Jayson Tatum never got a chance to play against Kobe Bryant. By the time he reached the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers legend had already wrapped up a Hall of Fame career. However, the young Boston Celtics forward grew up idolizing Kobe. The two enjoyed a special relationship that even saw Bryant serve as a mentor for the up-and-coming NBA star.
For Tatum, watching his idol suddenly pass away hit hard. And while Kobe is gone, he most certainly will never be forgotten. At least that’s what Jayson Tatum ensured through his recent sign of permanent respect for the NBA legend gone too soon.
Jayson Tatum idolized Kobe Bryant
A St. Louis native, Jayson Tatum didn’t grow up watching Michael Jordan. That’s the downside to being born in 1998. Instead, the prodigious basketball talent became obsessed with Kobe Bryant. As a youngster, Tatum analyzed his idol’s every move and grew determined to replicate them on the court.
Of course, Tatum got a chance to see Bryant put together plenty of highlight-reel plays. After all, Kobe took over the reins from MJ as the face of the NBA. Along the way, he captured five NBA titles, 18 All-Star selections, and an MVP award. The notoriously competitive Lakers legend definitely inspired countless future hoopsters to test their skills.
Tatum worked tirelessly to hone his craft. And following a dominant high-school career at Chaminade College Prep, the Missouri native took his talents to Duke University. Rated as one of the top players in the country, he spent just one year playing for Mike Krzyzewski. And boy did he make that lone season count.
The long-limbed, lanky wing averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in 29 games. The Celtics snagged Tatum with the third overall pick thanks to a shrew trade-down by Danny Ainge. And in just a few years, he’s quickly developed into one of the NBA’s best young players.
The young Celtics star paid homage to the Lakers legend in a unique way
Before the COVID-19 pandemic put the NBA season on hold, Jayson Tatum had ascended from a promising prospect into a legitimate superstar. The 6-foot-8 wing increased his scoring average from 15.7 points per game in 2018-19 to 23.6 this season. With Tatum making a quantum leap, the Celtics looked like one of the best teams in the league.
Of course, the 2019-20 NBA season also included Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing. His death rocked not only the basketball community but also the world at large. With his idol gone, Jayson Tatum obviously suffered tremendous emotional pain. Recently, though, he showed a permanent sign of respect for his fallen hero.
On Wednesday, Boston Globe reporter Nicole Yang tweeted a photo of Tatum’s new blue fawn French bulldog. The four-week-old puppy will be aptly named Bean—an homage to Kobe Bryant’s middle name. Of course, Kobe’s middle name derived from his father’s nickname “Jellybean.”
While Bean won’t be able to come home for about another month, he’ll move into his new digs just as his father returns to work. And when Jayson Tatum dons Celtics colors again, he’ll have the chance to pick up right where he left off.
Will Tatum follow in Kobe’s footsteps on the court?
As the NBA prepares to resume play at the end of July, all eyes should be glues on Tatum and the Celtics. Boston boasts a terrific lineup that features a number of versatile wings. Besides their 22-year-old superstar, the Celtics also get big contributions from Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, who finally looked healthy and back in prime form before the break.
At the end of the day, though, the Celtics will only go as far as Tatum carries them. Like his idol, he possesses the rare ability to dominate games one-on-one. With his length, improved handle, and shot-making prowess, the breakout star has the tools to one day be mentioned in the same breath as Kobe.
For Jayson Tatum, the real test will come in the postseason. Can he shoulder the load as the Celtics’ No. 1 scoring option? Is he capable of playing elite defense against top-flight wings? Will his body withstand the physical pounding of playoff basketball? Those questions will be answered soon enough. And perhaps, one day, he’ll win an NBA title like his idol.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference