In Boston, he remains an icon and role model. At his basketball camp in Foxboro last weekend, Tatum was playing one-on-one with campers, walking around watching instructions and sharing with those who had barely run out of diapers when his career began in Boston five years ago.
The question is whether Tatum has tendencies to be the undisputed leader of the Celtics. Was his pride bruised enough during the finals to make a noticeable improvement in his game? To rise from above-average to elite and become a top-five player on a team of championship caliber?
These questions will be answered next season.
Campers didn’t pay much attention to Tatum’s off-season workout regime, they just wanted to score a bucket against their favorite Celtic. He went solo with a couple of campers, some of whom even scored undisputed buckets.
One notable camper was a 9-year-old girl playing a main game. She showed the rest of the campers her dribbling skills before playing a one-on-one match with Tatum. When she had the chance, she dropped left, rolled right, but she was too far out of her range and missed the shot.
Time ran out, and when the kids gathered to take pictures, she started crying as Tatum went on to the next match. A camp employee tried to console her, but was disappointed that she only missed her shot on an extremely rare chance to face an NBA player.
Tatum walked to take pictures with all the kids, and out of the corner of his eye, as he was playing his last game, he saw the girl crying. He put his arm around her and asked if she was okay. She said yes, then smiled at the photo glamorously.
“I always love doing these camps,” Tatum said. “Just to see the excitement on their faces. It’s all about the fun, and I think that’s the best part. It’s part of the responsibility you have as an athlete, to give back and be a mentor to the youth, because we’ve all been there before.”
Tatum can tell reporters that the Celtics are going to have another run at the title or are working hard to make sure teams don’t guard him to lead left, as the Warriors did. But the words won’t matter until the regular season, until the matches begin.
Celtics fans must believe that behind the scenes, far from public appearances, Tatum is doing the work and will motivate his teammates. The one thing Tatum has consistently shown throughout his career is that he desperately wants to be considered one of the game’s greats. Sure, he was hurt by his lack of production in the finals, but he’s smart enough not to express it publicly.
Passion has never been Tatum’s greatest trait, and he certainly won’t display it over the summer.
“I was a little tired,” he said. “This is the longest season I’ve played in my life. The shoulder feels good. I’ve had enough rest, so I feel really good.”
This is about as revealing as Tatum will get during the vacation period. The good news is that his right shoulder, which was damaged during the Miami series, only required rest. Taking a month off has improved his general health.
“It’s a little different,” he said of the offseason. “Just knowing we got to a certain point and we were so close. I’m excited to be back with the group, and we have unfinished business.”
“We have a great group of guys. We almost won the championship. We went to Game 6. When you get into fights with guys, you get close.”
There is an honesty with Tatum who has always been present. He becomes more vocal and expressive as he matures and becomes more of a leader. Tatum’s leadership resides in this community and faces the media even after the most frustrating loss of his career.
While some athletes like Kevin Durant are demanding trade, rocking the NBA, and refusing to speak out, you have to commend Tatum for his openness and tenacity going forward.
Believers of the Celtics must trust that he will be better, because he rarely failed them before.
Gary Washburn is a columnist for The Globe. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter Tweet embed.