Last year my family and I took a trip to Durham, NC for a relaxing weekend filled with food, friends and Duke basketball. The night before the game, we walked around campus and assistant coach Nolan Smith gave us an exclusive tour of Cameron Indoor Stadium. We took pictures and got up a few shots. As a basketball fan with an affinity for history, it was an amazing experience.
The next day the campus was brimming with energy for an ACC matchup against the visiting Miami Hurricanes. Somehow my tickets fell through, so I purchased a few from a reseller outside the main entrance. What ensued was one of the best basketball experiences I have ever been witness to. The atmosphere was electric and while Coach K was away from the team with a health issue, I was throughly impressed and entertained.
One person stood out head and shoulders above everyone else. His game was impressive, a good mix of finesse and power. As a freshman, he carried himself well beyond his years and he played both ends of the court. If I wasn’t too familiar with Jayson Tatum before that game, I got caught up pretty quickly. I was looking for things that don’t show up in the box score and he had it all, from being a good teammate to sacrificing his slender frame for the benefit of an offensive foul.
When the 2017 draft lottery order was announced, I was elated at the thought that the Philadelphia 76ers would select him with the third overall pick. I’m based in Philadelphia, and I was salivating at the thought of covering the likes of Embiid, Simmons, and Tatum on a consistent basis. Things didn’t quite happen as I wished; Philly traded up to the top spot with Boston and the rest is as they say history.
Fast forward to the present day, and the 76ers and Celtics are carving out another chapter in their storied Eastern Conference rivalry. I had an opportunity to speak with Jayson Tatum after the Celtics’ Game 4 loss in Philadelphia. His confidence hadn’t wavered as his team continues to hold a commanding lead in the series at 3-1.
My first impression of the now playoff-tested rookie was that he has mentally graduated to the next level. He has the respect of his teammates and he allows his game to do the talking. No air, no attitude—just a young man, living his dream and doing all that he can to achieve playing for one of the most storied franchises in sports.
Before approaching his locker, I gave him time to get situated, and I used my time waiting for him to introduce myself to A. Sherrod Blakely, of NBC Sports Boston. He was kind enough a few weeks back to read a few entries of this column, and he offered some constructive criticism. We as writers have to work on our game as well, and to put the name (email) to the face, was something beneficial for my career. A few moments later, I asked Tatum if he had a few minutes, and he agreed. He and I spoke on a few topics, including fatherhood, and the Wheaties edition Nike Kyrie 4.
Do you remember the first time when you thought to yourself that you could become a pro?
My freshman year of high school…freshman-sophomore year.
What was it specifically?
Just playing varsity. You know, being 14, 15 and you know guys are 17, 18 out there, and I just saw that I belonged. I was one of the best players so I felt like I could make it.
Do you remember the first NBA game you ever attended?
That’s a good question. I don’t remember.
Do you have one that sticks out that you attended?
I remember that I watched Cleveland play Kobe [Bryant]…LeBron [James] played the Lakers in like 2007 or 2008…yeah I think that game.
You have been a big advocate for parenthood and the involvement in children’s lives…now you have your own. Can you talk about fatherhood and how that has changed you?
I mean it’s the best thing that could happen to me. It obviously happened sooner than I expected, but I love being a father.
That’s your little man.
Yeah, that’s my guy.
Everyday on Snapchat you post oatmeal. Is it oatmeal or is that like a granola?
I put granola on top of it to gain some weight.
Is it the strength of the Black Panther?
[smiles] yeah something like that.
You’re putting your teammates on.
No, they put me on.
Everyone is talking about you. You’re playing really well, you’ve gotten acclimated to the NBA game from day one. Where does that come from?
I mean, I’ve always envisioned myself playing in the NBA, playing at the highest level and being successful. It’s a long process. It’s a lot of people that helped me get here and it’s a really good organization—great coaching staff and teammates that help me along the way.
How did Duke help you prepare to get to this level, especially in the playoffs?
Just being at Duke, playing on the biggest stage in college and playing for the best coach. You’re always on TV, everybody was always watching, so we’re always under the bright lights and that’s when we gotta step up.
Bradley Beal is like a big brother to you. How did that relationship come about?
Yeah, Brad is like my big brother. He was in 12th grade, I was in seventh. We went to the same school (Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis, Mo.). He used to take me home from school everyday—we lived like two blocks over from each other. He’s always been in ear, you know, very helpful to this day.
What was it like when you saw him achieve in college and then the pros?
Yeah, he was just like my role model. He was the blueprint of everything I wanted to do. You know, I’ve seen it right in front of my eyes because we were so close.
Last thing: You wore the Kyrie 4 “Wheaties” earlier in the playoffs. Obviously that might be a nod to your teammate and the Duke connection. What’s it like to show your personality through your shoes?
Kyrie is on the team, so I got the plug.
Any chance I get, I’m going to wear any of the new shoes.
It’s been all over Twitter, and Instagram.
People was going crazy.