In the aftermath of Tom Brady’s sobering announcement that he’s moving on from the New England Patriots after two decades, is Celtics forward Jayson Tatum the new face of Boston’s sports?
Probably. But he’s still got some work to do.
See, it’s undeniable that, given the recent departures of Brady and Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, Tatum might be the most recognizable active All-Star in the region, at least among younger players with the potential to blossom even further. Easy there, Bruins fans, we’re well aware of the talent on your squad, and we’ll listen to your argument that David Pastrnak belongs in that conversation, too.
NBA players are simply more recognizable than most helmet-clad athletes and the just-turned 22-year-old Tatum almost certainly has more facial recognition among casual observers. It helps, too, that, with a surge before the NBA season was suspended last week, Tatum muscled his way into the conversation about the future faces of the league, replete with a stamp of approval from LeBron James.
Any young player truly looking to take over Brady’s throne, however, is missing one key ingredient: A championship. Given the absurd bar that local stars Brady, David Ortiz, and Paul Pierce set over the past two decades, you have to deliver banners and trophies before you can truly rule this city. It’s not quite enough anymore to simply be one of the best in your sport.
What seems fair to suggest is that, with Tatum and Jaylen Brown as focal points, and especially with both players soon to be locked up deep into the future, the Celtics are best positioned among Boston’s big four for a long sustained run as championship contenders, at least based on each team's current core. Whether it’s Tatum, or Tatum and Brown, the door is open for Celtics youngsters to stake their claim to a vacant throne.
Tatum and Brown, despite all the playoff success early in their careers, must still prove they can thrive on the big stage. It wasn’t just the rings that defined Ortiz and Brady, it was how they delivered in key moments.
Look, it’s not easy to carve out a spot in the pantheon on Boston’s best athletes. Not when you see those pictures of Bill Russell struggling to hold his 11 championship rings, or Brady needing two hands to display all his Super Bowl jewelry. Even just taking the baton as the face of the region for a brief jog is a heavy crown to wear.
But someone has to take it now and Tatum seems like the most obvious choice. Will it be his green No. 0 jersey that fills all of Boston’s sports venues? Will he be the sort of player that Boston fans roar for when he makes an offseason appearance at another team’s games?
Much of that will hinge on what Tatum and the Celtics accomplish moving forward. A ring unlocks the full benefits of the throne. Until then, he’s simply the closest to the clasp.