Jayson Tatum reflects on the fourth anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s death — Andscape
There are so many questions that Jayson Tatum wishes he could have asked Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant before he, his daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter accident four years ago Friday. And since Bryant’s death, the Boston Celtics star forward hasn’t been shy about reaching out to a mentor like NBA star LeBron James to acquire as much knowledge as possible.
“It is bittersweet. I can’t believe that he’s not here anymore. And the thing that I regret is I wish I would’ve called him more. I wish I would’ve texted him more,” Tatum told Andscape. “I just always thought he was so busy. I never wanted to bother him. We knew each other. He told me to text him, call him anytime. But I was almost scared. I can only imagine all the things he has going on. I don’t want to bother him. And obviously after what happened, I wish I would’ve reached out more. I had so many questions I wanted to know the answers to. I should have called him more and it taught me a lesson.
“Now I don’t hold back with older guys in the league now, like ’Bron. ’Bron is somebody that I text and call a lot, and it could be from basketball to how to take care of your body to business decisions off the court. People are willing to give you answers, you just have to ask.”
The following is a Q&A with Tatum in a promotional interview courtesy of Ruffles in which he reflects more about Bryant, his drive to win his first NBA title with the Celtics, becoming an NBA All-Star for the fifth time, hoping his teammates can join him in Indianapolis, returning to the Olympics and more.
While it’s been four years since Kobe’s passing, what kind of impact does he have and will continue to have all over the world?
The impact that he had on so many people around the world is so evident even to this day. Even for me, a kid that grew up thousands of miles away from L.A. that watched him play, watched his interviews and his workouts and just wanted to steal so much of his game and his personality and his mindset from him. And it is just cool how somebody so far away can have such impact on me and really is a huge reason why I am who I am today and why I made it this far.
And once I got to the league to be able to develop a relationship with him and get to know him somewhat of a personal level, he was my idol growing up. So, I always honor him when I can.
Of all the things that Kobe told you, what sticks with you the most today?
His mindset. He asked me, ‘How much would it mean to you to win a championship or be the best player that you can possibly be? What are you truly willing to sacrifice to be that, whether that’s being a good friend or being a good family member or sacrificing free time? Are you using this small window of time to maximize your abilities? How much does that really mean to you?’
You have made one trip to the NBA Finals in 2022 but fell short. What would it mean to you to get one of those NBA championships like the five Kobe has?
It would mean everything, right? This is my seventh year in the league and four conference finals and one Finals appearance, like you said. That’s the thing. That’s the only thing I really haven’t done and being so close and knowing how hard it is to get to that point and not getting over that hump. So, it is overdue. It is long overdue, but I got a good feeling about it.
What makes this Celtics team different than the other ones you have played on?
It is the most talented team I’ve been on by far. It’s the most selfless team. And not to say that other teams I have been on weren’t as talented or were selfish, but just the talent level that we have one through five and where we’re at in our career. We got Jrue [Holiday], who’s been a champion before. We got guys that’s made All-Star games, JB [Jaylen Brown] made All-NBA. I’ve been All-NBA first team a couple years in a row, guys have gotten paid and we are all just really just doing whatever it takes on a nightly basis to win.
And we’re all sacrificing. We don’t average as much as we did the year before. Nobody’s having career-high numbers, but we’re all sharing the wealth, everybody’s eating and we’re winning and we are having fun doing it.
The Celtics have won 17 NBA championships in their history. You’re reminded of it when you see the banners hanging from the rafters of TD Garden and from your practice facility. How inspiring is that?
It really is. And you play this game to be remembered. You play the game to inspire people. You play the game to be a champion, right? And I don’t know how long I’ll wear the Celtics jersey, but I want to be remembered as one of the best Celtics to ever play. And you can’t get in that conversation unless you win a championship. So that motivates me all the time.
You won a gold medal with USA Basketball on the 2020 Olympics team. Safe to assume you want to play for USA in the 2024 Paris Olympics? (Tatum is on pool list of 41 NBA players being considered for the 12-player USA Basketball team for the 2024 Paris Games.)
I was fortunate enough to be on the team that won in 2021. We went over to Tokyo and we won the gold medal and it was tough. We didn’t get the full experience. We couldn’t bring our family. There were no fans. Couldn’t go to any other events. So, what I really took away from it was I can’t wait for the next go-around because for one, I want to repeat, win another gold medal, but I want to get the full experience. I want to bring my son, bring my mom, my family to the Olympics and enjoy it the right way.
You’re expected to get voted in as an Eastern Conference All-Star starter. What would that mean to you to be voted in by the fans as a starter and also what selling point do you have for your teammates? How many of your teammates should be going to Indianapolis with you? (It was revealed on Thursday that Tatum was named an East starter.)
It is something I don’t take for granted. God willing, it’ll be my fifth All-Star game in a row and I’m not above that. While I do expect to make it with our team success, I don’t overlook it, man. For millions of people to go and vote and have almost 4 million votes almost seems unreal to me. There are so many guys in the league. There are so many people you can vote for and for you to vote for me. I never take that for granted.
Being an All-Star is extremely special and it’s something that I grew up as a kid watching. I have so many memories. So, I always enjoy being at All-Star Weekend. It’s so much fun seeing the best players in the league. I enjoy being around all the retired players that are around and you get to see those guys. It’s really like a brotherhood for my teammates. JB, KP [Kristaps Porziņģis], D-White [Derrick White] for sure have a strong case. A lot of the coaches [voting for reserves] will hopefully look at is the success that we’ve had as a team. Being the No. 1 seed all season, having the best record should get rewarded for that.
Ahead of the 2024 Ruffles NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, two winners will be hand-selected by you and WNBA star A’ja Wilson to kick off the action from the Ruffles Ridgeline, a 4-point line on the hardwood resembling the ridges in the potato chips. What was it like being in a Ruffles commercial with LeBron, A’ja and former NBA star Charles Barkley?
Yeah, that was dope. The only thing I wish we all could have been there together filming it together. But LeBron, A’ja and I were all on our personal bags in the vending machine we were trying to essentially get Charles to pick our flavor. So, it was cool. The interactive commercials when you’re with somebody else, especially people that you know, ’Bron, Chuck and A’ja, people always seem to enjoy those a lot more.
I would say my favorite flavor is my flaming hot barbecue. But I like A’ja’s. She got the twist. And my son Deuce likes her chips a lot and that’s one of my good friends. I’ve known A’ja since I was 15. So, if it’s not mine, then it’s hers.