Dear Jayson Tatum,
It’s been a wild year. New head coach. Your former head coach is moving to the front office. An amazing NBA Finals despite a slow start to the season. They’ve made a name for themselves among the league’s elite, earning them All-NBA honors.
And yet you’re still years away from being the best version of yourself, and that’s scary. But let’s face it Jayson, when the season started you were far from your best. To a certain extent your struggles were understandable, I mean you hadn’t been long back from winning an Olympic gold medal and you’ve hardly rested your body in the last three years. At some point the tiredness had to set in, even if it was only fleeting and even if you would never use it as an excuse.
“I’m no different from the other guys who went to the finals last year, got on a plane, came and played at the Olympics and then started the season, I think it’s a lot but it only seems like that when you look at it think about it like that. I get paid to play basketball. This has been my dream since I was three years old. So I’ll play as much as I can while I can.”
But Jayson, we needed something to blame for your bad shootings to start the year. Heck, at one point we all blamed the change in actual basketball! And of course, your individual struggles were only exacerbated by the team’s struggles, and rightly or wrongly, the two problems were conflated into one.
Luckily things changed after the New Year and we started to see your game blossom. It’s been almost two years since the idea of using you as a playmaker first came up and up until the middle of this season, making you an elite facilitator seemed little more than a pipe dream.
But you proved us wrong. Suddenly, your ability to read a defense, get the ball out of your hands quickly, and manipulate opponents with your gravity has improved, resulting in a real point advantage. Of course it’s not always pretty. Sometimes the sales make us shake our heads. But on the whole, it’s clear you’ve been working behind the scenes, evolving into a well-rounded offensive threat as a result.
I have to say it’s been great fun to see you put more pressure on the rim, especially as you’ve started to embrace contact and work outside the post more often. You’re built for a face-off ball playstyle, Jayson – regardless of how much you love honing your opponents.
Ditto on defense, where you’ve embraced your role as wingstopper and off-ball nuisance. Her height, length and underrated athleticism ensure she has all the tools to be a true defensive force in third and fourth positions. While your walking pace, hip flexibility, and screen navigation allow you to slide up or down for short bursts.
We toss the term “two-way wing” far too casually these days when it should really be reserved for the select few who can influence space on either side of the ground, and yes, you are one of those select few. But you already knew that. How else would you have made it to the All-Star Team and the All-NBA First Team?
Oh, and who can forget the fact that you were the inaugural Larry Bird Trophy winner, or better known as the Eastern Conference Finals MVP?
That brings us to the most important part of the season: the playoffs. And what a postseason you’ve had!
We’ve all seen you ruthlessly chase mismatches throughout the postseason, we’ve all seen you dominate Kevin Durant and go head-to-head with Giannis Antetokounmpo. We’ve all seen you clutch your shoulder after every bump in the later rounds, and we’ve all seen you shrug it off every time.
We’ve all seen the pride in your eyes as you sat in front of the media before appearing at an NBA Finals for the first time, and we’ve all seen the fear behind the smile as the final hurdle you faced was a was a bit too big a jump.
“It’s hard to get to this point and not achieve what we wanted. It hurts. You know we all could have done better. I feel like I could have done a lot better. But you know, like I said, we competed, we tried all season, all the playoffs.
So don’t listen to the vocal minority who claim you don’t have a “dog” in you. This narrative was constructed by local sports radio personalities, and presenters on panel shows thrive on debate – they’re supposed to say outrageous things. Unfortunately, as the face of the Boston Celtics, your name generates clicks, interest and buzz on social media — but it doesn’t do what they say it does.
Ultimately, millions of Celtics fans around the world watched as you took your game to the next level this season. From the way you play and bounce to how you defend off the ball and make smarter shot choices. You went from borderline star to borderline superstar in less than 12 months, and that’s one hell of a leap.
“It’s difficult. You have to take it to another level to do what we want to do.”
Now I ask you to follow your own advice. If there was ever a time to double down on your evolution and force yourself deeper into uncharted waters, it’s this summer. You’re on the verge of becoming truly great, someone with all the tools to write your own legacy – we’ve known this for a while, but the wait is over. The transformation is almost complete, but only you can take that final step, Jayson, and I’m sure you’ve already formulated the plan for how you’re going to do it.