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dan shaughnessy

It’s time for Jayson Tatum to focus on the prize that really matters, and other thoughts

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics have some unfinished business after last season's loss in the Finals.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Picked-up pieces while hoping my pipes don’t freeze and wondering why I came back from Florida …

▪ Enough with the MVP campaign, birthday parties, signature shoes, Subway sandwiches, and hunger for individual accolades.

It’s time for Jayson Tatum to step up and lead the Celtics to the NBA championship.

Tatum is clearly the most talented player on this Celtics team and is on a path to crack into the franchise’s all-time starting five (Bill Russell, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, Paul Pierce, Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett, Sam Jones, and Dave Cowens are my top nine). He was just named All-Star MVP and has a chance to break Bird’s team record for single-season scoring average (29.9 in 1987-88).

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Tatum turns 25 this coming week and is in his sixth season in the league. In Bird’s first six NBA seasons, he won two championships and two MVPs.

Tatum’s strengths are much talked about, and fans love him on a par with any current athlete in this town. He gets nonstop applause from Celtic Nation. He has been showered with MVP chants (not going to happen, people) on just about every trip to the free throw line at home this season. He can score from anywhere this side of midcourt.

But he hasn’t won a championship and there are times when he seems too much the embodiment of today’s American-born, AAU-groomed, egomaniacal NBA superstar.

He missed a game to go home to St. Louis for his son’s birthday party in December. Just before the All-Star break, he missed an important game in Milwaukee with a “non-COVID illness” (the Celtics subs lost in overtime), then came back to play the next night at home against the lowly Pistons.

After scoring 55 points and being named MVP of the All-Star Game (“the worst basketball game ever played,” said Denver’s Mike Malone, who coached Team LeBron), Tatum said, “To be able to wear my signature shoe today and break the record and take home this award of somebody that I idolized [Kobe Bryant], it’s a hell of a day.”

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Swell. But how about MVP of the Finals? Now that would be something.

Tatum has a lot of years to play, but this feels like a time when he needs to show us that the team comes first, and that he can succeed on the big stage. One year ago, he shot 37 percent and was a turnover machine in his first NBA Finals.

Missing the game in Milwaukee before the break was a bad optic. Tatum has carried more than his share of the load this season, but that was a bad choice for a night off (it was clear this was a “load management holiday,” given the way Tatum responded when asked about it later).

The Celtics came back from the break a mere half-game ahead of the Bucks in the Eastern Conference and want to be at home for any potential Game 7 vs. Milwaukee in May. Why give Tatum the night off vs. the Bucks, only to have him play the next night against the last-place Pistons?

Hall of Famer Ted Williams was perhaps the greatest hitter who ever lived. He batted .400, won two MVPs, and was an All-Star hero several times (MLB’s All-Star MVP is awarded the “Ted Williams Trophy”). But Williams batted .200 in his only World Series and never won a championship. He retired with his résumé incomplete.

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This is Jayson Tatum’s time. He has the sandwich, the signature shoe, MVP support from Celtics fans, and an All-Star trophy named after his hero, Kobe Bryant.

The MVP Finals trophy is named after Mr. Bill Russell.

That’s the one you want.

▪ Quiz: Name three Hall of Fame outfielders who batted left, cracked more than 3,000 hits, made it to at least two World Series, and lost every time (answer below).

▪ The Boston baseball experience is unlike any other. When Red Sox baseball boss Chaim Bloom was at Winter Weekend in Springfield, he had a random encounter with a couple of teenage fans who wanted the answer to one question and one question only.

“They wanted to know why we protected David Hamilton in November and not Thad Ward,” said Bloom.

Wow. In what other baseball town do teenage fans follow the nuances of the Rule 5 draft?

▪ For what it’s worth: Those Q&As with John Henry this past week were hardly dripping with support for Bloom. (Here at the Globe, we’re still waiting for Henry’s e-mail answers to questions submitted Feb. 17.)

▪ Optimism: The Sox were 52-34 outside the AL East last year. They were 26-50 in the division, but play 24 fewer division games this season.

▪ Hard to think of anything much cooler than Yankees catcher Jose Trevino going to his 4-year old son’s school “career day” wearing his uniform and full catcher’s gear.

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▪ Here’s the New York Times’s estimable Rory Smith on Liverpool’s 5-2 loss to Real Madrid Tuesday: “Liverpool’s players lolling and lagging as they dashed around in hopeless pursuit. It was an indignity too far … Somewhere deep inside this Liverpool team is the muscle memory of what it once was, and not all that long ago … Liverpool, suddenly, looked to be what it has been for much of the season: a mid-table Premier League team caught in the throes of an awkward, jarring transition.”

▪ Another reason to love LeBron: From Harvey Araton, New York Times: “The presumptive scoring king has also climbed into fourth place on the career assists list. That achievement reminded me of what his youth coaches in Akron … would tell me in telephone interviews: Never forget that James’s travel teams were not the standard group of regional stars trying to outdo one another in showcase tournaments; they were his neighborhood pals, best friends he enjoyed passing to, and that is why he indeed turned into a hybrid of Jordan and Johnson.”

▪ Five New York Post basketball scribes picked their NBA MVP at the All-Star break. All five named Denver’s Nikola Jokic. If Jokic wins, he’d be only the fourth player to win three straight MVPs. The other three are Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bird.

Denver center Nikola Jokic could be having another MVP season.Ron Schwane/Associated Press

▪ President Jimmy Carter attended Game 7 of the 1979 World Series featuring the Pirates at Baltimore. The Pirates won it, 4-1. It was a devastating loss for Earl Weaver. He’d lost to the Pirates in seven in ‘71 even though he had four 20-game winners and a stacked lineup.

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In ‘79, his Orioles led, three games to one, had Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer, and Scott McGregor lined up for the final three games — and lost ‘em all.

The mother of Pirates manager Chuck Tanner died during the 10-day Series.

When the president came into the losers clubhouse to console Weaver, he told Earl, “Sorry to hear about the loss of your mom.” Clearly, Carter hadn’t been properly prepped. In a gesture of infinite grace, Weaver flipped the awkward moment by telling the president, “No, Mr. President. That’s Chuck Tanner’s mom. But I’ve read a lot about your mom and she is great!”

▪ Authors David Maraniss and Jeff Pearlman engaged in a lively Zoom debate Thursday, sponsored by WGBH, on the topic “The Greatest Athlete in American History — Jim Thorpe or Bo Jackson?” Maraniss authored “Path Lit By Lightning — The Life of Jim Thorpe,” and Pearlman wrote “The Last Folk Hero — The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson.” An audience poll rated Thorpe the best, by a vote of 76-44 over Bo.

▪ Talking about Thorpe reminds me of another great athlete from way back in the day, swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. Baby boomers remember Weissmuller as the star of a dozen Tarzan movies. He also won five Olympic gold medals (1924 and ‘28 Games) and once saved 11 people from drowning after a boat accident in Illinois.

▪ Is Noah Song going to go down in history as Chaim’s Jeff Bagwell? If so, can we make Ryan Brasier Larry Andersen?

▪ In the spirit of the Ted Williams Tunnel and the David Ortiz Bridge, one of my readers suggests a Chris Sale Breakdown Lane.

▪ Speaking of Big Papi, the Wall Street Journal reports that Ortiz has listed his Miami-area mansion for $12.5 million. David and Tiffany Ortiz purchased the home for $1.5 million in 2016.

▪ A recent note about King Gaskins and CM basketball prompted a missive from Chris Visser, brother of former Globie Lesley Visser, who went on to a long television career and received the Rozelle Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Chris Visser’s South Hadley High team played against the undefeated CM champs at the Old Garden in the winter of 1969. Visser scored 9 points, but CM won, 85-63, on the strength of 35 points from Fran Costello (who played for Providence in the 1973 Final Four with Marvin Barnes and Ernie DiGregorio) and 20 from Billy Raynor, who went on to star at Dartmouth. Peter Gammons covered CM’s state championship final game for the Globe.

Lesley Visser didn’t put any of this in her book, but she was on the South Hadley cheerleading squad at the Garden in ‘69. While a cheerleader at Boston College, Visser found herself cheering for the New York Jets at Shea Stadium when BC somehow loaned its squad to the Jets for a game in the early 1970s. “I spent the whole afternoon trying to figure out where Willie Mays had played center field for the Mets,” she recalled.

▪ Quiz answer: Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, Carl Yastrzemski.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.