Home Sports Jayson Tatum is a superstar and a mere mortal. Why aren’t we OK with that?

Jayson Tatum is a superstar and a mere mortal. Why aren’t we OK with that?

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CLEVELAND, OHIO – MAY 11: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics looks on before game three of the Eastern Conference second round playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on May 11, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio . NOTE TO USER: The user expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading or using this photograph, the user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

For some reason, we want our NBA champions to have what we call “killer instinct.” Michael Jordan personified it. Kobe Bryant did the same. Kawhi Leonard might have gotten there for a minute.

In what other world would we enjoy this? Where else would Jordan be praised? reprimandingeven punches — teammates, calling them “fat” “idiot” “losers” and “garbage men“, stating, “I’m going to ridicule you until you reach my level.“Chicago Bulls fans booed the late architect of a six-time champion in front of his widow for no reason other than the way Jordan portrayed him.

Bryant’s legacy is more complicated. We barely meet the real Leonard, whose public image reflects a basketball-playing robot. Is this what we should really defend in the name of the killer instinct?

Which brings us to Jayson Tatum, more of a emo Superstar. And they kill him for it. Vulnerability is considered a weakness in sports until it isn’t, and the Boston Celtics forward floats in the middle.

All while recording another 33 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in a 109-102 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of their second-round series on Monday night. The victory gives his Celtics a 3-1 series lead, a 7-2 playoff record and an NBA-best +92 postseason margin of victory.

Imagine being so good at something that if you are not the best at it you are considered a failure. This is where Tatum’s career currently lives, and this is where he was coming from when, after a blowout loss to the Cavaliers in Game 2 of this series, he opened up to us.

“No one was there defeated or deflated,” Tatum said. “You never want to lose, especially in the playoffs. There’s a lot of things we can learn from, and we get it, right? The world thinks we’re never supposed to.” If we lose, we’re supposed to win every game by 25, and it won’t be like that all the time. We don’t expect it to be easy. We are playing against a good team. playoffs, so it’s going to be fun the rest of the series, especially Game 3. We’ve come back a lot. We lost, like, 16 games this year? pretty good the few times we lost.”

Where did Tatum go wrong? His Celtics responded, winning Games 3 and 4 on the road, where they are 4-0 in these playoffs. and the people do He acts like the sky is falling every time Boston loses. That’s how it was in the 2022 NBA Finals, when the veteran Golden State Warriors made the Celtics look like they were led by a 24-year-old (because they were). That was the case in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, when the Miami Heat played remarkably well in an upset victory. (Funny how we forget that Tatum played Game 7 with a sprained ankle.) It’s been that way after Game 2 of each of Boston’s two playoff series.

We hope Tatum’s Celtics win, because they are incredible. That’s all. They are not unbeatable. They are incredible. But we cannot accept that. You can’t just be awesome. You cannot be among the best players and among the best teams, both with a chance to win each season; you have to be the best. You have to win.

Except we put them in a no-win situation. Win, and you were supposed to. Lose, and we told you so. Totaled 66 points, 24 rebounds and 11 assists in two dominant, all-around efforts for a pair of road wins over the Cavs in a three-day span, and That’s the Tatum we should be seeing all the time..

I think that’s what Tatum was referring to when he gave us a rare window into his thinking the other night.

“That’s the narrative you see on TV, the idea that we have a super team,” Tatum said. “It’s double, right? We didn’t have the Coach of the Year. We didn’t have the MVP. We only had two All-Stars. So they say we’re a super team, but we weren’t rewarded like we are. But we know we have a good team. We are not perfect. We play the right way most of the time and we know we have to be better.”

Isn’t that a healthy mindset? At least it’s rooted in reality.

What other reason why Joe Mazzulla finished fourth for Coach of the Year than everyone believing in Boston’s 64 wins? ought roll the field? The Celtics had the same number of All-Stars as the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, all of whom lost in the first round. Boston is a great team, but it can’t be just that. When you’re great, you better win or you’ll be a loser. Is that how it works.

Jayson Tatum’s Celtics are held to incredibly high standards. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

What did they say about Derrick White when he first came to Boston? What did you think of the Marcus Smart trade for Kristaps Porziņģis? Why didn’t they think Jaylen Brown deserved a max contract? Who was willing to pay what the Celtics did for 33-year-old Jrue Holiday? When has anyone considered Al Horford elite? Forgive Tatum for thinking he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

After all, Tatum also doesn’t get any credit for sacrificing himself in the presence of his talented teammates. Do too much, lose, be criticized. He plays within the team, wins many games, receives criticism. Rinse, repeat.

Tatum came in sixth in MVP voting and we think he belongs there in any discussion of the NBA’s best. But we hold it to the standard we set for the best in the game. Because we’ve seen it get there. He dropped 50 points in a playoff win over Kevin Durant’s loaded Brooklyn Nets in 2021. He scored 46 in a must-win Game 6 against Giannis Antetokounmpo’s defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in 2022. He dropped another 50 against reigning MVP Joel Embiid in last year’s game. 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

If he did that every night, he’d be the greatest of all time. But is not. He is one of the best in the NBA, not the best at all. Sometimes he loses. Sometimes it’s not good enough. In other words: he is human.

And isn’t that what we should want from our superstars? What’s so fun about being immortal?

When the Dallas Mavericks won their championship in 2011, we appreciated it more for what Dirk Nowitzki had gone through at age 32: a decade of 50-win seasons that fell short of his goal. He was never considered the best player in the game, even when he won his MVP, but he was in the playoffs, defeating Bryant’s Lakers, Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James’ Heat on the way to his ring. .

We don’t know these things until they happen, so can we really appreciate them? Not as much as Nowitzki.

This is Tatum’s age 25 season, the same one as when LeBron left Cleveland for Miami. He is one win away from making his fifth appearance in the Eastern Conference finals. He has won 59 playoff games, four times more than Jordan at the same point in his career. And in this world none of that means anything without a ring.

Durant is the alternative. We killed him for joining the 73-win Golden State Warriors. He ran away from the Thunder, so his back-to-back Finals MVP titles have less value to us and, as a result, maybe to him, too. We don’t want our superstars to run away from routine, but we also confront them with it.

Heck, we weren’t willing to give Stephen Curry all the respect until he won a Finals MVP in his sixth trip to the Finals (against Tatum). We always found some reason to belittle him until he was undeniable.

We are already victims of this with Anthony Edwards. He is 22 years old, which compares him to Jordan. When his Minnesota Timberwolves took a 2-0 series lead against the defending champion Denver Nuggets, we scripted takes on how high he would climb (and how low Nikola Jokić would fall) in our pantheon once his team won the title, just for the narrative. to change completely in a weekend.

If athletes weighed their legacy at every step of their careers, as we do, there would be no joy in this game. They can succumb to it, and when they do, we will be there to punish them. Put pressure on them and blame them for not carrying it out. Until they do, and we try to share that too. I knew he could do it..

No, you didn’t. We’ve spent 20 years debating every step of LeBron’s career, criticizing him every time he loses when he shouldn’t have and he wins when he should have. And that’s LeBron James. What hope does anyone else have of avoiding this pitfall? Gamers might as well enjoy the ride, because we certainly didn’t.

Deep down, we understand this, even as we criticize Tatum for expressing it. Keep it to yourself, so we can create the facade of a killer’s instinct. Because if Tatum wins with the Celtics, we may have to look inward.

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