The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are fierce rivals. In fact, prior to reaching the NBA Finals in Sunday's victory over the Miami Heat, the last team the Celtics faced in the NBA Finals were the Lakers in 2010. Boston lost that series. Kobe Bryant was the Finals MVP. Needless to say, he's not especially popular among Celtics fans.
But he's very popular to a certain Celtics player. Jayson Tatum has long called Bryant his favorite player and idol. He worked out with Bryant on several occasions before his death in a 2020 helicopter accident. He even wore Bryant's Lakers uniform as part of the NBA's 75th anniversary celebration.
It should therefore not be a surprise that Tatum chose to wear a purple and gold armband in Game 7 featuring Bryant's uniform number: 24.
“This was the biggest game of my career so far, so I wanted to wear that armband to honor him and share that moment,” Tatum said after the game. While it's unknowable how much the armband actually helped him, the fact that he is about to play in his first NBA Finals is undeniable. Tatum has spent his career trying to live up to Bryant's legacy. He did so on Sunday with some of the biggest shots of his career.
So Celtics fans will have to live with a little bit of purple and gold in their Finals run. Whatever Tatum needed to carry Boston over the top was likely just fine by them. If anything, the Celtics are positioned to have the last laugh. The Lakers tied the Celtics with 17 total championships when they won it all back in 2020. Now Tatum, wearing Bryant's number on his arm, can give the Celtics the lead back. That might make this run even sweeter for Tatum, the Celtics and their typically unforgiving fanbase.