FOXBOROUGH — Three special guests stepped off the hard court and onto the practice field at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
They were Celtics coach Brad Stevens and forward Jayson Tatum and Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who were there to observe the fourth practice of training camp.
Stevens, in a grey polo, shorts, and a baseball cap, walked onto the field with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, a good friend of his, but went and stood on the sidelines once McDaniels needed to go coach. Stevens and Nurse talked for a while, then the Celtics coach went and stood with Tatum to watch drills. When the Patriots huddled up to break down practice, a New England staffer motioned to the visitors to come on in and hear it happen.
As soon as practice was complete, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a huge basketball fan, made a beeline for Tatum. They’d never met, though Gilmore has been to several Celtics games. Gilmore said they mostly made small talk but that Tatum, in a black T-shirt, Celtics cap, and shorts, thought Patriots practice seemed tough.
“He was like, ‘How do y’all do it in the sun with all the pads every day?’ ” Gilmore said. “It’s totally different than basketball. He loved it. He had fun. And I love watching basketball, it’s harder than what you think.”
Gilmore was especially excited to tell Tatum how much he loves Kemba Walker. Gilmore, from South Carolina, is a Hornets fan and didn’t want Walker to leave Charlotte, but is now at least happy the point guard wound up in Boston.
Gilmore had gotten in touch with Walker earlier this summer shortly before Walker became a Celtic. Gilmore swears he had no inside info, but the two talked about trading jerseys. Now, they can trade a Patriots jersey for a Celtics one.
Even next to Patriots players, Tatum towered over most. He’d be a tough cover, Gilmore joked.
“Oh my God, I would have to press him,” Gilmore said. “That would be tough. If I was his height and I could move like him I’d be good. He’s athletic. He’s 6-9 and he can move like a point guard, very athletic.”
Rookie running back Damien Harris, another big basketball fan, had similar reactions to Gilmore.
“Jayson Tatum is a lot bigger than I thought he was,” Harris said. “You see these guys on TV and they look pretty normal but you see them in person and they’re huge. It was cool seeing him, I think it’s cool how all the pro teams up here kind of support each other. The Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and us, seeing that love that we all have for each other, that’s pretty cool.”
There wasn’t too much socializing since Patriots players had to stay on task, but Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio had a conversation with Stevens near the beginning of practice. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy took a moment between drills to go say hi and hug Tatum, who also hung out with a group of offensive linemen for a while once everything was done. Right guard Shaq Mason — Shaquille Olajuwon Mason, that is — seemed particularly interested in talking with him.
Gilmore said he wasn’t sure if there were plans for Stevens, Nurse, or Tatum to talk to the team as a whole, like Kobe Bryant did after visiting a Patriots training camp practice last summer. It’s easier to miss visitors at an NFL game than it is to miss someone sitting courtside at an NBA arena, though, so Gilmore said he was just happy to play host when he could actually say hi.
“Just happy to have them here,” he said. “We’ve watched quite a few basketball games.”