One of the coolest things in life is seeing growth or progress. Whether that transformation is in yourself or others, it's always gratifying to notice because it provides hope for a brighter future. Even though it's about that future and where you'll hopefully end up, it's really about the process. Every step and milestone is something to witness and celebrate. Last night in the NBA, Jayson Tatum had one of his biggest moments of growth as a basketball player and it was beautiful.
As a sports fan, you get used to watching young players develop. All of them are different and will move rapidly through that process or have setbacks and bumps along the way. Some never make it where you thought they would and some surpass even your wildest dreams. Regardless of their path, the special part is when you as a fan take notice of the moment and realize what's happening. 21-year-old Celtics forward Jayson Tatum made us all stop and appreciate him on one occasion. That's all he needed.
Tatum has been the phenom and the kid with promise since probably middle school. Basketball fans learned his name when he went and played for the most prestigious college hoops program in the country, the Duke Blue Devils. Celtics fans really latched on when Danny Ainge traded back in the draft to take him 3rd overall. Ainge clearly believed in the kid and Boston was now on watch. They had to hope he wasn't a bust and could take on the superstar mantle someday.
Throughout his first couple of years in the league, he's had highs and lows. His rookie season ended with a flurry as he got better and better and helped lead a young team to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving. Despite the loss, Tatum had dunked on LeBron James and the NBA had felt his arrival. He was going to be a star.
After the season, the hype got a little too real. Tatum did commercials, magazine shoots and was being pushed as the next great Celtic. Of course, he'd earned some of that praise. He just needed to know that he still had a LOT more to do. In year two, Tatum regressed. The Celtics were dysfunctional, with too many egos in the locker room and too many players to touch one ball on the court. There were rumors of Tatum, among others, coming into the season feeling entitled because of what they had done without the older players. When things didn't go well, some wondered if Jayson was actually going to reach his potential and be better than the likes of Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram etc.
Fast forward to year three and Tatum needed to step his game up. It was time to show us your either an All-Star, or a legend in the making. Does that seem silly to say about a kid who hasn't hit his 22nd birthday? Yep. That doesn't make it untrue though. Now with Irving gone and questions surrounding the Celtics, someone had to take the bull by the horns. For much of the first half of the year, it was Tatum's running mate, Jaylen Brown. Brown is the lesser prospect but a player that Celtics fans have been comparing Tatum to since they got together.
During the past two months or so, Tatum had slowly been creeping into the picture while playing better and better every night. He started showing more signs of improvement and started garnering some All-Star buzz. When the teams were announced a few weeks ago, it was Tatum and not Brown, that had been voted onto the squad. That's in no way an indictment of Brown, who was definitely a snub, but more so a celebration of Tatum. He'd elevated his game enough to say he was literally an All-Star and Celtics fans were feeling great about his future.
Now since the All-Star nod was revealed, Tatum has lit the world on fire. I myself believe that this has to do with confidence. Jayson received some real support from his peers and was honored as one of the best players in the whole league at such a young age. That finally turned his belief up to full throttle and it was easy to see a change in him. It was a slow burn that all culminated last night when Jayson Tatum took the court on national television, against one of the best teams in the league and one of the NBA's best two way-players in Kawhi Leonard, and simply said: "It's my time."
Every great player has THE moment. It's the moment or the game when they transform from just a very, very good player to one that is completely and totally special. Tatum took the Celtics on his back and willed them to a double-overtime win in Boston while making big-time play after big-time play. In 48 minutes, he scored 39 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out one assist while being matched up with Kawhi Leonard. Any basketball fan that watched last night's game felt the same feeling about Tatum last night as he made the jump into super-stardom in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Watch out NBA, the Celtics have an alpha male.