Boston Celtics

Celtics' patience with Tatum and Brown was rewarded with Banner 18

The Celtics never gave up on their two young stars, and that can be a lesson for other teams.

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Patience is often hard to come by in professional sports.

Everyone -- from the owners to the general managers to the players to the fans -- wants to win and do it right now. The potential of tomorrow is just that -- potential. And when something doesn't work out after two, three or four tries, it's easy to make major changes and completely change course.

Taking the long view is often the best approach, whether you work in the stock market or are crafting the roster of an NBA team.

The Boston Celtics displayed extraordinary patience with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown -- the two cornerstones of their franchise. This patience was rewarded Monday night when Tatum and Brown led the Celtics to their 18th championship and first in 16 years.

"We've been through a lot," Brown told reporters in his press conference after the Celtics' title-clinching Game 5 win. "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 is just awesome, you know what I mean? It's amazing, and it feels great."

Brown won Finals MVP with an excellent two-way performance in the Celtics' series win over the Dallas Mavericks. Tatum became the sixth player since 1980 to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists during the playoffs en route to a championship.

Jaylen Brown gives credit to Jayson Tatum after winning the NBA Finals. and he talks about the ups and down they've gone to together.

The journey to this triumphant moment was not easy and took a long time. In fact, the 107 playoff games Tatum and Brown had played together before Game 5 of the Finals were the most ever for a duo before finally winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy. It's fair to wonder if that record will ever be broken, mostly because it's rare that teams show so much patience in a duo after it comes up short three, four or five times.

The Celtics got close to the Finals in Tatum and Brown's first season together in 2017-18. A rookie Tatum and a second-year Brown helped the C's reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers at home. After a brutal 2018-19 campaign, the C's once again got to the conference finals inside the Orlando bubble playoffs, but they couldn't get past the Miami Heat. Brown missed the 2021 playoffs due to injury as the C's lost to the Brooklyn Nets in a five-game first-round series.

The first real breakthrough came in 2022, when the Celtics won Game 7 of the East Finals on the road against the Heat before falling to the Golden State Warriors in six games in the NBA Finals. Tatum didn't play well in that series, averaging just 21.5 points and shooting 36.7 percent from the field. It was a tough defeat, but the Warriors were at the end of a dynasty and had a better roster and far more experience.

The real test of the Celtics' patience came in 2023. They inexplicably went down 0-3 in the conference finals to the Heat before battling back to force a Game 7 in Boston. Their historic comeback fell short as Tatum sprained his ankle in the opening minute and Brown played poorly.

It was the kind of failure that would have caused many teams to shake up their core and make seismic roster changes. But instead of giving up on Tatum or Brown, the Celtics signed Brown to the richest contract in league history and made bold moves to bolster the supporting cast. Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart, along with other players and draft picks, were eventually shipped out in deals that brought Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday to Boston.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

These additions fit in seamlessly. Porzingis added a dimension the Celtics had never had with Brown and Tatum -- a 7-footer who can score inside and from the 3-point line, while also being a dominant interior defender. Holiday provided leadership, poise, elite defense and title-winning experience (the player guy on the team with a championship ring).

Even though Brown and Tatum hadn't won the Finals despite the Celtics making the league's final four five times in their seven seasons as teammates, they were still at an age when many of the best players in recent memory hadn't won yet or were just starting to win.

Brown is 27 years old. Tatum turned 26 in March. They just completed their eighth and seventh pro seasons, respectively. This is when championship-caliber players typically start winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Just look at many of the notable champions from the last 35 years. Eight of the 12 players on this list, including Tatum and Brown, lost a Finals before winning one.

Could you imagine if the Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant after getting swept in the 1998 and 1999 playoffs? They probably wouldn't have won three straight titles from 2000 through 2002. What if the Warriors acquired Kevin Love in 2014 and given up Klay Thompson? Does Golden State win four titles in eight years? They didn't break up the Curry-Thompson duo and were rewarded.

The Celtics could have traded Tatum or Brown for any number of established stars over the first several years of their careers. There were trade rumors involving Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, to name a few.

The C's never made a panic trade. They held on to Tatum and Brown and trusted them to work hard and improve.

Brown entered the league as an average shooter. He's now a threat from 3-point range and can score 30 points any night. He's also became an excellent perimeter defender whose defense on Luka Doncic was pivotal in the C's defeating the Mavs. Tatum became the first Celtics player to average 30-plus points per game last season. He's also one of the team's best rebounders and his playmaking ability has dramatically improved. His defense is very good, too.

There have been many duos that ended too early or just never won. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor made multiple Finals and never won. Karl Malone and John Stockton played more than 170 playoff games together and didn't win. Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal never led the Orlando Magic to a title. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp couldn't get over the hump with the Seattle SuperSonics. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn't lift the Oklahoma City Thunder to a championship.

Tatum and Brown will never again appear on a list with those duos who couldn't quite finish the job. Instead of letting playoff losses and individual disappointment tear them apart, they were strengthened by them. They put in the work, sacrificed for the betterment of the team and won the ultimate prize.

They deserve a ton of credit for Banner 18. The Celtics also deserve immense praise for being patient enough to let it all happen.

"It took being relentless. It took being on the other side of this and losing in the Finals and being at literally the lowest point in a basketball career that you could be, to next year, to the following year, thinking that was going to be the time, and come up short again," Tatum told reporters in his press conference after Game 5.

"People have said it before. But coming up short and having failures makes this moment that much better. Because you know what it feels like to lose. You know what it feels like to be on the other side of this and be in the locker room and hearing the other team celebrating, hearing them celebrate on your home floor. That was devastating.

"And now, to elevate yourself in a space that all your favorite players are in, everybody that they consider greats or legends have won a championship, and all of the guys I looked up to won a championship, multiple championships. So now I can, like, walk in those rooms and be a part of that. It's a hell of a feeling. This is more -- I dreamed about what it would be like, but this is 10 times better."

The Celtics' patience in Tatum and Brown should be a lesson for teams in the NBA and other sports that find themselves in a similar situation. The urge to blow up a roster can be strong after crushing postseason defeats. But patience is often rewarded, and when the mission does get accomplished, it makes the thrill of victory even sweeter.

Gary Washburn and Chris Forsberg predict what a championship does for Jayson Tatum's legacy with the Celtics going forward.
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