The NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors begins on Thursday and there is a lot on the line for both franchises and their players. For the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, he wondered if he was the right man to lead the Celtics here. In his five seasons in the league, the Celtics advanced to the conference finals three times and this season “finally” made it to the NBA Finals.
“I’ll be honest, for myself, there have been times where I questioned, am I the right person to kind of lead a group like this,” said Tatum during Wednesday’s media availability. “You know, never like doubted myself, but just moments after some of those losses and the tougher parts of the season. That’s human nature to kind of question yourself and things like that. But just always stick to what you believe in and trust in the work that you’ve put in. You know, it can’t rain forever.”
That Tatum entertained questions about his ability to lead is reasonable. But this idea that not making the NBA Finals is some kind of character flaw reveals how fans and media muddy the discourse around team and individual accomplishments, and it undersells how insanely difficult it is to win in the NBA.
In five NBA seasons Tatum and the Celtics have made the playoffs every year and advanced to three conference finals and an NBA Finals.
It took the GOAT Michael Jordan five seasons to reach his first conference finals and seven to reach his first NBA Finals.
Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley made three conference finals in his career and reached one NBA Finals. Fellow Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing made four conference finals and one NBA Finals in his career. Steve Nash, also a Hall of Fame member, made four conference finals appearances and never advanced to the NBA Finals.
Soon to be Hall of Famer Chris Paul advanced to two conference finals and one NBA Finals appearance.
You get the point.
Winning in this league is extremely difficult. If you reduce any of the aforementioned players or any of their other Hall of Fame championship-less colleagues to losers, you are being reductive and don’t really understand how winning championships in the NBA works.
In just a short amount of time and nowhere near his prime, Tatum has been the best player on two conference finals teams and has advanced to the NBA Finals. That already has him on par with Barkley and he’s surpassed Paul.
The latter part of Tatum’s quote is more illustrative of the reality and mindset you need as an NBA player.
Of course the losses late in the playoffs, short of the ultimate goal are tough to handle. But all you can do is trust in the work you’ve done and give your all. Then you have to hope your teammates do the same, and your franchise has done everything in its power to give the team the best chance to succeed.
Even with all that, you still need some luck and it might not work out with the ultimate prize. These are the breaks.
But Tatum and the Celtics are in the final round and they have a chance. It’s all he could reasonably expect and ask for.