CLEVELAND — When pressed, Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum said he thinks about his future in Boston, his legacy with such a traditionally rich basketball city and franchise.
He’s 23 years old and already playing in his third All-Star Game, as he will start for Team Durant in Sunday’s NBA showcase at Rocket Mortgage Arena. And he also notes that he’s participated in All-Star Weekend for his first five years to date — the first two in the Rising Stars Game.
“The league is younger every year and I’m still only 23 but it’s my fifth time at All-Star, third time in the All-Star Game. I’ve been around the block a couple of times.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be here every year since I’ve been in the league. I think that’s a goal of mine, to always be at All-Star. I remember my first and second year, especially after my second year, saying I’m not coming back unless I’m in the game. I’ve been fortunate enough to make it since then.”
If he remains healthy and remains a Celtic, Tatum could break several franchise records as well as watch his No. 0 raised to the rafters of TD Garden or whatever the name of the hypothetical new Boston arena.
Tatum had no idea the Celtics released their all-time 75 team and also had no clue he received votes for the 15-man team. He did not make the club — 44-year-old Paul Pierce was the youngest on the team — but he was flattered by the thought that some fans and media members believed he is already an all-time great Celtic.
“That’s incredible to hear,” he said at Saturday’s All-Star media session. “But everybody I’m sure that’s on that list, accomplished so much, won championships, MVPs and things like that. I’ve still got a lot of things to do to be in that conversation but for some people to think I deserve that, I appreciate it. Those guys who came before me and put in a lot of work. I’ve got some catching up to do.”
There’s definitely a humility and respect Tatum has for the Celtics tradition and those who paved the path to success before him. He will stay postgame on March 13 when Kevin Garnett has his No. 5 retired, the second ceremony Tatum has attended in his five years.
He was there four years ago when Pierce watched his No. 34 immortalized.
What the Celtics — perhaps intentionally — relay to current and prospective players with honoring past players and acknowledging their tradition is that those who wear green and flourish in green will be enduringly appreciated for their efforts.
“I was there when Paul got his number retired. It was an incredible moment,” Tatum said. “Paul is somebody I looked up to, somebody I studied a lot and somebody I’ve really gotten to know over the years but [Garnett] was my favorite Celtic of all time. I don’t play like him. I don’t act like him but you can appreciate people that are different than you. And his swag and his attitude and what he brought to the game I was always a fan of. I’m looking forward to it.”
Tatum immediately seized the No. 0 after Avery Bradley was traded to Detroit, and if he continues his career path in Boston, it will be immortalized like Pierce and Garnett. He admittedly hasn’t considered the possibility, especially since the Celtics haven’t reached the NBA Finals in his tenure and championships are unofficial prerequisites to retired numbers.
So there’s even more motivation for Tatum to win in Boston. He has reiterated he wants to win championships over individual awards.
“Yeah, who wouldn’t want their number retired,” he said. “Obviously I feel everybody should aspire to get their jersey hung in the rafters because that ultimately means you accomplished something special. Hopefully, I can be around long enough and accomplish a lot of special things. I really ain’t thought about it much, getting my jersey retired, I’m thinking about more being in the moment. That would be incredible.”
What Tatum said has matured him is fatherhood. Jayson Jr., or “Deuce”, was born two months into Tatum’s rookie year with the Celtics. Deuce has become a popular figure in Boston, a fixture at Celtics home games, and tugging on dad’s leg during postgame interviews. When Deuce was posted on the Garden’s videoboard on “Kids Night” the crowd cheered vigorously.
“I definitely did not expect this,” Jayson said. “It’s cool and he enjoys it, every time he comes to a home game people cheer when they see him and they say his name and he comes to the games on the road and he’s at All Star. He has his own personality.
“I think that’s the plus of having a kid at 19. We’re growing up together. And I think it’s cool that he’s going to be able to see me as my career goes and as he gets older now, remember certain things and interact, so it’s definitely a plus.”
Tatum said his career growth is becoming more enjoyable because Deuce is becoming old enough to remember and digest dad’s signature moments, such as the All-Star Game. What is compelling and also encouraging for Celtics faithful is Tatum wants his son to remember him more as a winner than an All-Star.
The Celtics are rising in the Eastern Conference and Tatum has already been to two conference finals, but the ultimate goal is playing into late June, being the cornerstone that brings title No. 18 to Boston. That’s the number Tatum is consumed with now.
“A competitor, someone that’s always wanted to win,” he said. “Every time he comes to the game, I give it my all in my power to help us win. As you get older, in team sports, that’s most important, is winning and everything else besides that will follow.”