Every rookie has a memorable “Welcome to the NBA” moment that stays with them forever. Whether it’s trash-talking, scoring for the first time, or getting schooled by a veteran player, when it happens, the first-year player knows it. For Jayson Tatum, his moment happened in the first game he ever played in the NBA.
The Celtics star forward attempted his first shot in the league only to be rejected by one of the greatest players in the NBA, LeBron James.
Jayson Tatum’s first NBA game
The former Duke alum played his first game with the Boston Celtics on October 17, 2017. Tatum was the first Celtics rookie player since 1999 to start in his league debut.
Despite first-game jitters in the first half shooting 0-for-5, he came out strong in the second half. He scored 14 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists against the Cavaliers. In that game, Tatum became the first Celtics’ player since Larry Bird in 1979 to record a double-double in their NBA debut.
Tatum’s ‘Welcome to the NBA’ moment
Despite Tatum’s confidence and abilities, he was nervous to play in his first professional basketball game. He recently explained in an “All The Smoke” podcast interview with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes what that memorable first NBA game was like back at the start of the 2017-18 season.
Tatum says he didn’t get any sleep the night before his rookie debut. He explained how he didn’t think he was nervous until he started shaking during warm-ups when James ran past him. Tatum explained how in the first shot he ever took in the NBA, reports LeBron Wire, James shut him down.
He said, “I thought I was wide open and going to get my first bucket and calm down. I tried to lay it up, and I don’t know where LeBron came from. He came and sent it to the fifth row. I didn’t score until the second half.” When Jackson asked him how he felt, Tatum replied, “That was for sure my Welcome to the NBA moment. My first shot, LeBron came out of nowhere. I was shook.”
How Tatum got back at LeBron James
Tatum gained his footing throughout the season and went on to have a stellar rookie year, according to Essentially Sports. He got his payback in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. In the podcast interview, Tatum said it was “the most fun I ever had playing basketball.”
What became known as one of the ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 Moments, the forward described the crazy moment. He said, “I remember I got the ball and I turned the corner and everything kind of slowed down for a second ‘cuz I seen Bron and I was like, oh I gotta try to dunk.”
Tatum continued, “I didn’t think I was going to dunk it on him. I was like let me try to dunk it and hopefully, I get the foul or something. So for like five seconds, everything slowed down and as soon as I jumped I was like [snap]. I’m coming down on the ground, and I don’t know why but I bumped him, and I yelled in his face, and I remember he looked at me, and I was like, uh oh let me get back on defense.”
Barnes noted that James gave Tatum the best possible comment, saying the young player was “built for stardom.” Jackson noted that LeBron gave Tatum the nickname, “The Problem.” The young Celtics star said he has a poster of the dunk on his wall. He humbly noted that getting a nod from one of the greatest players is a “big deal.”