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One-on-one with Jayson Tatum: On becoming a superstar, Jay-Z, and being a basketball dad

Jayson Tatum reflected on how quickly his time in Boston has gone by: "This is my sixth year. I remember when I got drafted, I couldn’t imagine what I’d be doing in six years and just, like, you blink and it’s here. It just goes by so fast."Barry Chin/Globe Staff

CHICAGO — Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has emerged as an MVP candidate while helping guide Boston to the NBA’s best record. He sat down with the Globe at the Four Seasons Chicago for a wide-ranging discussion in which he talked about everything from his friendship with Jay-Z to what he’ll be like as a youth-league dad.

You’ve said how much the Finals loss to the Warriors grated on you. How might the experience be beneficial?

“For one, not taking the opportunity for granted, realizing how [expletive] hard it is to get there, and that there’s obviously a little bit of luck involved. The Finals are different with all the media, practice schedules, travel. It’s not a normal playoff series. I think going through that once, if and when we get back, will help us.”


When the team was 4-3 and on a two-game losing streak, you said the Finals helped you view the regular season’s ups and downs through a wider lens.

“Even the situation I’m in now, the last few games I haven’t shot well. In previous years, I would have been somewhat stressing about that. You realize you get to the Finals, it’s like, [expletive] what happened in December or January doesn’t matter at that point. Obviously, you want to try to figure it out and get better, but you realize there’s so much more basketball to be played.”

Do you have any concerns about the team?

“Well, our defense has gotten a lot better, and we still don’t have Rob [Williams]. People don’t understand how valuable and important he is to our team and our success. He doesn’t score a lot of points but just his presence on both ends makes us that much better. It’s kind of damn-near impressive what we’re doing without Rob.”


You seem to prefer a low profile and a tight circle. What’s a part of becoming a superstar that’s been challenging?

“I think just the more I play, the more people recognize me. The Finals elevated that a lot. Just the sense of normalcy. Anywhere you go, people do things like pull their phone out and record you. I guess that sense of privacy is gone. And obviously if I’m with [4-year-old son] Deuce it makes things a little tough. But I guess if you’re one of the best at what you do, people are going to know who you are.”

What makes it tougher when Deuce is with you?

“He doesn’t fully understand. He knows Dad plays basketball and that everybody knows who his dad is. He doesn’t necessarily like when people ask me for pictures when we’re out. He gets, like, overprotective, because he feels like people are taking the time away from him. So I don’t really take pictures and stuff when I’m with him, because I know he doesn’t really like that. When we’re together, he wants the attention.

“When I call him while I’m on the road, he’ll say, ‘Daddy are you in a game today? OK, well make sure you get a lot of buckets. Make sure you dunk on the other team.’ ”

What do you think you’ll be like as a youth-league dad?

“He’s already played soccer and T-ball. He asks me all the time if he can play on the basketball team. I’m just kind of hesitant, because I don’t know how I’ll be as a basketball dad. Then, just like dealing with other parents, dealing with people recording him at the gym. So I’m a little hesitant to put him on a team just yet. But he keeps asking me.”


Aside from the privacy aspects of it, what do you think it’ll be like for you?

“It just all depends if he really loves it and shows that he really, really wants to do it, or if it’s just for fun. If it’s more for fun, I’ll just be laidback, chilling. But if he shows it’s more him wanting to work on his game — I’m not going to force it on him, but if he shows that for himself, I’ll take a lot more hands-on, helpful approach.”

Who are some opponents you watch and study?

“I watch a lot of [Kevin Durant]. I watch a lot of [DeMar] DeRozan. I watch some older clips of Kawhi [Leonard]. I love watching [Joel] Embiid play. I love watching Giannis [Antetokounmpo] play, even though we’re two totally different players. One thing I realized is playing some of these guys in the playoffs, you gain so much more respect for them.

“Steph [Curry] and those guys [on the Warriors], you realize how hard it is to get to the Finals, and they’ve been to that [expletive] six times and won four. I gained so much more respect for them.

“Jimmy Butler and how much of a competitor he is. I feel like he doesn’t get enough credit. Obviously, he misses games and isn’t the most flashy guy, but that’s one of the best players in the league. If you had to pick somebody on your team to go to war with, you’d definitely pick him.


“And Giannis, I don’t think he gets enough credit for being the best player in the world and how he just impacts the game. So playing against those guys in the playoffs, I kind of watched them differently.”

Tatum (right) is not sure the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo gets enough credit as the best player in the NBA.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Do you look for things to add to your game?

“Joel’s footwork in the post, just how he moves so gracefully. To be that big and how effortless and smooth it looks. Steph, how he moves without the ball and is probably one of the best screeners in the world. He draws so much attention. That’s something I’ve tried to do a lot more is play off the ball and still be effective.

“Jimmy, just how hard he competes, especially on the defensive end. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes for his team to win. Giannis is the same way. I just like watching him play, just how hard he plays.”

What younger players do you enjoy watching?

“I like Scottie Barnes a lot. I like the kid from Detroit, Jaden Ivey. Obviously Paolo [Banchero]. Chet [Holmgren], when he gets to play next year, I’m excited for him.”

Tatum has been impressed by the skills of Toronto's Scottie Barnes (left).Graham Hughes/Associated Press

Are young players starting to seek advice from you?

“I talk to Paolo frequently. I talked to him a lot when he was in college. If he needs something, he can reach out. I talk to guys at Duke now. I’m trying to grow into that role.”


How would you describe your relationship with Jaylen Brown?

“We’re cool. We’ve been on the same team for six years now and we’ve been through a lot. With anything, you get closer with somebody as time goes on. We’ve always had a great relationship. I’ve known him since I was in high school and it’s only going to continue to get better.”

What have been your impressions of interim coach Joe Mazzulla?

“Just how prepared he is, and his ability to make sure we’re all prepared. That healthy balance of understanding it’s a long season as well as making sure everybody is on the same page about where we’re trying to go.”

What’s been the key to your durability?

“I saw I played the most minutes in the NBA last year. Obviously I’m fortunate and blessed to not have had many injuries, but I do pride myself on always being available.

“The front office gets, not mad, but they definitely wish I would rest a little more and sit some games out. There’s been times where two weeks in advance we talk about, ‘Let’s take this game off.’ And I’ll be like ‘All right.’ Then the day comes and I’ll be like, ‘[Expletive] that.’

“I think that’s just something that’s the kid in me. I always dreamed about playing in the NBA and never want to take that for granted. I just love playing basketball. There’s days they make me not work out. Sometimes I get mad when Joe takes me out of the game. I just always want to play.”

What’s the conversation like when they planned for you to sit and you say you’re playing?

“They just say, ‘All right, well, we’ve got to find a game here or there.’ And I’ll just say, ‘OK, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.’ But I guess it’s a good problem to have. I always want to play. I’m certain I probably won’t play all 82.”

Is there a part of your game you should get more credit for?

“That’s hard for me to say. I think people realize I play both sides of the ball, I don’t take games off, my playmaking has gotten better. Even hockey assists, [expletive] like that. But it’s hard for me to say what people should appreciate about me. I just go out there and try to do my best.”

What does being a good defender mean to you?

“Growing up, Kobe [Bryant] was my favorite player. He played both sides of the ball. When I got in the league LeBron [James] made so many All-Defensive teams, Kawhi was the best two-way player. Looking at Kawhi when I was coming up, I said, ‘That’s somebody I want to be.’ ”

Over the summer, pictures came out of you hanging out on a rooftop with Jay-Z. What’s the story there?

“Juan Perez is like the head of sports marketing for Roc Nation and was at a couple of games when we played Brooklyn in the playoffs last year. We know a mutual friend and Juan texted me, ‘Yo, great series. Me and Jay watch your games all the time.’ I was like, ‘Damn, I didn’t even know Jay knew who I was.’ He was obviously my favorite rapper and one of my favorite people to appreciate.

“And I remember the morning of Game 1 [of the Finals] Juan was like, ‘Me and Jay are coming to watch you play. We want to see you play.’ I saw Jay at the game, said what’s up and talked to him a little bit. Then I was in New York this summer and Juan said come to the office to have lunch. We’re walking down a hall and Jay-Z was like, ‘I’m gonna come eat with y’all.’ And I spent like seven hours with him.”

Seven hours?

“Seven hours. It was me, Kevin Hart was there. It was one of the craziest days of my life, because it was random. Just being in a circle with those guys talking about business, telling stories, sitting there just listening literally for like seven hours. I was just like, ‘This is my life?’ ”

You’re turning 25 in March. You still have a long career ahead, of course, but have you thought about pursuits outside of basketball?

“Investing. And I have my own candy company coming out pretty soon. Things that will set me up when I’m done playing and have the free time to do what I want to do.”

What’s the candy company?

“It’s called Small Wins, a sugar-free candy company. Essentially replaces sugar with fiber, just giving kids a still cool but healthier option for gummies and suckers. It’s something we’ve been working on for about a year.”

How would you assess your time in Boston so far?

“It flies by. This is my sixth year. I remember when I got drafted, I couldn’t imagine what I’d be doing in six years and just, like, you blink and it’s here. It just goes by so fast.

“It’s all I know, being a part of the Celtics, being in Boston. Obviously, it’s been the best experience. It’s worked out for the best for me, the team, my family. I’m forever grateful. Grateful that Danny [Ainge] took a chance drafting me, grateful for Brad [Stevens] and Ime [Udoka] and Joe coaching me. I give all those guys credit, so I think it’s special just being here.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.