Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum said he wanted to "honour" Kobe Bryant, after his side advanced to the NBA Finals on Sunday, defeating the Miami Heat 100-96 on Sunday.
For Game 7, Tatum wore an armband in the colours of the Celtics' long-time rival Los Angeles Lakers – a purple armband with his idol Bryant's number 24 for the Lakers stitched on in gold.
The 24-year-old went on to put up 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal in just over 45 minutes on the court, taking out the inaugural Larry Bird trophy for Eastern Conference Finals MVP.
While explaining the inspiration behind the armband, Tatum said afterwards how Boston securing their first finals appearance since 2010 and his MVP award all feels surreal.
"That was my inspiration, that was my favourite player," he said post-game. The shoes I wore in the last couple of games were dedicated to him and today, before I took my nap, I was watching some film and some moments from his career. I wanted to wear that armband to honour him and kind of share that moment.
"It's an honour. It still doesn't even seem real right now, but I'm extremely happy and grateful for all of this. Regardless of how long I've been in the league, I'm not too far removed from when I was in high school, dreaming about moments like this.
"I still feel like a kid, sometimes, in that I'm truly living out my dream. To be the first person to win this award, after Larry Bird, it still hasn't sunk in yet."
We’ve watched them grow up together, now they’re Finals bound pic.twitter.com/W5uVTQtIPd— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 30, 2022
Boston's playoff opponents to secure the Eastern Conference title were also the three to eliminate them in each of the previous three seasons.
Aside from their progression past the Brooklyn Nets this season, the Celtics engaged in highly physical battles in series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Heat to get to the finals.
According to Tatum, those playoff losses inspired them to get out of the East this time around.
"It was the biggest game of our season and my career, and I just had faith that we were going to give it all we had, regardless of the outcome," he said. "To get over this hump in the fashion that we did it - obviously we took the toughest route possible, winning Game 7 to go to the championship on the road, it's special.
"Losing my first year and losing to these guys in the bubble, I think going through those tough times helped us grow, helped us learn and once we get in that situation again, we'd respond differently.
"In the moment, when you lose those series, obviously it hurts and it's tough, but you never forget it. I think that's what we all had in common, that we had all been through those tough times and we remembered how that felt, and we didn't want to have that feeling again leaving here tonight."
The Celtics will now face the Golden State Warriors, with Game 1 taking place in San Francisco on Thursday.