ATLANTA — While those Celtics faithful and the city of Boston realize the deep bond shared between All-Stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, All-Star Sunday in Atlanta allowed them to discuss their relationship and career arcs on an international stage.
Brown and Tatum are close friends, quite different people, but share a healthy respect for each other and their games. That doesn’t stop them from engaging in fiercely competitive one-on-one games after practice or exchanging trash talk about their matchup Sunday at State Farm Arena as members of opposing teams.
Their first matchup occurred in the Three-Point Shootout, which both admitted they had been working out feverishly over the past few days to win. Brown scored 17 and was eliminated in the first round, finishing sixth. Tatum advanced to the second round and finished in third place behind champion Stephen Curry (shocker!) and Utah’s Mike Conley.
Brown, however, was on the winning side of NBA’s showcase, scoring 22 points off the bench for Team LeBron in a 170-150 victory over Team Durant, which got 21 from Tatum.
“[Jayson] fouled me when he was on me,” Brown said after the game. “You know how that was going to go. Jayson fouled me, of course. It was just fun to be out there playing with some of the best players on the court in my hometown. I got fouled on a three and my brother came to pick me up. That moment right there we will never forget because family falls down you have you be able to pick them up.
“My grandpa [is a] cancer survivor, COVID survivor,” he added. “To have them at the All Star game was a great moment for us, a great experience.”
It should be refreshing and encouraging for Celtics fans to know that their two franchise cornerstones are close and share a championship goal. But the duo left their Celtics bond back in Boston for the weekend.
“We play each other so much one-on-one in practice that I’m sure if we’re on the court at the same time, it might happen,” Tatum said. “If it does happen, I know all of his moves. I know what he’s going to so, I ain’t going to let him score.”
Brown had different thoughts.
“JT? Nah. Nothing extra needed [to score on him],” Brown said. “Get them puppies moving and it’s a wrap. I’m looking forward to it. Me and JT obviously have played a lot. He thinks he knows my moves, but I’ll tell him all the time. I don’t have to do too much. He thinks he knows all my moves. It should be fun.”
Their bond formed during Tatum’s rookie year, when they both worked with former Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry on pre-game shooting drills. The drills quickly turned competitive and the duo pushed each other to improve and rooted for each other’s success.
“Just two young guys trying to prove themselves,” Tatum said. “He had gotten here a year before me. When I first got here, we had the same shooting coach. We always kind of shot together. We were just always in the gym, trying to work hard, trying to get better. Just trying to push each other. Playing games, shooting drills. Just came kind of natural.”
What is ironic about this young duo is how much they’ve accomplished at such an early age. Brown is in his fifth NBA season at age 24 while Tatum just turned 23 and has already signed a maximum contract extension that will begin next season.
When told that NBA G-League Ignite player Jonathan Kuminga has been compared to him as a player, Brown said he fully realizes he’s no longer a young player.
“I’m an old player now, you can say it. I’m getting old,” he said. “A lot of work has been put into where I’m at today. This experience is a win. A lot of adversity in my career. A lot of people have supported me despite the naysayers, despite all the pessimists, the fans, the media. I’m definitely happy. And the people with me I celebrate this with them together right now.”
Brown has emerged as a role model for his activities on and off the floor. He spent part of his media session Sunday speaking out against voter suppression in Georgia, which has been a major issue in his home state.
“To have other people looking up to me, and are influenced by me, I think that’s an unbelievable feeling because it hasn’t been easy,” he said. “There’s a long way to go. It’s just the beginning for even just to get to this point. There was a lot of roadblocks in the way and, mentally, I had to be very, very strong to be able to be a role model for somebody else.
“I’ve persevered through a lot so I definitely want other people, to inspire people who are going through anything in life to be able to persevere to whatever they’ve gone through, mental health issues, just normal adversity and having the growth mindset is what it’s about.
“A lot of times people message me and say you represent growth. I’ve been able to watch you play basketball. I’ve seen your growth. It makes me feel like I can continue to grow in my life. It’s nothing better when people say things like that. It’s a very humbling feeling.”
Tatum was asked about his individual career goals and he immediately shifted the question to team goals. Before the Celtics finished the first half with a four-game winning streak, Tatum felt his All-Star selection was tainted because the team was in a major slump.
Tatum’s ascension has been impressive but the Celtics haven’t reached the pinnacle in his time here. He wants to change that.
“First and foremost, I want to be a champion,” he said. “I think that’s why you play this game, to reach the highest level. That’s to win a championship. If that’s what you aim and that’s the ultimate goal. All the other individual accolades will take care of itself.
“Championship is the main, No. 1 priority. Everything else will take care of itself.”