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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Jayson Tatum is becoming a superstar before our very eyes

On Friday, April 30, the Boston Celtics played one of their worst halves of basketball in a season. They were being blown out by the middling San Antonio Spurs, down 32 points at their nadir, and were savagely booed by the TD Garden faithful while heading into the locker room. The second half, however, gave the loyal green team plenty to cheer about. The Celtics came back from their deficit, and ended up winning the game. This was largely due to the effort of one man: Jayson Tatum. The Celtics’ 23-year-old prodigy scored an absurd 60 points, tying a regular-season single game record set by Larry Bird back in 1985. 

Tatum was the 4th overall pick out of Duke University by the Celtics in the 2017 NBA Draft. He has since blossomed from prospect into one of the preeminent players in a league dominated by larger-than-life superstars. Tatum was named to the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie Team, and in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland, had a memorable dunk on LeBron James (albeit in a game and series the Celtics would end up losing). 

Despite a sophomore slump in 2018-19, Tatum broke out in a big way in ‘19-20. He averaged 23.4 points per game while shooting more than 40% from three. He also averaged 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, helping his team win in all phases of the game. He was torching the league in the month of March that season, averaging more than 30 points a game. However, this hot streak was put on pause when the league suspended its season due to the spread of COVID-19. 

When the NBA returned in its “bubble” at Disney World for the 2020 playoffs, Tatum continued to perform. He averaged almost 26 points, over 10 rebounds and five assists in the playoffs, which saw the Celtics fall in the Eastern Conference Finals to Miami. Tatum’s 2020-21 season has been strangely inverse; he has put up sterling numbers while his team has disappointed in a year where they were expected to be one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference. Tatum contracted COVID-19 during the season. He managed to return, but still says that he still has breathing problems and fatigue as a result of his diagnosis. Nonetheless, he has put up career highs in points per game (26.5), rebounds (7.4), and assists (4.4). 

Tatum has had to shoulder his share of criticism this season over his team’s underachieving. Former Celtic and current NBC Sports Boston analyst Kendrick Perkins openly questioned whether or not Tatum was mature enough to be the leader of the Celtics. Tatum has openly discussed this, saying that he has heard the criticism, and that this has only motivated him to elevate his game even higher. He said after his 60-point performance on Friday “I have the utmost and highest expectations for myself and where I’m trying to get to and where I want to be when it’s all said and done,” he said. “I know I’m young and I know I have a super-long way to go, but I’m determined to get there.” 

The Celtics, as of this writing, are still a playoff team, although they may have to suffer the humiliation of going to the “play-in” tournament for the 7-10 seeds in each conference. Maybe they’ll be one-and-done. Maybe they’ll make another title run. Whatever happens, one thing is clear: they may only go as far as Jayson Tatum, the man who wears number zero, will take them.

About the Contributor
Jack Sherman, Sports Writer