Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Kobe Bryant must be quite flattered up there in heaven thanks to Jayson Tatum.
Tatum, arguably one of Bryant’s most vocal fans and his most ardent disciple in this younger generation of NBA players, not only set the record for most points scored in a single All-Star game (55 points), but also won the game’s MVP award named after Bryant.
It was one of the few, if not the only bright spot in what was an underwhelming contest, which was a glorified layup line that was marred by injuries both prior to and during the game. Through it all, Tatum shined on the biggest stage with the brightest stars. It also wasn’t a bad time to debut his signature shoe.
While everyone was busy taking a lot of shots from within center court, Tatum went to work as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The layups, dunks, and jump shots mostly came from what he normally does on a nightly basis, with the added flair serving as an extra special treat for the fans in attendance. The porous defense made it much easier for the four-time All-Star to get high-percentage shots and even when everyone was walking to the other side of the court, Tatum was running and eagerly anticipating lobs from his teammates.
Of course, winning the MVP trophy was in itself a nod to his idol, but Tatum’s effort throughout the game was perhaps the true tribute. Bryant himself treated the All-Star game as if it were an NBA Playoff contest, rarely taking plays off even during a contest with not much implications. Normally, players feed the hot hand during the All-Star game, tilting the odds towards a particular player. Tatum, though, more often than not took things into his own hands and did so with authority and no mercy. It’s that type of tenacity that made the NBA name the award after the Laker legend and given Tatum’s performance today, he’s the next one to carry the torch.
All-Star Weekend is always a welcome respite for NBA players hoping to catch a break before the home stretch of the regular season begins. That Tatum was taking and making game shots would certainly bode well for him moving forward. Having been two wins away from an NBA championship has certainly been a means of motivation for the reigning Eastern Conference Finals MVP, who continues to raise his level of play in Year Six.
The Boston Celtics are certainly happy that Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who also played in the All-Star game despite recently suffering a facial fracture (thanks to Tatum’s elbow no less), came out of the midseason showcase unscathed. They did have some fun during the game, going at it with some 1-on-1s that may or may not ignite some trade rumors.
With a few days before the games resume, Tatum, Brown, and the Celtics will look to improve on last season’s run that saw them close the regular season as the best team in the league. Of course, it took a team effort to put on that stellar run, which culminated with an NBA Finals appearance. But much of that started with Tatum, who set the tone with his play and his ability to get through to his teammates. In a way, his play during the All-Star game was a message to his teammates, who for sure were tuned into the contest. Now, all he could hope for is that the rest of Boston will follow his lead when the games resume.
Jayson Tatum won his first NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP award and it adds another feather into his cap as he inches closer to the man he idolized growing up. A scoring title and a regular season MVP award, among other things, remain but there’s only one more accolade that will put him firmly in the conversation with Bryant and his peers: an NBA title.