Jayson Tatum was just three years old when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal won their first of three NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. Watching Bryant's career from his home in St. Louis, Tatum grew up idolizing the basketball legend. Seventeen years after watching Bryant win his first championship, Tatum entered the NBA as a member of the Lakers rival, the Boston Celtics. However, Tatum's relationship with the Celtics didn't stop him from developing a relationship with the NBA legend. Bryant severed as a mentor for Tatum both on and off the court. The five-time NBA champion also analyzed Tatum's game as a part of the ESPN series, Detail. Tragically, the bond that Tatum and Bryant shared did not develop in all that it could be due to a horrific helicopter accident that killed Bryant, his second oldest daughter and several others in 2020.
"It was such a surreal moment, for me. Just being in his presence, and being able to work with him,” Tatum said about the opportunities he's had to work out with Bryant.
"Even in that moment, all I could think about was he was the reason I started playing basketball. To have him reach out and try to help me, and want to work with me, was something I will never forget.”
While Bryant is gone, Tatum has continued to carry on his legacy. The Boston Celtics forward will wear Bryant's Olympic number when he represents Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics.
"With this being the first Olympics since we lost him, it holds that much more value," Tatum said about wearing his childhood idol's number.
"It's not something I take lightly."
Tatum's teammates also recognize the importance of wearing a number that represents a player that has inspired nearly every member of Team USA. Bam Adebayo, who played with and against Tatum during their younger days, was excited for his friend to have this honor heading to Tokyo, Japan.
“For JT to have this moment, I’m happy for him, genuinely,” Adebayo added.
“I’ve known JT since I was 12. He deserves everything he’s getting and he’s going to keep deserving more because he’s such a great player. I’m happy for him. That’s his idol, and he gets to represent that number. I know he’s going to have that ‘Mamba Mentality’ when he puts that 10 on.”
Team USA will open their campaign in Tokyo, Japan on July 23.