Boston belongs to Celtics star Jayson Tatum now, and it's about time

Boston belongs to Celtics star Jayson Tatum now, and it's about time originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Sometimes it feels exasperating. Why do we obsess over a D-plus quarterback and his enfeebled head coach when Boston's greatest current athlete is lighting it up for the city's most exciting team?

After another woeful Patriots loss, hopefully we've just about flushed Mac Jones and Bill Belichick from our systems so we can turn our attention to the superstar who should own Boston, if he doesn't already: Jayson Tatum.

Ask any local kid to name their favorite athlete, and it's invariably No. 0. You wouldn't necessarily know it from the media coverage, which still skews heavily Patriots, conditioned as we've been to hang on every happening in Foxboro like it's the first wisps of smoke from Rome.

But the Pats have almost overnight morphed into yesterday's news, their struggles putting them in line for a top-five pick. Were any other Boston team playing this badly, we'd discuss them only to mock them, as the Red Sox well know.

Tatum's Celtics suffer no such issue. They're the league's last unbeaten team and Tatum is leading them. They improved to 5-0 with a 124-114 blitzing of the Nets on Saturday that saw Tatum put up 32 points and 11 rebounds in what is becoming an average performance.

It's time we appreciate him as a legitimate superstar. Unlike Larry Bird, Pedro Martinez, or Tom Brady, Tatum didn't grab Boston by the lapels. It's not really his style. But it has been plain to see since his rookie year, when he dunked on LeBron James in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, that Tatum was destined for greatness.

Now that greatness has officially arrived, sometimes it feels like we're the last ones to know it. Tatum's not only a first-team All-NBA player and MVP candidate, he's one of the faces of the league. You can see him in commercials ranging from Gatorade to Subway to Ruffles, where he argues with Charles Barkley from inside a vending machine. ESPN is featuring him in a pair of "This is SportsCenter" ads. He just launched his own sneaker under the iconic Jordan brand. He is only 25 years old and he is national.

And we're the ones who get to watch him every night. The wrist flexing and inconsistency that plagued him down the stretch last season feel like a thing of the past. Tatum might be the most unstoppable one-on-one scorer in the game, given his ability to shoot 3s, pull up in the midrange, bully smaller defenders, and finish with either hand at the rim. He's good for at least one, "You've got to be kidding me," basket a night.

But it's not just about raw numbers. Tatum has matured since he arrived as a 19-year-old out of Duke six years ago. He's quick to smile, he's self-deprecating, and he is embracing Boston in exactly the way we want. Whereas once we feared he'd be a flight risk, especially given the whims of NBA stars like his former teammate, Kyrie Irving, to constantly seek warmer climes and greener pastures, now it feels like Tatum isn't going anywhere.

"I love being here," he said after his historic 51-point outburst to eliminate the Sixers last May. "I love getting to put on this uniform." He sounded like he meant it.

If teams take on the personalities of their stars, that means this Celtics group is just … likable. Whereas Bird brought no-nonsense toughness as the East Coast counterpoint to Magic's glitzy Lakers, and Ortiz gave the Red Sox their swagger, and Brady simply made the Patriots inexorable, Tatum comes across as genuinely decent.

It's why I questioned the "Kiss of Death" moniker that never really stuck to his end-game celebration, since it runs counter to his personality. He started blowing kisses because his ubiquitously adorable young son, Deuce, liked it. A more appropriate name probably would've been "The Goodnight Kiss" to honor that parental connection.

In any event, Tatum is soft-spoken and humble, and he's growing into his own skin as a leader and spokesman. It was refreshing to hear him admit he didn't want to join the Celtics when they drafted him third overall, because he didn't think he was good enough to crack a lineup that included Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, among others.

We are long past that point, of course. Tatum needn't worry about ceding the spotlight to anybody, because it's his, which means Boston should forget about last place and put the focus where it belongs – on the best player on the best team in town.