BenFred: If Tatum leads Celtics to championship, Celtics should reward him with exhibition game in St. Louis | Ben Frederickson

Jayson Tatum is driving to the NBA Finals, and if you know anything about the 24-year-old Celtics star, you know St. Louis is invited for the drive.

Boston, clear some space on your basketball train.

Speaking of which, Celtics, why don’t you pay us a visit soon?

That’s really the least you can do.

The Celtics wouldn’t have had Bill Russell if the St. Louis Hawks hadn’t traded the draft pick to Easy Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan in 1956.

Who knows if the late Hall of Famer and St. Louis native Jo Jo White would have been such a force for the Celtics during a Boston career that spanned seven All-Star seasons and two championships if he weren’t through the Cut would have been motivated by the Vashon B team.

And now the Celtics are returning to their first NBA Finals since 2010, led by a St. Louis native of Chaminade who believes Imo’s pizza is the best and that no wardrobe is complete without a Cardinals cap .

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Perhaps you’re among the growing number of St. Louis sports fans embracing the surreal feeling of drawing for a Boston sports team — perhaps for the first time since hoping Tom Brady’s Patriots would crush the relocated Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Maybe the only thing you know about the NBA is how it’s written. Doesn’t matter. A place as provincial as St. Louis can and should appreciate Tatum’s celebrations of St. Louis.

The Celtics, especially if Tatum leads them to a championship against the Golden State Warriors, should come to St. Louis for an exhibition game. Go ahead and ask Tatum if he’d be up for it. Look what he says.

Tatum returns every offseason, whether it’s to give out backpacks to local kids going back to school or to host its annual basketball camps. His Jayson Tatum Foundation benefit golf tournament begins in August at Old Hickory. Earlier this year, a brand new rebounding machine was delivered to the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, a gift from Tatum to help future shooters improve their shots.

Perhaps one day, fingers crossed, Tatum will use his growing place in the game to lead a charge to bring the NBA back to St. Louis through expansion. Until then, it would be a great thing if Tatum brought his Celtics here. In addition to the fun, it would give the NBA a chance to see how much support they would have here. Who knows what might come of it later. Hey, a man can dream, right? Tatum is proof that dreams can become reality.

At the (provisional) peak of his fame, he propelled his Celtics past Miami in Game 7 on Sunday night, which secured him the Larry Bird Trophy, a newly named piece of league hardware awarded to the top player in the Eastern Conference Finals. He was the obvious choice.

In the 100-96 win in Game 7, he posted a team-high 26 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out six assists. In the series against the Heat, Tatum averaged 25 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists. During that 18-game Celtics playoff run, Tatum averaged 27 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists. He has met his team 12 times in those 18 games.

“A guy who carried us all season,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. “I asked a lot to be put on his shoulders and he delivered.”

Tatum hit two shots in Game 7 in the fourth quarter that drew comparisons to his late idol Kobe Bryant. One was a 3-pointer who hit an exhausting shot clock. Another was a turnaround jumper over Jimmy Butler. Both proved crucial in helping the Celtics stave off a raging Heat rally. Both were the sort of shots a teenage Tatum would practice in St. Louis, repeatedly watching YouTube clips of Bryant while mimicking footwork and form.

“He does everything: shoot the ball, play pick and roll, pass the ball incredibly well, come out on the switch,” said Butler, one of the league’s fiercest competitors. “He’s a superstar and he deserves it. You deserve the win. I wish them the best for the future. He’s a damn good player, that’s damn sure.”

Boston was an under-.500 team halfway through the season (20-21). Critics questioned whether Tatum and teammate Jaylen Brown needed to be separated. The Celtics finished 51-31 and now have their first championship shot since 2010. They have only one ring (2008) since Bird retired. Tatum and Bird have been reconnected through Tatum’s latest reward. The honor got Tatum thinking about, you guessed it, St. Louis.

“It doesn’t even seem real right now,” Tatum said Sunday night in Miami. “I’m just really happy and grateful for all of that. Regardless of how long I’ve been in the league, I’m not too far from the days when I was in high school and dreaming of moments like this.”

Boston may have a little space on the train to spare given all the basketball help St. Louis has given the Celtics over the years. Better yet, the Celtics should come visit.

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