The last time the city of St. Louis had a professional basketball team was in 1976. The ABA’s St. Louis Spirits didn’t make it into the NBA when the two leagues merged. As the Spirits left so did the spirit of professional basketball in the Gateway City. It is time for the city to recapture its passion for the sport by watching one of its native sons emerge on the grandest stage professional basketball has to show.
Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a controversial move when he traded away the #1 overall pick to the 76ers. Washington’s Markelle Fultz was looked at as the can’t miss star of the draft. His length and athleticism was thought to be elite on all levels. Ainge took the gamble moving down to draft Duke Freshman and St. Louis native Jayson Tatum. Jayson Tatum has emerged as an underrated rookie star for the Boston Celtics. If you are not sure who Jayson Tatum is, he is the guy from the Imo’s commercials. He took over for the departed David Freese.
While flashier rookies like Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell have been getting the headlines, Tatum has quietly brought his team to the verge of the Eastern Conference finals. Tatum, a graduate of Chaminade Preparatory School in Creve Coeur, Missouri, has given St. Louis sports fans a reason to watch the NBA playoffs. With key stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward going do with season ending injuries Tatum was forced to take a more prominent role on a team that finished with the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. His scoring and defense have transitioned perfectly into the professional level. Unlike most lottery draft picks Tatum has not been forced to be the savior of the organization. Instead he was put in a position that allowed him to play a role, he was able to develop during the season rather than burden himself with the weight of the organization. The regular season went well for Tatum averaging 13.9 PPG, 5 RB, shooting 43% from three and an astounding 53% shooting overall. Tatum’s production has been taken to the next level for the Celtics in the playoffs.
In Game 1 of the second-round series against the third seed Philadelphia 76ers, Tatum had a career-high 28 points in a 117–101 win, becoming the first Celtics rookie to score 25 or more points in a playoff game since Larry Bird (Maybe you have heard of him) during the 1980 NBA Playoffs, also against the 76ers. Tatum continued his strong play in Game 2 of the series scoring 21 points, those points would be the fourth game in a row Tatum reached the 20point mark, making him the youngest player ever to accomplish that surpassing a guy by the name of Kobe Bryant (Maybe you have heard of him). Brad Stevens has been called the best coach in the NBA for his ability to develop players, having them exceed expectations by putting them in a place the helps them excel. The best example of the Stevens approach has been the production of Jayson Tatum.
St. Louis has had its fair share of NBA talent over the last few years. Players like Larry Hughes, Darius Miles, and Bradley Beal have made an impact at the NBA level but Tatum is showing that he may end up being the best of the bunch. He goes about his business quietly and professionally. He plays in a major market and will be put in the spotlight as he develops and he will develop under the leadership of Brad Stevens. Next season the Celtics may be the favorite in the Eastern Conference when their injured stars return but for now Tatum is the guy leading the charge of the dynamic Boston offense. Tatum is the star that the St. Louis fan base needs, giving the fan base a player and a team to follow.
To many times St. Louis has been called just a baseball town. The support the city has shown for basketball over the past year has shown that this city is just a sports town. The successes of the Missouri Valley Tournament and the SEC tournament have helped repair a reputation of sports in St. Louis. Jayson Tatum may one day be the best that St. Louis has ever had, but right now he is the face of St. Louis basketball.