MIAMI — When Jayson Tatum was a child, he watched Kobe Bryant do magical things for the Lakers and decided that one day he wanted to do magical things for a basketball team, too.
That was not an unusual feeling for aspiring players who watched Bryant, of course. It’s just that few actually got to the point where they could roam in his orbit.
But Tatum became a star, and as a Celtics rookie in the spring of 2018, he was humbled when Bryant broke down his game in an ESPN segment. Then that summer, Bryant actually invited Tatum to train with him, and Tatum could hardly believe it.
“It was such a surreal moment for me just being in his presence and being able to work with him, because even in that moment, all I could think about was that he was the reason I started playing basketball,” Tatum said Tuesday morning.
“And to have him reach out and try to help me and want to work with me is something I’ll never forget.”
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles Sunday.
“Everybody knows how much he meant to me,” Tatum said. “From somebody I really looked up to and really was like my hero, the reason I started playing basketball, to becoming a friend and mentor, somebody that I could talk to and help me out with a bunch of things on and off the court. So it’s been a tough couple of days.”
Tatum said he was drawn to Bryant’s work ethic and compassion, as well as the way he carried himself. He and other young players were grateful that Bryant became such a willing mentor after retiring from the NBA in 2016.
“He was a teacher,” Tatum said. “He had his hands on a lot of young guys like myself and a lot of other guys in the league. He reached out and helped anybody that wanted to be helped and had questions. He was always willing to give his insight and help any way he could.”
Tatum was asked what Bryant’s legacy should be.
“Obviously everybody knows how great of a basketball player he was, the tremendous things he did on the court,” Tatum said. “After he retired, you could really see how much he loved his family, his wife, his kids, how much he enjoyed being around them and spending time with them.
“I guess just how great of a father he was. I think people should shine light on that more.”
Hayward blows whistle
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward reiterated Tuesday that he did not intentionally commit a lane violation to help ensure that Bryant reached the 60-point mark in his final NBA game in 2016.
“A bunch of my friends were hitting me about it, and just wanted to get ahead of it and speak the truth about it,” Hayward said. “It would have been really cool if that was the case, but it wasn’t.”
The story emerged Monday when announcer Mike Tirico, who called the game for ESPN, said in an interview with The Ringer that Hayward intentionally stepped into the lane before Bryant’s final free throw of that game, so that if Bryant missed, he would have another attempt. Video of the play appeared to back up Tirico’s account.
The reverence for greatness in the NBA is at a different level than in any other sport. @miketirico explains to @ryenarussillo how a moment between Gordon Hayward and Kobe Bryant was the truest embodiment of that.— The Ringer (@ringer) January 28, 2020
Full pod: https://t.co/TjAPJOEZTt pic.twitter.com/02sn3AFKNK
But Hayward pushed back against the notion Twitter on Monday night, saying, in part:
“The fact of the matter is that is not true. That was a night that I will truly never forget as I can remember almost every moment of it and my goal that night was to compete as hard as I possibly could against Kobe because that is what he was all about and I wanted to give him my very best.
“He got 60 on me and I didn’t give him anything free all night. What happened on the free throw line was not intentional. Kobe would have lost respect for me if I gave him something free. That’s what made him so very special!”
On Tuesday morning, Hayward said he had never heard this theory until it emerged Monday.
“It just was kind of awkward,” he said. “All these people were sending me stuff about things that, or giving me praise, I guess, for something that I didn’t do, or deserve or anything. So I just wanted to set the record straight.”
The NBA sent pairs of Bryant’s signature Nike sneakers to teams around the league on Tuesday, and the coaching staffs of the Celtics and Heat both wore them in their game.
“It was cool,” Celtics guard Kemba Walker said. “I loved seeing Brad [Stevens] wearing the Kobes. Definitely different, definitely different. I loved it. Hopefully we can get those guys wearing those all year.”
Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie and Magic guard Terrence Ross reportedly will honor Bryant by no longer wearing No. 8 — one of the numbers Bryant wore as a Laker — this season. Walker wears No. 8 and said he was considering the gesture, too, but was leaning toward keeping the number.
“I definitely have tons of respect for Kobe,” he said. “Everybody mourns a bit different. For me, I’m thinking I’d love to honor him by wearing that number.”
“Kobe played hard each and every night and I would like to honor him by doing the same.”
“I am definitely thinkingabout it. But we’ll see.”
The Celtics remained considerably shorthanded for their game against the Heat on Tuesday. Tatum (groin strain) and Enes Kanter (hip bruise) both sat out for the third consecutive game, while forward Javonte Green was sidelined by knee soreness.
“I know how close [Tatum] is,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He worked really hard [Monday] and looked like he made good progress. Obviously with that type of an injury you have to be very careful.”
Stevens said Kanter, meanwhile, will be questionable for Thursday’s home game against the Warriors.