What should be heartening for Celtics fans, other than the rapid ascension of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, is that the cornerstones have built strong admiration for each other’s skills and personalities.
So, it was no surprise that the two appeared together on a Zoom call Wednesday night following the last-second win over the Heat to discuss the rioting at the Capitol and pregame talks about potentially boycotting the game.
The two took turns eloquently discussing the inequities they feel were apparent in how the Capitol infiltration by supporters of President Trump was handled by law enforcement compared with the Black Lives Matter and other social justice protests last summer.
It’s apparent that Brown and Tatum are becoming leaders off the floor, and what may be the two most talented athletes in Boston sports are forming a bond that should enable them to emerge as one of the NBA’s most dynamic tandems of the next decade.
The uniqueness of their bond is how it has been built. Brown’s natural leadership skills — he’s the youngest member of the Players Association executive committee — and Tatum’s growing comfort with his status in the game, have turned them into team spokesmen.
Other than Marcus Smart (who is in his seventh season), Brown and Tatum are the longest-tenured Celtics, despite being just 24 and 22, respectively. They have completely different personalities. Brown is an old soul, constantly educating himself on issues, searching for philosophical challenges but a fierce competitor on the floor. Tatum is his laid-back counterpart, father of a 3-year-old, an astute businessman who has yet to spend a dime of his NBA salary because despite being naturally shy, he has earned millions off endorsements.
They respect each other’s personalities and games. A prime example of their closeness occurred in the bubble last summer when they engaged in a 30-minute one-on-one game after practice. It’s was competitive, filled with trash talk but also mutual admiration.
What is encouraging for the Celtics faithful is Brown and Tatum understand how important each is to the other’s success. NBA tandems don’t always get along well on and off the floor. Larry Bird always thought Kevin McHale could work harder and become an even better player.
More recently, John Wall and Bradley Beal, the latter of whom will be in town with the Wizards on Friday night, were paired together to bring Washington back to prosperity, and they never quite bonded as they should. An injured Wall became envious of how much regard Beal received from the organization and wanted a trade.
There has been debate already this season about which is the better and more impactful player. Is it Tatum, with his near-flawless offensive game and ability to splash threes or use his length and grace to score buckets? Or is it Brown, whose passionate work ethic has enabled him to become one of the game’s best midrange shooters, as well as a 3-point threat?
The answer is: neither. Both are equally impactful and their numbers this season are quite similar in a handful of categories. Tatum is averaging 26.3 points, Brown 26.2. Tatum is a better rebounder, but Brown is a better defender. Each is shooting better than 41 percent from the 3-point arc.
Instead of comparing the two or trying to determine the more talented one, Celtics fans should celebrate that each of these third overall picks has flourished.
Do you recall who was taken with the pick after Brown in 2016? Dragan Bender, who is out of the NBA. The pick after Tatum in 2017? Josh Jackson, who is on his third NBA team. So, it’s no guarantee lottery picks will develop into superstars, let alone on the same team at roughly the same position.
And it was also no guarantee that Tatum and Brown would form a strong friendship or that they would complement each other on and off the floor. As Tatum has developed into more of a playmaker, he has sought out Brown on passes, such as last Sunday, when he found Brown open for a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 2-point lead in the final minutes of a narrow win over the Pistons, or Wednesday night, when he whipped a pass to Brown in the corner for a pivotal 3-pointer against the Heat.
Several minutes later, Tatum and Brown addressed the media but did not discuss the game. Instead, they talked about more important matters, and their personal growth and maturity was shining.
“I just think about our history, all the people that came before us, that sacrificed their lives in a much bigger way,” Tatum said when asked about becoming a positive role model. “That myself and [Brown] have the opportunities to live our dream, and that doesn’t go unnoticed, and it should be talked about more. I think we just have to carry that on in any way that we can. We’re role models more than just basketball players and our platform is huge. It would be wrong if we didn’t take advantage of that, the opportunities that we have, just to speak for all those people that don’t have voices like we do and share the same emotions and feelings that we’re feeling.”
It’s unfair to assume that all millennials, especially those from different backgrounds, are going to automatically connect, no matter how much it would mutually benefit them. In the Celtics’ case, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are more than teammates, they have formed a strong friendship, bonding over their similarities and respecting their differences.