Jayson Tatum’s first trip to the NBA Finals didn’t go the way he wanted.
The Celtics’ leading scorer had uncharacteristic shooting performances, scoring 21.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting as his team fell to the Warriors in six games.
Tatum’s father, Justin, gave his son some words of encouragement in an “appreciation post” on Instagram.
“These past 2 months you gave me the best Fathers Day gift a dad can ask for,” the elder Tatum wrote. “Seeing you competing at the highest level and making history. Has been a dream come true. I know the competitive nature in you feel defeated and that’s natural. But you won in my eyes. Leading the league in playoff minutes, being 45% of your teams offense and taking the Golden State Warriors to game 6. LiL-J hold your head up kid. You won in every category except for the Finals. Now you know what it takes. Love you son I’m soooo proud of you!”
Justin Tatum added a few hashtags to the post, including “#TrustMeHeWillBeBack.”
Tatum shared in an interview with ESPN’s Sage Steele in 2021 that his relationship with his father was tough growing up, saying they “didn’t do normal dad/kid stuff.”
“I was the number one player in the country in high school and I had other kids on my team that if they would score, I would see their dad stand up and clap,” Tatum said. “I could have 40 [points] and he would never clap. He would just sit there. He would leave, like I wouldn’t see him after the game.
“I would call him and say, ‘Did you see what I did?’ and he would say, ‘You were supposed to do that.’ It just drove me crazy. I would go to the gym, thinking if I do this, if I score 50, then maybe that would be good enough. Honestly, that drove me.”
As Tatum’s grown older, he said that his relationship with his father has gotten better. But his dad kept challenging him when he was a kid, even when Tatum had milestone moments.
“I called my dad and was like, ‘Dad, can you come home? I want to show you something,’” Tatum told Steele. “I remember I ran outside and I handed him the letter. He looked at it and tore it up in front of me and threw it in the trash.
“He was like, ‘Did they offer you a scholarship?’ I was like ‘no,’ and he was like, ‘Well, this don’t mean anything.’ I remember I cried for, like, two days straight.
“We have a much closer relationship now. But me always trying to get him to be proud of me or give me some type of acknowledgment, give me some credit, really fueled me to be who I am.”
Prior to the Finals, Tatum had the best season of his five-year NBA career. In the regular season, he scored a career-high 26.9 points per game and was the catalyst for the Celtics’ midseason turnaround, earning his first All-NBA first-team nod.
He kept that superb play up for much of the playoffs, scoring 46 points in an elimination game against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Tatum also scored 25 points per game in the Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals win over the Heat to earn the first-ever Larry Bird MVP.
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