Monster. Gimmick. Even Dirk Nowitski’s name got tossed at Tacko Fall after he drained a three at Celtics practice. Cameras fixated on his swimming practice. Taco costumes filled TD Garden on Sunday. Fame is nothing new for even the 15th man on a NBA roster. Sensation over such a player can feel forced and condescending and it has at times with Fall.
The noise peaked during his preseason debut on Sunday. His five points and two blocks in eight minutes became the story of the game. Fans chanted for him from the earliest moments.
Brad Stevens heard it. The fanaticism clearly resonated, so he dropped some advice worth following: enjoy Fall, but remember he’s more than a 7’5” walking stick. He’s a person. One we should be interested in on a human level like any other player.
No fanbase should better grasp that than Boston’s. Celtics Twitter unearths personal facts better than investigative journalists. Every nuance falls under its microscope.
Any tweet, facial expression, or off hand comment becomes part of the building biography we maintain on them. Sure, it produces occasional nonsense pulled from thin air, but we sometimes feel like we know them better.
Fall built two factions with his arrival. Skeptics see him as nothing more than a head high above the ground. His fiercest advocates call for him to play real minutes, dismantling any legitimate argument that exists to keep him around.
The unique attribute that draws eyes toward him made him an object, one whose image is pulled in two drastic directions. Through that, his humanity is lost.
Stevens admitted the chants put Fall in a difficult position, so he pulled Fall aside after the playoff-like ovations.
“Tacko is such a gracious guy, and it puts him in such a tough spot, right? He knows he doesn’t want to put extra heat on me. Everybody wants Tacko. My kids are the same way, and everybody else. I think that’s cool, and that’s great, but I just hope people continue to appreciate him for what he is as a person and how hard he’s working to try to make it to the NBA. Because he’s a really good kid and he’s really, really working hard, and I think he’s going to be in the NBA for a long time.”
Stevens deflected the jubilation well, while keeping the attention on Fall. While the last few months have become a bit of a sideshow, the Celtics see real potential in him. Fall, to his credit, does not lack confidence.
This is the player who defiantly stated Zion Williamson would not dunk on him, then nearly knocked Duke out of March Madness. He recently met the president of Senegal while working with the NBA’s efforts to strengthen Africa’s basketball infrastructure. Fall’s love of biochemistry exceeded his desire to pursue a basketball career when he arrived in the US.
He battled the NCAA when they threatened his initial eligibility to play college basketball. That confidence sits on the negotiating table, where Fall’s team remains confident he’ll end up on a roster if Boston doesn’t reward him a full-time spot.
“I’m in the Garden, playing with the Celtics and with all these players,” he said. “There’s no pressure. It’s just a matter of going out there and having fun.”
Basketball’s been a height game since Dr. Naismith placed his basket within reach of Earth’s tallest humans. Someone has to be the tallest in the league, he’s doing something with it. So it’s still possible to have fun with this. It’s not like he struggles on the floor.
Nobody wants to watch preseason games without intriguing storylines. Fall is slowly improving toward potentially earning himself a bonafide contract. It’s good for everyone involved and sports is supposed to be fun. If he’s having fun, Boston’s having fun and we’re having fun, then we’re doing this right.
The problem arises when he becomes nothing more than the name, the listed height (which he stood up to as well) and “Tacko Time.” We care about who other players are. He should receive the same level of humanity.
Then we can get back to roaring over his standing dunks.