We’re Betting On Jayson Tatum — And So Should You

Jayson Tatum
COAT: Dolce & Gabbana SWEATSUIT: Twenty
WATCH: Hublot

Photo Credit: Bred Hampton




Jayson Tatum
FULL LOOK: Nahmias WATCH: Richard Mille RM 055 Manual Winding Bubba Watson

Photo Credit: Bred Hampton

IT’S HOW WE SURVIVE THE DOWNS IN LIFE that shows us what we’re really made of, right? For Jayson Tatum, this is particularly true, but with a twist: it took a championship loss to make the Boston Celtics star remember to fully embrace and enjoy every moment of his wild NBA ride … and take none of the highs for granted.

One might say he’s finally given himself permission to see not just the game, but life itself, as a journey — not a destination. We take the cards we’re dealt and play them.

These are heavy topics for a Sunday — certainly atypical of a proper Sunday fun day. Tatum and I sit side by side in a secret two-story suite at Encore Boston Harbor. The sun is setting, his shoot is done, and he’s about to eat Chinese food from Red 8. But Tatum isn’t rushing. Instead, he’s quietly and thoughtfully answering each of my questions, his lanky, 6-foot-8-inch frame slouched and spilling out of a plush armchair.

It’s honestly hard to remember that he’s only 24. Not because he looks older (though if we equated height with age, he’d easily be pushing a century), but because there is a stoicism about him. He is watchful, seemingly taking everything in but revealing nothing. When he speaks, he looks at me only sporadically, his eyes shifting away slowly. I think he would make an excellent poker player.

I ask to play two truths and a lie, but, because he seems exhausted, I switch gears, flip a different card and come up with a new game ― one that he can play easily. I ask him to fill in the blank. Time is what?

If I were filling this out for him myself (blindly of course, given that I do not at all know him), I would say, “Time is important.” Because I cannot actively squirrel around in his head, I would have guessed said adjective because he has cultivated a massive collection of rare designer watches that he is extremely and expressively proud of. But I would have guessed wrong.

“Time,” he declares, “is precious.”

I raise my eyebrows at him. Go on.

Jayson Tatum
FULL LOOK: Nahmias WATCH: Richard Mille RM 055 Manual Winding Bubba Watson

Photo Credit: Bred Hampton

He obliges. “Because it flies by,” he explains. “I remember being a little kid who could only think about the NBA and how far out of reach it seemed. I used to daydream about it. When I was in school, I would think, Can’t this hurry up? And it seems like I blinked and six years are gone; I’m already going into my sixth NBA season. Where is the time going? I vividly remember being in high school, getting drafted, playing the first game of my NBA career, and now, I’ve played five seasons.”

Five seasons of strength upon strength upon strength. To be 24 years old and have a career like Tatum’s is rare. After winning the ACC title during his first year at Duke, he decided to enter the NBA draft. It was the right choice, given that he was selected as a third-overall, first-round pick by the Celtics. And since his 2017 start in the league, he has been named a three-time NBA All-Star and an NBA Eastern Conference finals’ Most Valuable Player. He also helped his team make it to the NBA Finals earlier this year. And did I mention he also won a gold medal during the Tokyo Olympics? No? Because that happened, too.

However, for the past five years, he has been on a mission to prove himself. His NBA journey has predominantly been about testing his own limits, topping his own personal best. “I think up until this point, every year I’ve wanted to improve in every statistical category, and I’ve done that. Every year I’ve averaged more points than I did the year prior; I’ve averaged more rebounds, more assists, more minutes. I’ve been named an All-Star three times, been to the conference finals three times, got to the championships.”

He might have been getting better, but was he living in the moment, fully embracing being one of the hottest young players in the league? It didn’t sound like it, to be honest, until something major happened: for the first time in his career, his team made it to the NBA Finals … and lost.
“It was the worst feeling ever — an empty feeling — and I don’t want to feel that way again,” he declares. “It was as low as I’ve ever felt in my life. I felt as if I let everybody that was dependent on me down. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I didn’t have anything left in me. It’s tough to think about, even now, because you realize how close you were to accomplishing the opportunity of a lifetime; you were so close, but not close enough, and that can be discouraging, like, This shit is too hard. And it stings for a couple of days, honestly. I didn’t leave the house. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I was trying to cancel the outside world, regardless of what people were saying; I tried to get away from basketball, in a sense. But I spent time with my son, my family, the people that genuinely care about me, and I started to get my groove back.”

Like everything in life, losing has its purpose, though it might have been hard to see at the time. And the Celtics’ 4-2 loss to the Golden State Warriors last season was a particularly bitter pill to swallow — for Tatum, the Celtics, and every single one of their die-hard New England fans.
“My mindset is a little different now,” he admits. “I remember what it felt like, getting to the championship and losing. And everything I’ve done in training for the coming season is to not have that feeling again. My mindset now is what do I need to do to win a championship. Now, there’s no specific number I need to average, no specific number of rebounds. I just want to win. If you win, if your team has all the success, all the individual things will come along with that. If we win a championship, that means I’m playing at the highest level.”

Jayson Tatum
FULL LOOK: Dolce & Gabbana WATCH: Richard Mille RM 010 Mens Titanium Automatic Watch RM010-TI

Photo Credit: Bred Hampton

So now, in his sixth season, he’s ready to go, fight, and — most importantly — win. “I will do literally whatever it takes to never feel that way again,” he vows. “And I’m coming in in great shape. I made sure to take the off-season to get healthy, so that I could perform at my highest level, so that I could dominate, be the best, go out there every night and be able to say, ‘I’m the best player in the world.’”

Tatum’s last season might not have had the happy ending he wanted, but again, he’s only 24. Twenty-freaking-four. And by this ripe old age, he has surpassed his hero and mentor, Kobe Bryant (with whom Tatum became close before Bryant’s passing in 2020), in being the youngest player ever to score 20-plus points in four straight playoff games. He also joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as one of the only rookies in NBA history to record 10 games of 20-plus points scored in a first playoff run. He has tied Larry Bird’s single game franchise scoring record by scoring 60 points against the San Antonio Spurs, was voted into the 2021-22 All-NBA First Team, and was named the Eastern Conference finals MVP en route to an NBA Finals berth. That five-year, $163 million contract extension that he signed in 2020 to remain with the Celtics should show the team’s faith in him. And one can only hope that it’s enough to give him faith in himself.

Yet Tatum doesn’t need to rush, or test himself, to make these moments happen. He can savor them, letting all moments, big and small, successfully tell the story of a young boy from St. Louis — a starry-eyed kid who worshipped at the altar of Kobe Bryant — with a big dream, a raging inner fire, and a desire to succeed that has superseded all else.

He admits now, “In the past, I wanted to rush things, but now, I’m trying to enjoy these moments. When you’re a kid, you want to grow up so fast. You want to be an adult. And now that I am an adult, I want to relax; I want to enjoy this.”

And finally, Jayson Tatum is all in.

Jayson Tatum
JEAN SHIRT: Amiri & Daniel Patrick
GLASSES: Amiri WATCH: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver

Photo Credit: Bred Hampton

IT’S A SURREAL MOMENT. Our photo shoot crew is wandering (purposefully) down the red and purple patterned corridors of the Wynn-owned resort. Tatum is in the middle of a pack that could be mistaken for an entourage, but he’s pretty unmissable: not just because of his height (but yeah, duh, that too), but because he’s wearing sunglasses — inside — and a lavish, incredible, still-unreleased Amiri coat. It’s no wonder that fans, with their rapid-fire iPhone flashes, have started to gather on the sidelines, parting like the Red Sea. Jayson Tatum isn’t just a star — he is the star. And he looks like one (which is not always the case, as we all know).

It isn’t hard to understand why, as we do a deep dive into the nitty-gritty of his collection of 14 timepieces from Richard Mille, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Cartier. But his first and most significant watch purchase was also his worst. The Tatum of yesterday wanted the best of the best. But the Tatum of today knows how to get it.

Here’s the story of his first watch: “I’m from St. Louis, and there, hip-hop and basketball influence one another. Rappers want to be basketball players and vice versa. So when I was growing up, you would see all of these athletes with diamond watches. I see that, as a young kid, and I’m like, I really want those things. So, when I get to the NBA, we get all the way to the conference finals. In Game 7, we lose. But you get playoff bonuses for how far you go: first round, second round, third round, championship. And the [farther] you go, the bigger the bonus. I save all of my NBA salary, but I convinced my mom that the bonus wasn’t technically my salary. It was extra. And I was like, I want to get an iced-out watch. So I took $30,000, found a jeweler, and bought a two-tone, iced-out watch. They call it a ‘bust-down’ Rolex. And I couldn’t have been happier. I felt like I had made it, like I had it. I had an iced-out Rolex from a jeweler and I felt like a rapper. And it’s like with anything, when you’re not educated, you don’t know what you don’t know. As I’ve gotten more educated about watches, I realized that this particular watch was the dumbest thing I could have bought because it for sure had already lost its value. But at the time, I was 20; all of my friends were still in college. I had no frame of reference. It wasn’t until later that I realized those are secondhand diamonds. Those aren’t Rolex diamonds, and those are just diamonds a jeweler put on a watch. It devalues the watch. And so, it was a learning mistake, but I still have it because it was the first watch I ever bought. I’ll never get rid of it. But it’s just always a reminder of what life has taught me about watches.”

This sounds like a metaphor for life, no? If I were a betting woman, I would say that this means quite a few things: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes — but they’ll cost you”; “Each mistake is really a lesson in disguise”; and “Never forget where you came from.”

Well, there’s certainly no danger of that last one ever happening. Though he’s been here in the Cradle of Liberty city since 2017, he still lists his hometown as a primary thing that defines him.

Jayson Tatum
TROUSERS: Louis Vuitton
TURTLENECK: Dolce & Gabbana
WATCH: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 50th Anniversary

Photo Credit: Bred Hampton

“I know St. Louis isn’t known for many great things — crime being one of [the negatives] — but it shaped the person that I am. Growing up there prepared me for life. There are a lot of things I saw at a young age that kids shouldn’t see. I’ve seen drive-by shootings. I’ve lived in a neighborhood where kids that I would play basketball with every day would get arrested. I’ve seen real-life prostitutes walking down the alley and drug addicts on the corner. I saw a pink eviction notice on our house; we almost got kicked out and had to find somewhere to live. So I think all of those things made me grow up a little faster.”

He pauses for a moment, and says in his quiet, yet clear, voice, “We have a saying: ‘If you can make it in St. Louis, you can make it anywhere.’ [The way I see it], growing up in a tougher environment made me a stronger person. I wouldn’t change where I’m from for the world.”

It’s a different vibe from his life in Boston, to be sure. When he heads home every summer to see his friends and family, when he eats at the same places he’s been going to his entire life, he’s content. “When people see me in Boston, they like that I’m on the Celtics, so they love me for that reason. But when people see me back home, regardless of their age — they could be 65 or someone I went to school with — it’s like, ‘We’re proud of you.’ Nobody back home cares what team I play for; they like that I represent St. Louis. It’s more of a genuine ‘He’s one of us.’ And that’s one of the best feelings you can have.”

He names a few of his hometown’s most famous residents, from rappers like Nelly to former basketball players like Larry Hughes and David Lee to current stars like Bradley Beal, before recalling, “Growing up, I would always tell my mom, ‘I want to be the biggest person to come out of St. Louis. I want to be the best basketball player in the world. And I want everybody to know that I represent where I’m from.’ Because ultimately, I give kids hope. I went to this school, I grew up on this block. I went to this corner store. I played at this rec center that you play at. I played football here. And now, I’m on magazines and commercials and even chip containers.” (Tatum is the face of Ruffles Flamin’ Hot BBQ, both literally and figuratively — his mug is even on the bag.) “A lot of kids from St. Louis have never left the city. They don’t know anything bigger than their reality. So when I go home, I have toy drives for inner-city kids during Christmas. I hold free basketball camps. I donate laptops, iPads, and things like that. I just want to come home and show people that I care about them, that it’s possible to do something more. You don’t have to be a professional athlete; you don’t have to be an NBA player. A lot of kids here don’t dream, because they don’t think that they can. And, you know, I’d like to change that narrative.”

While he’s likely doing this for his home city, he’s definitely doing it for one youngster in particular: Jayson Christopher Jr., aka “Deuce,” his “twin and best friend.”

Jayson Tatum
FULL LOOK: Amiri WATCH: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold Double Balance Wheel Openworked

Photo Credit: Bred Hampton

Tatum lights up full of sunshine when talking about his kid. He is finally showing something other than the laid-back demeanor I have become accustomed to. I wonder if it is only his son that can produce this true and palatable joy, but I don’t wonder for long — he is talking, sharing an ode to fatherhood, and it is both unexpected and lovely.

“You never know how much you can love somebody until you have a kid. I had [Deuce] when I was 19. He was born on December 6, the year I was drafted. So, for 2 1/2 months after the season started, life was challenging. I had just moved to Boston. I was 19, starting a new career, and

I was nervous to be a dad. And I was a little selfish at first. I didn’t think it was the best idea to be having a kid at that time. I was more concerned with how he was going to affect me and my career. I wasn’t as excited as I should have been because I was young; I just wanted to play basketball. I wasn’t ready to be a dad. But I’ll never forget this: I wasn’t super thrilled until his mom pushed him out, and I saw him for the first time. They put him in my arms and literally, it switched. And I was like, This is like the best shit ever. Seeing him, and holding him. And ever since that day, we’ve been essentially attached at the hip. There’s no better feeling than being a dad, being a parent. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.”

There are a few specific things he is doing. He says, “I try to be a good person. I don’t want money or fame to influence the way that I act. I like being around people that treat me like Jayson, not like a person that they see on TV. I like being around people I can genuinely be myself around, people I grew up with. I’m most comfortable just being able to be myself and not just the guy you see on TV.” (I see the point he’s making, but I do want to point out that he’s not just on TV — he’s also on the aforementioned Ruffles bags, and you may see something resembling his visage on his first signature shoe with Jordan Brand, the Jordan Tatum 1, when it debuts this coming spring.)

Jayson Tatum is not just one thing. He is the star athlete, the father, the friend, the hometown hero, the reigning prince of Boston. But, at the end of the day, he is still very much an enigma.

“People always say that I’m very in control of my emotions. And whether it’s playing basketball, or it’s practicing, I’m always calm. It’s a skill of mine, to always remain calm, to think before I do something. I’m very laid-back, and I’m very observant — I listen more than I speak. I never get too excited. I never get too sad. And that’s just kind of me.”

I’m standing by my prior opinion: Jayson Tatum is an excellent player, regardless of the game. And right now, he’s holding all of the cards.

Jayson Tatum
FULL LOOK: Nahmias WATCH: Richard Mille RM 055 Manual Winding Bubba Watson

Photo Credit: Bred Hampton