It’s been a very special year for St. Louisan Jayson Tatum. Let us count the ways, as Tatum prepares to count the money packed into his extraordinary, record-setting contract agreement.

Tatum was named first-team All-NBA for the third consecutive season, was chosen for his fifth All-Star game, and teamed with Jaylen Brown to lead the Boston Celtics to an NBA-best record of 64-18. During the regular-season Tatum was Boston’s leading scorer and rebounder and finished second in assists.

Tatum led the Celtics in points, rebounds and assists during their dominant 16-3 postseason run to a glorious 18th NBA championship for the franchise. It was the first NBA title of Tatum’s career, and there’s a chance for more.

Tatum and Celtics management have agreed to a new five-year, $313.9 million supermax contract that becomes the largest in NBA history. Last summer Jaylen Brown established the previous record with a five-year, $304 million deal covenant.

Proving once again that they’re exceptional teammates, Brown received his $304 million and passed to Tatum who smashingly dunked for the most lucrative contract in league annals. The two Jays win again. And they’ll likely win another title together (at least) over the next few seasons.

Tatum is headed to Paris as a member of the U.S. men’s basketball program that’s pursuing a fifth consecutive gold medal. Tatum already owns a gold, earned at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. So in 2024 he may collect an NBA championship ring and a second gold medal. Pretty good year, eh?

What a life, what a career, what terrific person.

Tatum won’t turn 27 until March of next season. He’s already piled up enough awards to fill a storage facility. He’s been the co-star of 68 postseason victories in his career, tied for 12th most in Celtics chronicles.

Tatum and Brown already stand among the winningest Celtics of all-time. In order, the top 13 list of career postseason victories looks like this: John Havlicek, Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Robert Parish, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Satch Sanders, Don Nelson, Jaylen Brown, Paul Pierce, Tom Heinsohn, Danny Ainge and Tatum. And I feel compelled to mention it again: Tatum has done all of this by age 26.

The money will enrich Tatum, but it won’t spoil him or change him. But the pure magnitude of his earnings is something to behold.

Tatum’s current contract – four years, $163 million – expires after the 2024-2025 season. And here’s a breakdown of the annual salaries of a new pact that kicks in for the 2025-2026 season:

* 2025-26: $54.1 million
* 2026-27: $58.4 million
* 2027-28: $62.7 million
* 2028-29: $67.1 million
* 2029-30: $71.4 million

The last two contracts signed by Tatum total $477 million.

That will pay for a lot of Imos.

If this seems garish or out of hand to you and has you grumbling about NBA players making these incredible sums of money, I understand why those feelings exist. To some (many?) this is unrelatable. A fantasy land. And out of hand.

But I respectfully offer these points:

1) The Boston Celtics wouldn’t be giving Tatum a record-breaking contract if he was bad for business, or a drag on the competitive product. He’s great for business. He’s a likable, personable man. That’s why he’s so popular with endorsements. And on the court, he’s a proven winner who will end up as one of all-time greats in Celtics history.

2) The NBA owners are not exactly reheating bowls of leftover ramen noodles or mac-and-cheese to survive. These are among the wealthiest people in America. TV, streaming and marketing revenue to pour into the NBA. The players – the stars – operate in a system that was negotiated by the league-office powers and the NBA players association. In the current collective bargaining agreement, players receive a 50 percent revenue share. They’re splitting the money with team owners.

3) Athletes are employees who work under the lights, providing the production, consumer appeal, and the multimedia focus that generates tons of money for the company that pays them. If you or I had the kind of amazing skills and drawing power that motivates NBA owners to sign off on such monumental deals, we sure as heck wouldn’t turn the money down.

4) In the same week the Celtics made news by ensuring Tatum’s future in Boston, the group of investors that own the franchise disclosed their intent to sell the team. The current ownership group purchased the Celtics for $360 million in 2002. Fortune magazine estimates the team’s current market value at $5 billion. Members of Boston’s ownership consortium will realize a stupendous financial windfall on their original investment. And we’re going to take umbrage at NBA players for maximizing their value in the collectively bargained accord? Not me. I try really hard to avoid hypocrisy.

5) Tatum is a sure-thing investment. He is a player of formidable, wide-ranging talent. He isn’t a one-dimensional player; “JT” does everything well. He can run the offense as a de facto point guard. He can muscle up to guard power forwards and centers. Tatum runs the court with the speed of the elite wing that he is. But he’ll take on the hard, grimy duties in the paint and under the basket.

Tatum is a character guy. There’s nothing flaky or untrustworthy about him. He has a relentless work ethic. He is absolutely driven to improve. He doesn’t coast. He isn’t complacent. He wants to be his best for his team, and for himself. As long as Tatum believes he can enhance a part of his game, he’ll be in the gym for much of the offseason, trying to perfect his perceived substandard areas. And those standards are his alone. No coach or general manager has to push him to update his game. Tatum has the kind of ego – the belief – that all great players possess. But he does not have the kind of ego that is disruptive and corrosive and harmful to team chemistry. Tatum and Brown are team players, all the way.

Since being drafted third overall in the 2017 NBA draft, Tatum has started 93 percent of Boston’s regular-season games and 100 percent of their postseason games. He’s never missed more than eight games in a season.

In Tatum’s seven years in Boston, the Celtics are a close second to Milwaukee in regular-season winning percentage (.650) and have won the most postseason games by an NBA team. This Tatum-Celtics cooperative is a mutually beneficial and rewarding partnership. This is how it’s supposed to work.

The investments in Tatum and Brown already have paid off, and there’s more coming. The Celtics reached the Eastern Conference finals six times in the past eight seasons, have played in the NBA Finals in two of the last three years, and just had their first championship parade of the Tatum–Brown Era.

They are young catalysts on a roster that’s been designed to win additional NBA titles. These monster contracts are central in the plan to keep this team together and maintain a positive culture. The combination of Tatum-Brown talent and leadership is something that every team would love to have. By the time their current deals explore, Brown and Tatum will be in their early 30s and still capable of playing at a high level.

Thanks to the vision of president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, the Celtics are remarkably stable. Tatum and Brown are the core, and Stevens did a superb job of building around them. And he’s keeping the band together. Stevens recently signed the exquisitely versatile Derrick White to a four-year, $126 million contract extension. That followed contract extensions for Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porziņģis. Boston’s entire 2024 postseason rotation is returning intact to go for another ring in 2024-2025. And the Celtics have a good chance of keeping their starting lineup in place for the next two seasons.

It’s a bad time to be a Celtics hater. It’s a great time to be a fan of Jayson Tatum and admire all that he’s done for the Celtics. I’d normally say something like “this is a long way from Chaminade Prep” in St. Louis, Tatum’s alma mater. But I don’t see it that way. Other than the difference in physical maturation, the teenage Tatum and the NBA-champ Tatum are the same  The qualities that shaped Tatum during his  formative years in St. Louis are the same qualities that have shaped him in the NBA. I don’t know how many pennies it would take to get to $313.9 million, but Tatum is worth every one of them.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has provided informed opinions and perspective on St. Louis sports through his columns, radio shows and podcasts since 1985.

Please follow Bernie on Threads @miklaszb

Stats used in this column were sourced from Basketball Reference dot com.

 

 

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.