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Jayson Tatum talks COVID, Kobe, and the Olympics on the WojPod

Another milestone for Tatum - making it on to the WojPod.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Jayson Tatum joined ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski as a special guest on the latest episode of the WojPod. The two-time All-Star discussed a list of subjects ranging from dealing with COVID to potentially playing in the upcoming Olympics.

By now, we’re all aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the NBA and how the league has adjusted its season and protocols. However, we’ve heard very little about how the virus has affected players once they return to the court. Sure, we’ve seen the players struggle to regain their feel for the game and heard players touch on their struggles during press conferences, but with Woj, Tatum allows us a deeper look through the lens.

Tatum missed a five-game stretch in mid-January due to contracting the coronavirus and clearly struggled to regain his rhythm once he returned to the floor.

“You can’t underestimate different guys reactions to testing positive (to having COVID), and how that effects them returning,” Tatum explained as he detailed the difficulties of playing during a pandemic.

The Celtics star wing detailed his own struggles with recovering from the effects of the virus. “I don’t necessarily feel or breath the same as before I had COVID,” Tatum said and went on to say, “I just breath a little different than before I had the virus.”

By now, it’s common knowledge that he is using an inhaler before games to open his airways up and ease those breathing struggles. Hearing Tatum discuss the physiological effects the virus has had on his respiratory system puts his on-court inconsistencies into perspective.

Despite his struggles with breathing and recovering from sickness, Tatum has only missed seven games in the NBA’s most grueling of seasons. “I like to pride myself on playing in as many games as I can. I haven’t missed many games in my career,” Tatum said, as he elaborated on the savageness of this shortened schedule and being forced to miss games after contracting COVID.

Tatum’s rise has been quite meteoric. Since entering the league, there’s scarcely been a moment where the St. Louis native hasn’t been one of the primary offensive weapons for the Celtics. Tatum credits competing in the postseason, then embarking on multiple deep runs as an enormous part of his individual development.

“Just that feeling and knowing how hard it is to win in the playoffs - I think that was a huge benefit to my career so far,” Tatum said.

Speaking of individual development, we all know that Tatum grew up idolizing the late Kobe Bryant. And we all remember the off-season where Boston’s young star in the making spent some time working out with the legendary Laker that summer. What we didn’t know was how Tatum reacted when Bryant broke down some game footage of him on Detail, ESPN’s film study series.

“I must have watched that ten times before leaving the locker room,” Tatum recalled.

One of the funniest things to come out of Tatum’s learning experience from his childhood idol were the memes and social media content surrounding Tatum embodying the “Mamba mentality.” It’s no secret that the following season, Tatum had some of his worst shot selection as he settled for long two’s and contested fadeaways - remind you of anybody?

“I couldn’t care a less what anybody said. That was the best day of my life,” Tatum jokingly responded when asked his opinion on the social media reaction to his change of approach after training with Bryant that previous summer.

With the craziness that’s befallen the world in the last 14-18 months, how many of us remembered that for Tatum its been non-stop basketball since the end of his second season? Realistically, the only break Tatum’s had was when the league went into hiatus mid-way through the 2019-20 season.

When discussing the possibility of playing in the upcoming Olympics, Tatum mentioned that his recent activity will play a factor in his decision making. However, the 23 year-old did note that the honor of representing his country would be a big factor in his decision. “A chance to win a gold medal and represent your country on the world stage, at such a young age would mean the world.”

Before the Olympics, there’s a small matter of qualifying and then participating in the upcoming playoffs. Tatum, who names last year’s series against Toronto as the toughest he’s played in, will be a deciding factor in any success the Celtics taste. Tatum was quick to talk about his development when questioned on the impeding All-NBA selections, focusing on how far he’s come in such a short time.

It’s that same individual and collective development the Celtics will be looking for as they face another short-handed playoff run should they make it past the play-in tournament. Despite his battle with COVID, and the non-stop basketball he’s been apart of in the last two years, Tatum is still putting up career numbers in points (26.4), rebounds (7.3), and assists (4.3) and is showing no signs of slowing down as he continues working towards his full potential.

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