Jayson Tatum Says Michael Jordan Didn't Text Him After He Dropped 51 On The Hornets

We caught up with Boston Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum to talk about the MVP race, people trying to split him and Jaylen Brown, texting Michael Jordan, & more.

Jayson Tatum vs the Chicago Bulls

Image via Getty/Maddie Meyer

Jayson Tatum vs the Chicago Bulls

It’s pretty difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that Jayson Tatum is yet to be 25 years old. While the joke for some time within NBA Twitter was “He’s just 19,” – the incredibly-decorated NBA resume for someone who’s yet to hit the quarter-century mark is impressive. Tatum has All-Star and All-NBA selections, a gold medal, and an inaugural Eastern Conference Finals MVP to go along with his first Finals appearance last year. 

That Finals appearance was quite transformative for Tatum and the Celtics. That early 2-1 lead seems somewhat of a distant memory considering how the series played out and the controversy involving the franchise this past off-season. However, despite all of that, Tatum and the Celtics seem to be more focused than ever – firmly holding the best record in the NBA; and, to many, have been undoubtedly the best team in basketball since opening night.

Tatum, for his part, continues to live up to the expectations of a franchise-altering superstar. Averaging over thirty points per game, 31.1 to be exact, and he’s upped his averages in nearly every major statistical category; all while battling nagging injuries that could require surgical repair. 

But two things continue to elude Tatum in his young career, one being that aforementioned NBA championship and the other being MVP of the league, an honor he set his sights on. 

“I’m definitely in the conversation,” Tatum tells Complex in regard to being the league’s MVP.

During his promotional run for Gatorade’s GX campaign, a line that includes himself, Candace Parker, and Bryce Harper creating their own signature Gatorade bottle – Tatum was candid as ever, discussing his playoff battles with NBA greats, where he believes he stands in the NBA hierarchy and his conversations with Michael Jordan. 

Gx Collabs Tatum Lifestyle Shot

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)

Back in 2016, Penny Hardaway surprised you in a viral clip that marked the moment of you being honored with Gatorade National Player of the Year, fast forward seven years later, and you’re in partnership with Gatorade. How surreal of a feeling is that? 
My 24 years of living, that day is definitely up there with being one of the most memorable days of my life. Just something I always dreamt about, and to live out your dream, then fast forward to being an ambassador and a partner with Gatorade; it’s a dream come true. 

Can you tell me a little more about your GX Collection with Gatorade?
Today is the first time that I actually got to see the bottle, and I think the coolest part is being a part of the design process and seeing things come to life, and I actually use it. I’ll be bringing it with me to the game tomorrow.

Has [designing] always been something you wanted to tackle as you advance in your career? You seem to be very instrumental in the design process, whether with Gatorade or Jordan. Has that always been a goal for you? 
I don’t know if it’s always been a goal, but as I’ve started the process, I realized how rewarding it is. You appreciate all of the people behind the scenes that don’t necessarily get the TV time or the credit for the things that you see come to life. So you appreciate the people on your team even more. It’s super rewarding and fulfilling. 

Jayson Tatum and Gatorade

Shifting things to basketball, I feel, at times, the national discourse surrounding your game – it doesn’t feel like you get all the flowers that you deserve. Do you feel undervalued at all in the national conversation? 
Undervalued in what regard? 

When it comes to the media anointing certain “Face(s) of the League,” so to speak…
I don’t know about being undervalued. I get my fair share of praise and my fair share of criticism. But that’s not necessarily why I do what I do. I want to be remembered as a winner, and hopefully, at this moment, I’m inspiring the next Jayson Tatum, wherever he is in the world, to be the best basketball player he can be. 

We’ve seen you compete on the biggest stages with players considered legends in this game, whether it’s LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant – the list goes on. Has it hit you, or do you take a moment to be like: “Damn, I’ve been in moments that are pretty big..”
It’s hard to gauge it in that sense. I’ve had playoff series against LeBron, against KD; I’ve played against Steph in the Finals. I’ve been on the Olympic team with KD. When you truly sit down and think about it, it is historic – I’ve played and competed against legends. But in the midst of it, while you’re competing, you’re just thinking about what’s next. I [believe] that’s what makes the special ones special – they don’t get complacent, and they’re always trying to achieve more. 

Is there a personal favorite matchup?
I would probably say playing against KD in the playoffs. It was one of my favorites because I was older, my game had developed a lot more. He’s one of the ten-to-fifteen greatest players of all time, but in those moments, I felt like I was on par with him. We obviously have a great friendship – someone I consider a great friend. Those series were a lot of fun. 

You mentioned earlier in our conversation about being aware of the criticism. For the longest time, it felt like people were trying to split up the duo between you and Jaylen Brown. Fast forward to now, and you two are arguably the best duo in the NBA. Do you ever feel vindication in how things have turned out after a Finals run?
I think he and I never really paid attention to all of the talk about splitting us up. We always tried to stay level-headed. We were both aware of what we could do individually, and it just took time. JB just turned 26 at the beginning of the season; I’ll be 25 in two months. We’ve been in the playoffs every year, we’ve been in the Finals, we’ve been in the conference finals four times – so I think people forget we’re still pretty young; we’ve just been playing at this high level since day one

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics celebrates after hitting a three point shot against the New York Knicks

You’re a Jordan Brand member; your signature Jordan shoe should be on the way, but you dropped 51 points against MJ’s Hornets on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Did he give you any grief for what you did to his team? 
He’ll text me every once in a while when I have a big game, but he didn’t text me after that one. (laughs)

Do you think that was pretty intentional? 
Maybe so. I know he watches all the Hornets games, so he saw. Even when does reach out and text me after a good game, that’s still pretty surreal. Even when I see his name come across my phone, it still doesn’t seem real. 

What would you say is the best advice that Mike has shared with you that stood out? 
Talking to him going into the Finals. Talking about embracing the moment, staying present, and not taking anything for granted. 

You’re soon to be selected to your fourth all-star game, you’ve been All-NBA, and you have a gold medal, but I feel like the last elusive personal accolade for you right now is MVP. To you right now, do you feel like you’re the MVP of the league?
Obviously, I feel like I’m definitely in the conversation.  If you look around the league, especially this year, guys are putting up ridiculous numbers on great teams. Jokic has been playing like this for three years straight now. Giannis, Luka, Embiid – even LeBron, putting up numbers. It’s going to be tough because I think all of the top guys are putting up career numbers on great teams.

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