Jayson Tatum is on top of the world.
The Boston Celtics small forward, who starred first at Chaminade then Duke before entering the NBA, will compete in his first NBA All-Star Game this coming weekend in Chicago. He has quickly become the Celtics’ “go-to guy” in clutch situations, as was proven in his team’s 112-111 road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 9.
His 26-point, 11-rebound performance, which included several clutch three-point shots, was key to the come-from-behind win.
As Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston wrote on Monday, “The Celtics offense started humming when it utilized the clever ‘get Tatum the ball.’ strategy. Whenever Tatum was on the bench, his absence was noticeable.”
He is averaging 22.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game – all career highs – for the 37-15 Celtics. He was drafted by LeBron James on Sunday for Team LeBron in the All-Star Game and then learned that he is the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time in his career.
Tatum averaged 29.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists last week, the Celtics went 4-0 and were riding a seven-game win streak heading into a Tuesday night road game against Houston.
If the Celtics’ MVP vote came today, he would probably be the winner.
When he steps on the floor as an Eastern Conference reserve, and plays in what should be the first of many All-Star Games, we have to go back three weeks. Instead of being atop the world, it came crashing in on him.
Tatum’s father Justin had joined him in New Orleans to take in the game between the Pelicans – with rookie Zion Williamson – and the Celtics.
A pregame ritual when the Tatum’s are together usually includes a pre-game meal. This time it was at a Popeye’s near the team hotel.
Suddenly, the younger Tatum’s phone began buzzing unceasingly.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people had been killed in a helicopter crash.
“I just (saw) his soul leave,” Justin Tatum told NBC Sports Boston.
“Because he thought he heard some news of Kobe's passing. We both couldn't believe it. We were energetic, talking the whole time. When we found out, it was just dead silence for the rest of the trip until we found out it was real news.”
It was real. Shockingly real.
Tatum’s advice to his son on that terrible day will probably drive him for the rest of his career.
“What you need to do is play through him and do what Kobe would like you to do,” Justin said he told Jayson.
“And that’s become a great player.”
Following Bryant’s death, Jayson Tatum said Kobe was “Somebody I really looked up to and really was like my hero, the reason I started playing basketball, to becoming a friend, a mentor, someone I could talk to and help me out with a bunch of things on and off the court.”
Tatum, his fellow All-Stars and the entire NBA world will use the weekend’s festivities as a tribute to the late Bryant.
“That was my next pick,” James shouted during the televised draft.
Tatum will get his first chance to display his All-Star talents during the weekend when he defends his title in the 2020 Taco Bell Skills Challenge as part of All-Star Saturday Night.
Beal blasts being snubbed
Another St. Louis area native is also having the best season statistically of his NBA career, but he was passed over as an Eastern Conference All Star – and he ain’t happy about it.
“I'm a little (ticked) about it,” Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal told reporters after he learned he was not selected as a reserve.
“I was kind of expecting it, honestly. It's disrespectful, but the real ones know, so I’m just going to keep competing and I'm going to try to get my team to the playoffs.”
At 18-33, the Wizards are three games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth – and final – Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Inspired by his team’s growing playoff chances and his All-Star Game snub, Beal has been on fire.
In the three games following his disappointing news, Beal averaged 35.3 points, including a 43-point performance against the Golden State Warriors.
Beal is averaging 29.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, which are all career highs.
He’s also sick of losing, and he recently let his front office know it.
“I don’t like losing, so it’s going to keep blowing up for me until we start winning and changing our culture,” Beal said in mid-January.
The culture he is referring to will only change “by winning games, having that winning attitude, winning habits.”
Beal, who signed a contract extension in October, cannot be traded until the offseason.
If Beal’s hope was for the Wizards to improve through a trade, he again was disappointed. His team did nothing before the trade deadline passed on Feb. 6.
For the first column of the year, I wrote that hopefully the coming months would not bring more scandal, cheating and untidy behavior to the area prep sports scene.
Well, the peace lasted all of six weeks.
In video that has gone internationally virile, a “cheer off” between East St. Louis and Trinity cheerleaders before a game in an Alton tournament erupted into a brawl that embarrassed themselves, their schools and this entire region.
Posted on YouTube, the incident is nearing 400,000 views.
A Trinity cheerleader got close to one of her East S. Louis counterparts. Pushing and shoving followed. Then the fist started flying.
Both schools have wisely cancelled the respective squads’ seasons.
“We expect our teams to conduct themselves in a manner that will protect the safety of athletes, officials, coaches and spectators at sporting events,” East St. Louis Superintendent Arthur R. Culver said in a written statement.
“We regret that our cheerleading team did not conduct themselves in a manner commensurate with these expectations.”
Trinity released a statement saying, the fight “was inconsistent with our mission. All Trinity Catholic students are ambassadors of our school and therefore are held to high academic, social and behavioral standards.”
The Reid Roundup
The St. Louis Battlehawks won their season opener in Dallas last Sunday and XFL games did well in the ratings throughout the region. Head coach Johnathan Hayes did an excellent job throughout the hard-fought game and sound bites of him during the game demonstrated that he is an excellent teacher of football… While it was expected, North Carolina A&T is leaving the HBCU filled Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to join the Big South. The move becomes official July 1, 2021. North Carolina A&T chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. said “This move makes great sense for our student-athletes, for our fans and for our bottom line. We will always have a place in our hearts for the MEAC.”… The Washington Redskins hired Jennifer King as a full-time coaching intern, making her the first black woman to hold this position in NFL history… Aja Smith has been signed by WWE as the first black female referee in the wrestling organization’s history. A tearful Smith was captured on video upon learning the news and she said, “Having this platform as a female, as a female of color, is really an honor and I'm so thankful to be given this moment.”… Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who has not played since the end of the 2016 season, says he has recovered from the snapped Achilles tendon that cost him a chance with the New Orleans Saints in 2018. He is training with Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman in Dallas and, based on a Tweet saying “I’ll see y’all there,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II might help out.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.