Jayson Tatum was the happiest person on the planet late Monday night after the Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship by taking down Dallas in five games.

Given the way that Tatum was hugging the championship trophy after the game – he wasn’t going to let the prize go – he may be sleeping with it in the days after Game 5.

The embrace required a lot of physical effort and mental strength. For Tatum, the capture of the cherished trophy required seven NBA seasons, 513 regular-season games, 113 postseason games. Tatum was holding it close to his heart after scoring 14,563 combined points, regular season and playoffs, in his NBA career.

Along the way, Tatum had to hear a lot of irresponsible junk about his shortcomings in the biggest games, and the noise about how the pressure supposedly got to him. He’s no Michael Jordan! He’s no LeBron James! No kidding. Who is?

Tatum had to hear the stupid speculation concerning his relationship with friend and teammate Jaylen Brown. They didn’t get along (wrong.) They were jealous of each other (wrong.) They played the same position (wrong.) To win an NBA title, the Celtics had to break them up (wrong again) and reset. No. The Celtics didn’t do that and never had to do that.

“These last seven years have been a roller coaster, up and down,” Tatum said in the media room late Monday night. “I had to listen to all the s— that people said about me, and tonight, it was worth it. Oh, my God.”

After scoring 31 points with 11 rebounds and eight assists in Game 5, an ebullient Tatum acknowledged the impact of his hometown in making his championship splendor possible.

“All the sacrifice was worth it,” he said. “I’m so thankful to have been in the positions that I was growing up. Thankful for my mom. Thankful for my dad introducing me to basketball. My grandmother who helped raise me. All my friends and family that have supported me, every coach, every teammate that I’ve had.

“There’s a lot of people that have had a hand in the success of Jayson Tatum. So I guess in this moment, I’m just very thankful for everybody that supported me in the highest of moments and in the lowest of moments. I’m very, very appreciative of that.”

This special player and person from the Show-Me State showed them. And perhaps the critics and skeptics learned something about rushing to judgment and using Tatum as fodder for their screeching-demon TV shows and hey-look-at-me online videos.

Tatum is 26 years old. It isn’t supposed to be easy to win a championship and hang a championship banner in the rafters. There are exceptions, of course. Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird and Tim Duncan won their first NBA championship at age 24 or younger.

Many illustrious NBA stars didn’t win their first title until age 26 or older:

Steph Curry, 27
LeBron James, 27
Michael Jordan, 28
Shaquille O’Neal, 28
Moses Malone, 28
Isiah Thomas, 28
Kevin Durant, 28
Wilt Chamberlain, 30
Hakeem Olajuwon, 31
Dirk Nowitizki, 31
Oscar Robertson, 32
Julius Erving, 33
Jerry West, 33
Jason Kidd, 38

The Celtics won their NBA-most 18th championship with Tatum leading them on a 16-3 postseason run. Including their regular-season domination the Celtics won 80 of 101 games this season for a winning percentage of .792.

During the regular season Tatum led Boston in points, rebounds, field goals, free throws and three-point baskets. He was also second in both assists and steals.

On the advanced-metrics side during the regular season, Tatum led the team in value over replacement (VORP), offensive win shares and defensive win shares.

In 19 postseason games Tatum topped the Celtics in points, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, assists, field goals and free throws.

Give that man some Imo’s.

“This is at the top of the mountain,” Tatum said. “To be able to say we did it, that we came together and we won a championship. Banner No. 18 (for the Celtics) has been hanging over our heads for so many years. To know that we’re going to be engraved in history, and it still hasn’t registered. I’m just still trying to process it all. But we did it. We won a championship.”

That championship banner has a higher meaning for Tatum. He’s well on the way to having his number retired. He’s already piled up a bunch of All-NBA and All-Star game selections.

In Boston postseason history, Tatum at age 26 already ranks sixth in career points, seventh in assists, eighth in rebounds and 10th in victories (68). The only Celtics that have more postseason points than Tatum are Bird, John Havlicek, Kevin McHale, Sam Jones and Paul Pierce. And Tatum will almost certainly pass Pierce – quite possibly next year – to become Boston’s fifth-leading scorer in postseason history.

And before I return to that topic, let’s go back to Monday night and Jaylen Brown winning the award for NBA Finals MVP. It was somewhat surprising – only because Tatum led the Celtics in scoring, rebounds and assists during the five-game series – but the friends wanted no part of a potential debate.

Tatum on Brown: “First of all, congrats to him. Well-deserved. Extremely happy for him. This is a hell of an accomplishment. The main goal for us was to win a championship. We weren’t — we didn’t care who got Finals MVP. I know that I need him through this journey and he needs me. So, you know, it was great to see him have that moment and share that moment with him. I’m extremely happy for him. Well-deserved. That was big-time. He earned that.”

Brown on Tatum: “It could have gone to Jayson. I can’t talk enough about his selflessness. You know, I can’t talk enough about his attitude. It’s just how he approached not just this series or the Finals but just the playoffs in general. And we did it together as a team, and that was the most important thing. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been playing together for seven years now. We’ve been through a lot, the losses, the expectations. The media have said all different types of things – we can’t play together, we are never going to win. We heard it all. But we just blocked it out, and we just kept going. I trusted him. He trusted me. And we did it together. To get to this point and share that experience with JT, it’s just awesome. It’s amazing, and it feels great.”

So why do I believe Tatum is a virtual lock to have his “0” retired by the Celtics one day? Winning an NBA championship is mandatory, and now he’s done it. Among the many numbers retired by the Celtics, only two were honored without winning an NBA title in the green uniform: Reggie Lewis and St. Louisan Easy Ed Macauley. Easy Ed was traded to the St. Louis Hawks in the deal that gave Boston the draft rights to Bill Russell. And Lewis was a prominent star who died of heart failure at age 27.

“Being a part of Celtics history entails that you’ve got to win a championship,” Tatum said.

Jaylen Brown and Tatum will be there together – their numbers in the rafters. This Celtics partnership has a long way to go, and they’ve already produced one banner … with more to come.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream live or access the podcast on 590thefan.com or the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Threads @miklaszb

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

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.