NBA superstar Jayson Tatum recently signed a massive $195 million contract extension with the Boston Celtics, but he remains humble and speaks glowingly about his father’s success in the Australian NBL.
Wollongong, a regional city with a population of about 300,000 people an hour south of Sydney, is a long way from the bright lights of the NBA.
It’s where Justin Tatum calls home, creating his own basketball legacy in a region without the big NBA salaries in a humble gym called the ‘Sandpit’ that usually only seats about 4,000 loyal Illawarra Hawks fans.
While his son chases an NBA championship ring and racks up huge amounts of money, Justin started the year for a team struggling to make ends meet as an assistant coach.
The Hawks were left without a mother four months ago and their coach Jacob Jackomas was unceremoniously fired.
Justin Tatum is a rookie coach in the Australian NBL while his son Jayson is an NBA superstar with the Boston Celtics.
The father and son have always enjoyed a close relationship, pictured when Jayson was drafted into the NBA in 2017.
Since then, Tatum has turned the ship around, leading the Hawks to the NBL playoffs, fourth place in the standings, a real shot at winning a championship while also being nominated for Coach of the Year honors. .
Tatum, in his first job as a professional head coach, inherited a team that had won just two of its first nine games but finished the season in fourth place in the standings.
The Hawks have posted a 12-7 record under Tatum and will face the Tasmanian JackJumpers in a fairytale final on Wednesday.
While his hard work at the Australian regional club pales in comparison to what his son is achieving in Boston, Jayson was genuinely humbled when asked about his father’s season in Wollongong.
“I had to talk to him right before the (NBA All-Star) game started, you know the time difference is a little crazy,” Jayson said.
“He’s a finalist for Coach of the Year, he started as an assistant coach and you know, the head coach got fired halfway through the season.
‘They were in like tenth or eleventh place and now he turned everything around. They are in fourth place heading into the playoffs.
“Extremely, obviously, happy for him. Happy for what he’s been able to do there and change that organization.”
Tatum was thrown into the depths of the Illawarra Hawks when the head coach was sacked after a horrendous start to the season.
Since then, Tatum has led the Hawks to the NBL finals, been nominated for Coach of the Year and earned a three-year contract extension.
And Jayson said his father had no intention of returning to the United States permanently anytime soon.
“He loves it, he loves being there, he loves being in Australia,” she said.
“He says the games are extremely competitive, the atmosphere is crazy, so I hope they can continue and go all the way.”
“It’s been great to see him turn that around and have a lot of success there.”
In a boost for the Hawks, Justin Tatum signed a three-year extension to remain as head coach.
“I am grateful to the team, my assistant coaches and the Illawarra Hawks management team who have trusted me since I took over in November,” he said.
Tatum will continue to take advantage of Illawarra’s underdog status to inspire his players in the finals.
“People just don’t give us the respect we work for – I’m not going to say (the respect) we deserve, we work for this,” he told AAP.
“We were at the bottom and we figured out a way for the guys who were on different pages to find a way to work it out and be one of the top four teams.”
‘We still feel unappreciated. But at the end of the day we are okay with it because we have our self-respect.”