If you know me, you know two things about me: I’m proud of where I’m from and I love my family. More than the sneakers, more than my achievements in the NBA, this is what you will hear about first.

Anybody who has ever met me knows that if we’re ever talking, at some point in the conversation I’m gonna let you know how much I believe that St. Louis—and my family—have shaped me into the person I am today.

I truly feel where you’re from has a lot to do with the makeup of who you are. I grew up in University City, or as we call it, U City. I carry the lessons I learned there with me every day. One of the biggest lessons I learned was to never give up on chasing my dreams.

Like a lot of kids growing up, I always loved J’s. But they were expensive. My mom knows what I’m talking about. You ask her and she’ll tell you, whether it was my birthday or Christmas, I was always asking her for shoes or Foot Locker gift cards to go shopping at the St. Louis Galleria or Northwest Plaza. I would try to finesse and negotiate, making deals with her like, “If I get all As and Bs in school, can I get these shoes?”

It was in St. Louis where I fell in love with basketball. I always had such a passion for it, ever since I can remember. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, all I’ve ever known, and I just knew I had to make it work. One of my earliest memories is when I would be over at my grandma’s house in U City, and she would hold a grocery bag and I would shoot a little basketball from the opposite side of the room into the bag for hours. She would help me make it every time.

In the first grade, my teacher asked everyone in the class to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote, “An NBA player.” I remember my teacher laughed and told me to pick something more realistic.

Jayson Tatum Air Jordan 11 'Cool Grey'
Tatum wearing the "Cool Grey" Air Jordan 11. Image via Bred Hampton

A lot of people, like that teacher, don’t expect many basketball stars to come from St. Louis. I remember at one AAU tournament growing up, some people were shocked that we had a good basketball team. I know St. Louis doesn’t always have the best reputation because of the high crime rates and how it’s represented in the news. But the fact that it’s consistently reported as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. overshadows all the good that’s done there and the great people who come from there.

I love taking that duty on myself to shine a light on my hometown and bring as much positive attention to it as I can. It’s a special place to me. It’s where I learned the value of hard work and how far it can take me. No matter where I go, I never lose sight of where I’m from. I even started The Jayson Tatum Foundation right before I entered the league. My goal is to give kids and their families the tools they need to be the change they want to see within their communities and their own families.

My mom has been the biggest inspiration to me on and off the court. Coming up, it wasn’t always easy. My mom was a single mom who sacrificed a lot, and we went through a lot of struggles. But even when things were tough, she never stopped grinding. She always figured things out. She’ll tell you today that a lot of the time it was survival mode, but honestly her unconditional love and belief in me were all that I needed. To this day, I always acknowledge the sacrifices she made and I’m so grateful for everything she did to raise me and for always encouraging me to work hard and pursue my dreams.

The lessons my mom taught me, and the relationship that she and I have, I want those same things with my son. I want to teach him to work hard and go after his dreams too. I want to be someone that he can be proud of. The way I hope my mom is proud of me.

All my life, I’ve always set goals for myself and told myself that I was going to achieve certain things. And so far, almost everything that I said I was going to do—everything I dreamed about or said I was going to achieve—I’ve done:

“I’m gonna go to one of the best colleges in the nation.” I went to Duke University.

“I’m gonna go to the NBA.” I got drafted third overall to the Celtics.

“I’m gonna be one of the best in the NBA.” I’m now a two-time All-Star and an All-NBA player. 

“I’m gonna play on the international stage.” I’m now an Olympic gold medalist.

Another thing that I told myself growing up was, “I’m gonna get a pair of those Cool Grey 11s.”

Air Jordan 11 XI Cool Grey Release Date CT8012-005 Profile
The 2021 release of the Air Jordan 11 “Cool Grey.” Image via Nike

I remember my freshman year at Chaminade Prep in 2012 when the Bred 11s came out and everybody was sleeping outside for two or three days trying to get them before Christmas. And I remember thinking, “Those are cool and all that, but the Cool Greys? Those are way better.”

I wanted a pair of my own Cool Greys back then but was never able to get them. We couldn’t afford them. But that never stopped me from wanting a pair.

When I joined the Jordan Brand a couple years back, those were the first shoes I asked about. This week the Cool Grey 11s come out for the first time since I was back at Chaminade. As simple as it may seem, it’s honestly one of the things I’ve been wanting to obtain ever since I was a kid, as you can see.

It may seem like a small win, but I finally got a pair of my favorite shoes of all time. And not only do I have a pair for myself, but I got a pair for my mom and my son, too. Given everything my mom went through to provide for me growing up, that means the world to me.

I told myself that one day I would have a pair. Now, the whole family does.

Jayson Tatum's Mom and Son Air Jordan 11 'Cool Grey'
Jayson's mom and son wearing the “Cool Grey” Jordan 11s, Image via Bred Hampton