Through Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
SAN FRANCISCO – Jayson Tatum was impressed by the scene.
There were swarms of reporters from all over the world. The backdrop behind him was adorned with the words “The Finals.” He was whipped from obligation to obligation.
It was a dream come true for a 24-year-old who was a freshman at the time.
“I sort of morph back into my childhood and watch the finals every year,” he said. “Every kid can imagine being in the NBA and being in the finals. But actually living your dream in real time is a surreal feeling. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself.”
Warriors or Celtics – Best bet to win the NBA Finals?
FOX Bet has the Golden State Warriors as favorites over the Boston Celtics to win the NBA Finals. Cousin Sal and Clay Travis make their choice.
The Warriors superstars had a very different experience of NBA Finals Media Day.
This is her sixth appearance in eight years. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are used to the bright lights, incredible pressure and circus of it all.
In fact, Green said he’s something of an “old head” now, which he’s become aware of lately after spending time with 19-year-old teammate Jonathan Kuminga.
“He looks at me like I’m looking at a 55-year-old man…” Green said.
The Warriors are the dynasty of the last decade.
Curry is the guy kids emulate as they shoot hoops in their driveway and yell his name while flying 50-foot airballs. Green is the guy coaches point to when they want to show how far defense, rebounds and rushing can take you. Thompson is the cool sniper everyone wants to be, the guy who’s cooler than cool.
But the Warriors see themselves a bit in the young Celtics, who have reached their first finals since 2010.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr sees Green’s tenacity and intelligence in Marcus Smart, who was named this season’s Defensive Player of the Year.
And he sees the Celtics’ success in replicating his team’s approach of drafting, developing and sticking with players with great potential (Smart in 2014, Jaylen Brown in 2016 and Tatum in 2017). Or in other words, to show a patience that is rare in today’s league.
Let’s not forget where the warriors have been recently.
Curry was little known as the NBA’s next superstar when the Warriors picked him seventh overall in 2009. Even fewer thought that Thompson would become a five-time All-Star after being voted No. 11 in 2011. No one thought Green would become the league’s champion as a paragon of defense after his draft-day fall at No. 35 in 2012.
But they all bought in and morphed into the best possible versions of themselves – and now a similar phenomenon is happening with the Celtics’ stars.
“I think they’re about the same age as we were back then, mid-20s,” Thompson said, referring to the Warriors’ first title win in 2015. “You have to give credit to this organization. I feel like Brown and Tatum and Smart have been there for 10 years. They worked hard to get here, as did we. We respect them and they present us with unique challenges.”
The Celtics have had an amazing turnaround this season. They were still 11th in the East on January 16, but they refused to break.
When pundits said it was time to take drastic action and split young stars Tatum and Brown, the team responded with a rapprochement. When pundits questioned whether coach Ime Udoka was right, the Celtics responded by winning 26 of their last 32 games and finishing with the league’s best defensive rating.
“I’m sure not a lot of people thought we got to that point,” Tatum said. “But there was always a sense of conviction between us and the group that we were able to figure it out.”
Now they’re going up against the team with the best offensive rating this postseason.
Everything is a journey for Tatum.
He vividly remembers being tied to the TV as a junior in high school when the Warriors won it all seven years ago. Now he’s leading his team against them on basketball’s ultimate stage.
There’s also a great mystique to playing for the Warriors against Boston, who grew up in awe of the legendary franchise’s history.
Thompson, whose father Mychal won two championships with the “Showtime” Lakers in 1987 and 1988, recalls that his youth team lost to the Celtics in the 2008 finals and faced them again on that stage two years later.
“I saw her with my dad in college in 2010, Game 7 at Staples,” Thompson said. “And now it’s 12 years later and I can play against the team I cheered for. But it’s amazing.”
Even Kerr recalls being impressed with the Celtics early in his playing career, starting in a game while some of his teammates were injured.
“Larry Bird actually said, ‘Good luck Steve,'” he recalled. “I said, ‘You too, Larry.’ I was like, ‘What’s happening?’”
Where Celtics have an advantage over Warriors in NBA Finals
Colin Cowherd plays NBA Finals Faceoff in which he decides whether he prefers the Boston Celtics or the Golden State Warriors on points like paint, creativity, paint defense, coaching, leadership, chemistry, grip, depth and home field advantage. Do you agree with Colin?
Now the Celtics are back on their way back to greatness. Everyone on the team pours into defense. Everyone is hungry. And everyone wants to prove that they belong.
The new heads are coming. All that stands in their way are the old minds who embody everything they want to become.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
Get more from the National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more.