Jayson Tatum Jr. is everywhere.
Wherever his father goes, he goes.
When Jayson Tatum made his first All-Star game as a reserve, Tatum Jr. wore a custom T-shirt to deliver the news. When the Celtics went to Walt Disney World for the completion of the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, Tatum Jr. went down as soon as family members could join the bubble. When the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals this past June, Tatum Jr. didn’t miss a stop throughout the playoffs.
Tatum Jr., known universally by his affectionate nickname Deuce, might have the busiest schedule a 4-year-old can have. He jet sets. He stays up late. He takes photographs with rapper Gucci Mane and 76ers center Joel Embiid.
Deuce misses almost nothing when it comes to his father’s basketball career.
He had to skip the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, where his father won his first gold medal, but if there’s an important game stateside, Deuce is usually in the building. He’ll toss some passes during warm-ups, watch the action courtside with Tatum’s mother (Deuce’s grandmother), and occasionally tag along for a postgame interview.
As Tatum’s stardom has exploded, so has Deuce’s celebrity.
“Deuce is the coolest little kid ever,” said Celtics center Robert Williams. “He’s way cooler than his dad, obviously.”
So, what exactly makes Deuce so cool?
“I think it’s because he don’t talk a lot,” Williams said. “I think that’s what it is. He’s silent. He ain’t going to give you too many words. That’s the best thing about him. He’s a mystery.”
Even though Deuce stays fairly quiet, he hardly flies under the radar.
With his different colored eyes (the left is blue, the right is brown), brown curly hair, and adorable matching sweat suits, Deuce has quickly become a beloved figure in Boston.
In Tatum’s favorite moment of the past season, Deuce reached out from the sidelines to swat Marcus Smart’s behind on an inbound pass. Smart shared after the game that he not only felt the hit, but he was actually expecting it.
“Deuce is always trying to attack me any time I come around him,” Smart said. “That’s just who he is. We all love Deuce.”
That feisty personality has started to show more and more as Deuce has gotten older. He is only 4 (soon to be 5) years old, after all.
“I feel like me and Deuce, we’re not as severe as Marcus Smart and Deuce, but we have a love-hate relationship, too,” said forward Grant Williams. “There’s days where he comes in, gives me a hug, says, ‘What’s up?’ and daps me up. There’s other days where he looks at me crazy, kind of gives me a mean mug, punches me a few times, and keeps it moving.”
The Celtics’ locker room has embraced Deuce’s presence, as has the fanbase.
When Deuce is on the court before tip off, fans shout his name and take pictures as if he’s a player. When the jumbotron shows him during the game, the crowd will typically let out an extended, “Deuuuuuuuce,” à la the old “Youuuuuuuk” at Fenway Park for former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
Tatum and Deuce’s mother originally planned to name their son Jaxxon, but once the baby was born, Tatum pushed to make him a junior because he felt there was an uncanny resemblance between the two. Tatum didn’t want his son to go by Jayson Jr., though, so they needed to come up with a nickname. Hence Deuce.
Now the moniker is ubiquitous among the Celtics community.
“Deuce is the real superstar in Boston,” Tatum said. “It’s crazy to see the reception and the attention that he gets. When I found out I was having a child in my rookie year, never in my wildest dreams did I think that he would be as big as he is.”
Deuce was born six months after the Celtics drafted Tatum third overall, so it should come as no surprise Tatum calls 2017 the biggest year of his life. He’s made a concerted effort to keep both fatherhood and his career at the forefront.
“My mind-set was not to sacrifice either, that I was going to be the best father I could, as well as the best basketball player,” Tatum said. “There was no guideline or there was no, you know, exact way to do it.”
The public connection between the two spotlights all Tatum does to seamlessly incorporate Deuce into his professional life. He stressed much of what he does is simply what’s natural for his family. Having Deuce around is what works best for them, especially given the elder Tatum’s mom, Brandy, and her availability to watch Deuce (she’s the one sitting courtside with him each night).
Before every game at TD Garden during the postseason, for example, Tatum stood in the same spot on the parquet. When the teams lined up for the evening’s rendition of the national anthem, Tatum always took his place on the sideline opposite Boston’s bench so that Deuce could nestle up against his legs.
Those seemingly small interactions are just some of the many snapshots in the duo’s ever-expanding memory book.
“I think it’s the coolest part for me,” Tatum said. “If I am a role model for young fathers around the world, that’s great. I think we need more role models like that — just to have more male fathers be present and show that you can do both.”
Perhaps the photos of Deuce and Tatum will age in the same way as those of Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry and his father Dell, who played 16 NBA seasons.
Tatum isn’t going to put any pressure on his son to become a basketball player, but Deuce certainly seems to have taken a liking to the sport. He has a Celtics-themed bedroom complete with a basketball hoop, and also had some fun at Tatum’s youth camp this summer.
Apparently his skills are starting to show.
“He’s a great passer,” said Grant Williams. “He’s a better passer than his dad sometimes. Honestly, though, he’s gotten so much better, too. He can dribble with both hands now. His jump shot looks good. He’s on his way. He’s coming.”
Asked about Deuce, Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren joked: “League rules prevent me from talking about players who are not yet eligible for this year’s draft, so I won’t be able to comment.”
Soon, starting with elementary school, Deuce will have a busy life of his own. For now, though, Tatum relishes the opportunity to share nearly every step of his journey with his son.
“I was 19 when I got drafted,” Tatum said. “It’s kind of like we’re growing up together. As he’s gotten older, I’m going through my career, so we’re sharing these moments and experiencing this together.”
And the rest of the Celtics are on board for the ride, too.
“I love Deuce, man,” Robert Williams said. “Who can’t love Deuce?”