Jayson Tatum grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant as a kid in St. Louis. When he was drafted into the NBA by the Boston Celtics in 2017, Tatum quickly emerged as one of the best young wing scorers in the game, and Bryant took notice. The Lakers legend took the young Celtics star under his wing, training with him in the offseason and analyzing his film session for Bryant’s ESPN show.
Tatum has continued to do everything he can to keep Bryant’s legacy alive after his tragic death in Jan. 2020 helicopter crash. Tatum posted an emotional Instagram tribute to Bryant after his passing, and has honored him in subtle ways throughout Boston’s run to the NBA Finals this season. Tatum recreated Bryant’s SLAM Magazine photoshoot earlier this year, then rocked a No. 24 armband in the Celtics’ Game 7 win over the Miami Heat.
Boston took Game 1 off the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals despite shooting 3-17 from the field. Ahead of Game 2, Tatum showed up wearing some vintage Celtics gear to practice. Astute observers noticed it was the same outfit Bryant once wore to his draft workout with Boston in 1996.
ESPN’s Baxter Holmes wrote a feature on Bryant’s draft workout with the Celtics several years back. Bryant was entering the league out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, and wowed the Celtics front office in a private setting. Boston was reportedly extremely tempted to go with the high schooler with the first round pick, which was No. 6 overall, but instead opted for Kentucky Wildcats star Antoine Walker.
Bryant would of course go to Boston’s biggest rival, the Lakers, and win five championships with the franchise.
It might seem unlikely for a young Celtics star to idolize a Lakers legend, but clearly the connection between Tatum and Bryant goes beyond the rivalry between the two teams. We’ll see if Tatum can live up to Bryant’s legacy the rest of the NBA Finals.