- Jayson Tatum to wear Kobe Bryant’s Olympic number
- Celtics star said he is honoured to wear late Bryant’s number and idolised him
- Jayson Tatum and the men’s national team will head to Tokyo in search of its fourth straight gold medal
The Celtics star, Jayson Tatum, was just 15 years old when he made his first USA Basketball national team. It was 2013 when he got picked to play in the FIBA Americas U-16 championships at Uruguay and one of the biggest thrills from that experience was getting his jersey.
Kobe Bryant, before his death, donned #24 and #8 with the Los Angeles Lakers, however, he always wore # 10 for the USA Basketball when he helped the Americans capture gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Tatum has worn that number as part of U.S. teams several times since — and will wear it at the Tokyo Olympics, where the Americans will aim to capture a fourth consecutive gold medal.
“With this being the first Olympics since we lost him, it holds that much more value,” Tatum said, and added, “It’s not something I take lightly.”
US Centre Bam Adebayo said, “For JT to have this moment, I’m happy for him, genuinely.
“I’ve known JT since I was 12. He deserves everything he’s getting and he’s going to keep deserving more because he’s such a great player. I’m happy for him. That’s his idol, and he gets to represent that number. I know he’s going to have that ‘Mamba Mentality’ when he puts that 10 on.”
Tatum knew Bryant very well as they used to work out together and Bryant offered him advice many times.
Tatum said, “I remember one talk, it might have been after a game, and he was saying that a lot of people won’t understand what you do.
“He said, ‘What I mean by that is, the ones that really want to be great and really want to be special really take that whatever-it-takes mentality.’ He told me it takes sacrifice, because the ultimate question is about how much are you willing to give up to be great.”
U.S. coach Gregg Popovich still laments that Tatum got hurt at that World Cup back in China. That team was built for Tatum to be, as Popovich put it, “the go-to guy” — just as Bryant had been for past U.S. teams.
When Tatum was ruled out of the World Cup with an ankle injury, it was like the Americans were hit in the head and wound up finishing only seventh.
Coach Popovich said, “He’s become more of a two-way player.
“He’s way more confident. He’s developed more skills. He’s, on top of that, more aggressive and knows that he can dominate people.”
Tatum said, “I remember that first team when I was hoping, wishing, that I got No. 10.
“Kobe, everyone knows that was my favorite player. I was 15 years old and got to wear the number of my favorite player. It just felt like I had some level of connection with him.”
“It’s a tremendous honor,” to get his jersey Tatum said. “And I’ll wear it proudly.”