toll on him, as the Celtics beat Kevin Durant's Brooklyn Nets in a four-game sweep, followed by the Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee Bucks and Jimmy Butler's Miami Heat in back-to-back series that went the full seven games respectively in order to win the East.
"I remember going through that playoffs, I was mentally drained after each series," Tatum said. "I thought, if we play the Nets and I beat KD, I'll be fulfilled, like we did something. And they were like 'they were banged up, can you beat Giannis?' And then it's ‘Khris Middleton wasn't there, can you go on the road and beat Jimmy Butler?' And I did all those things, and after each time, it's like, I'm supposed to feel something?"
If Tatum had his choice of any team to beat in the NBA Finals, he'd want it to be the Warriors as that's the one playoff series of his career he would like to have back.
"I already had a lot of respect for the Warriors -- their tradition, everybody on the team, Steph and everybody," Tatum said. "It just went so much higher after we played y'all in the Finals. It made me realize how hard you have to work to get there, and how much tougher, and more together, and smarter you have to be to win."
Besides being arguably the face of the Boston sports scene at the moment, Tatum also realizes that there's also pressure of being one of the many faces of the NBA each night he suits up in green and steps onto the court.
"There's only so many guys that have been in that situation that you're in, or trying to be in, and everybody's going to try and deal with it in their own way," Tatum said. "Mentally, it can be a lot -- just the idea of being young, and every single night, there's 20,000 people who came to see you be superman. They don't know what you're dealing with at home, family problems, you argued with someone back in Saint Louis, something wrong with Deuce, or whatever. It's like 'No, I've seen you do this before, I want to come see you do it tonight. I don't care what else you got going on. Be that person we want to see.' And you've got to learn to navigate that."
If the day comes that Tatum is able to accomplish his goal of not only winning a championship but to do it in Boston, the All-NBA forward knows how special it will be and only add to an already growing legacy as one of the greatest Celtic to put on the uniform.
"Honestly, I didn't understand how special of a place Boston was until I got here," Tatum said. "I didn't like Boston. I felt like them beating the Rams ended being the reason the Rams ended up leaving. They beat Kobe in '08, so I was sick about that. But this is a special place. They love their sports teams, they love their guys. I feel like they've been embraced, I feel like they've accepted me as one of their guys. There's a sense of pride, there's an edge you have to have to play here. I can only imagine the love, the reception, if you hung one of those banners up. It would be incredible -- it's going to be incredible. I know it."
Tatum and the Celtics can only be hopeful, as they are one of if not the favorite to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy come next June.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of AFP

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