Prior to the compliment, however, Pop playfully trashed Tatum’s poor defense in front of his USA Basketball teammates last summer.
The 21-year-old took those words to heart, working harder than ever to become a two-way force, and earned his first NBA All-Star selection.
“I wish I could be you!” boomed USA Basketball coach Gregg Popovich, striding toward the young Boston Celtics forward in a film room in China. “Then I could stand in the corner with my 7-foot-long arms down by my side and not move while players go past me!”
He motioned for Tatum to take a seat on a bench next to the elevator, slung his arm around the 21-year old, and explained why he singled him out.
“Do you know how special you can be?” Popovich asked. “There are very few two-way players in our game, and you have the opportunity to be one of them. You could be like Kawhi [Leonard] and Paul George.”
Tatum was so surprised he didn’t answer at first, prompting Popovich to hastily add, “I hope I haven’t offended you.”
“Offended me?” Tatum said. “That’s a compliment!”