If somebody were to discuss Kobe Bryant’s relationship with the Boston Celtics, they would likely do so under the lens of the two Finals appearances he split against the Lakers’ most historic rival. More recently, however, Bryant put this rivalry aside and worked with one of the Celtics’ brightest young stars in Jayson Tatum.
Initially mocked by his detractors, Bryant’s work on the young player might be coming into fruition this year, as Tatum becomes the star he’s been expected to be.
Kobe Bryant and Jayson Tatum
Before the season and before Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, Tatum spoke about how much Bryant helped him become a more complete player. Responding to the backlash blaming Bryant for the young star’s struggles, Tatum took responsibility for his sophomore slump. According to Tatum, it was his own bad habits that got in his way during the Celtics’ disappointing 2018-19 campaign, not his teacher.
During a preseason scrum, Tatum broke it down with reporters. “I’m still going to shoot the mid-range,” Tatum said (per Bleacher Report).
“I’ve seen all the people talking about the de-Kobeing. Kobe didn’t teach me anything bad. Everything we talked about and he showed me was great. Last year, with the jump I didn’t make that everybody expected, it was not his fault. He’s one of the greatest ever.”
Perhaps feeding into a common criticism of Bryant from his playing days, people saw Tatum taking worse shots than he had the year before and saw his struggles as an emulation of Bryant’s biggest flaw as a player.
“I’m very grateful, and it helped me,” Tatum said. “I’ve got to take responsibility for how I played last year not being as big of a jump that people thought. But I’m still going to shoot mid-range.”
The loss of a legend
Due to their history together, Jayson Tatum was one of the millions of people who were moved by Kobe Bryant’s death. The fact that he was able to get to know his idol as a person made the bond more special. He took to Instagram to pay tribute to Bryant with a picture of a meeting the two had when Tatum was still just a child.
“Heart broken,” Tatum wrote.
“My Hero. My Idol. The reason I started to play this game, the reason I fell in love with this game. Growing up wanting to be just like you, to you becoming a mentor, beyond thankful for everything you’ve done for me.”
Kobe Bryant’s death put everything into perspective to players across the league. They were not just losing an idol, several were losing a former teammate and an opponent they met on the floor. Tatum didn’t get a chance to play against Bryant, but he was able to pick his brain about what made Bryant the workhouse that he was.
As the basketball world pays tribute to Bryant, Tatum is doing so with the best play of his career, too.
Saluting Jayson Tatum’s hero
Tatum’s game was a testament to Kobe Bryant’s work with him before the tragic end. He was already having the best season of his career and crediting Bryant along the way.
In the wake of the tragic news, however, it has taken on new meaning. Tatum is averaging 22 points per game, a seven-point improvement over the previous season. His assists and rebounds are both up, and with an All-Star berth ahead of him, the league has taken notice.
Much has been made about the Mamba Mentality and what it meant to Bryant, but it was this mentality that might have been most instilled in Tatum through the work with Bryant.
The jump shots and dribbles can be learned, but the heart behind one of the greatest players ever can only be matched by those who are willing to go above and beyond. That was Kobe Bryant’s greatest legacy, and it is one that will live on as Jayson Tatum continues to grow into a star.