A few days before the Boston Celtics selected him with the third pick in the draft, Jayson Tatum was running around New York City. The 19-year-old was getting peppered with questions the whole day. When people weren’t asking about the draft, they were asking for photos and autographs. He popped up at our Draft Suite. Then he checked out Yankee Stadium up in the Bronx. And then he made it back down to the NBPA office in midtown Manhattan at the end of a long day to catch up with us again and talk about his new partnership with Panini America.
He was hours away from hearing Adam Silver call his name and getting his first trading card.
“The whole process is crazy,” Tatum says with a smile. “To see your face on a trading card, after you collected so many as a kid, your own one is crazy.”
Tatum’s not a kid anymore. At 6-8 and 205 pounds, the former Blue Devil has come a long way from growing up in St. Louis with his mother. Now he works out with Penny Hardaway and diligently studies Kobe Bryant’s footwork.
“It’s something that’s helped me out a lot,” he says. “I’m athletic, but I’m not the fastest or I’m not the highest jumper in the class but I always find a way to get my buckets. Footwork has always been a key for me because guys are usually faster than me or quicker than me. But I know how to use my footwork to get my shot.”
Tatum says he and Penny watch tape together to find different and easy ways to score.
“That’s one of Jayson’s great strengths, is his ability to create shots,” Celtics GM Danny Ainge said at Tatum’s introductory press conference. “We think he can create off the ball, coming off screens and shooting and we think we can give him the ball and he can create shots as well for himself and for his teammates.”
The Cs are all about cultivating a team. Sure, Isaiah Thomas averaged 29 points per game, but the whole squad contributed to their first-place finish in the East. They had five players average at least 10 points per game and they dished out 25.2 assists per game, tied for third in the League. Thomas is complemented by a core of athletic young wing players, meaning there’s room for Tatum to make an immediate impact.
During his lone season at Duke, Tatum overcame an early foot injury to put up 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1 steal and 1 block per game. His smooth midrange jimmy and ability to quickly bounce off the floor turned everyone’s heads, from Ainge to the team at Nike.
And Tatum, officially a member of the Nike family, has always kept his eye on the latest Swoosh sneakers, counting the “EYBL” PG1 as his current favorite sneaker. He also says that Hardaway is still rocking the Foamposites.
“Penny’s the King of Foams,” he says, smiling again. “I love all his shoes but the Foams are my favorite. [Penny] wears Foams all the time. We wear the same size so he’ll send me shoes.”
It’s been a long journey from St. Louis to Boston and it hasn’t always been easy for Tatum and his mother, Brandy. There were times when Brandy, who was a teenager when Tatum was born, struggled. Which is why Jayson plans to start a fund to help single mothers.
“It started in high school,” he remembers. “Me and my mom always talked about ideas for ways I could give back to St. Louis and we kind of wanted to be original. We looked at our own story, like What if somebody would’ve paid for our bills? How much easier would things have been?”
“Just always be positive,” Tatum says about the moments when life wasn’t easy. “I know how tough it can be at the lowest point. Just always have faith and keep believing.”
Ride Wit Jayson Tatum
Max Resetar is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @maxresetar.