The irrelevance of whether Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown is the Celtics’ best player

OPINION: As long as Tatum and Brown continue to make winning the main thing, both are headliners that fans want to see

Jaylen Brown No. 7 of the Boston Celtics and Jayson Tatum No. 0 of the Boston Celtics react after a win over the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden on February 27, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

— “Ain’t nobody comin’ to see you, Otis! You wish you could work it the way I do, but you can’t!” 

While portraying David Ruffin in “The Temptations” miniseries in 1998, actor Leon delivered that classic line with bite and spite. He was correct as a lead vocalist arguing with a background singer, but he missed Otis Williams’ point: Fans bought tickets to see the group. 

Until a lead singer (inevitably?) departs and embarks on a solo career, the group is all that matters.

Unlike in the music industry, going solo is impossible in team sports. But basketball squads always feature a lead who’s consensually agreed upon as the team’s best player. The nod in Boston has gone to Jayson Tatum for the five seasons since Kyrie Irving left. Jaylen Brown, drafted a year ahead of Tatum, is near-unanimously slotted No. 2 in the Celtics’ hierarchy. The two Jays have bonded seamlessly enough to reach their second NBA Finals in three years.

Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd tried to sow dissension prior to Game 2 while discussing the defensive strategy for Brown. “Well, Jaylen’s their best player … ” Kidd said Saturday, listing attributes that helped Brown win the Eastern Conference finals MVP. “He did everything and that’s what your best player does.”

Kidd holds the minority opinion based on Tatum’s lead over Brown in All-NBA selections (4-1 overall and 3-0 first team). But Kidd doesn’t have to believe his assessment; he just needs it to affect one of Boston’s co-stars, to put their focus on one-upmanship instead of team ball. The mind game didn’t work as Boston won Sunday’s game for a 2-0 series lead entering Wednesday’s Game 3.

Can’t blame Kidd for trying to create a rift. He doesn’t need to foster real beef between the teammates, like the disunity between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant on the Lakers, or Irving and LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Persuading Tatum to think about proving himself as Boston’s top dawg would be enough. 

Guess the coach has to try again.

“We have all played a part in getting to where we’re at and we understand that people try to drive a wedge between us,” Tatum said. “ I guess it’s a smart thing to do or try to do. We’ve been in this position for many years of guys trying to divide us and say that one of us should be traded or one is better than the other. So it’s not our first time at (the) rodeo.”


Indeed, they’ve been at so many rodeos — reaching at least the Eastern Conference Finals six times in the last eight seasons — we’ve wondered if they’ll ever take the top prize. After posting the league’s best record in the regular season and going 14-2 in the playoffs, they’re halfway to the long-awaited chip that would be Boston’s 18th overall and first since 2008. 

Blessed by the presence of 2021 NBA champion Jrue Holiday and 17-year veteran Al Horford (playing in his first NBA Finals), the Celtics are intent on everyone eating — no matter who gets the big piece of chicken.

“We’ve been just extremely focused on what our roles and our jobs are,” Brown said. “We have all had to sacrifice. Right now, at this point, it’s whatever it takes to win. And we can’t let any outside interpretations try to get in between us.”

After Holiday led Boston to victory in Game 2, he clarified comments that some interpreted as agreeing with Kidd. “How (Tatum and Brown) play together and how they work together is something that is sacred and something that can’t be broken,” Holiday said. “I do not prefer one or the other. I prefer both. Both of them are superstars, and it’s being shown out here on the biggest stage in the world.”

Tatum is No. 1 statistically but Brown is tops financially, owner of the NBA’s largest contract. He also might be the league’s brainiest player, which caused scouts to fret about the Cal-Berkely student-athlete growing bored with hoops. (He wasn’t smart enough to avoid Kanye West’s sports agency, but that’s another matter.)

Brown was a beast as Boston swept Indiana to reach the Finals, where he led the team in scoring at 21.5 points per game. Tatum quietly leads the Celtics in rebounding (10.0) and assists (8.5) this series and throughout the entire postseason. Though I’m back to hating Boston with Nia Long out of the picture, I must admit the co-stars are complementary forces on a multifaceted squad. 

Sports talk exists to decide arguments like whether Tatum or Brown is Boston’s best player. The answer is irrelevant as long as neither gives a damn and they continue to make winning the main thing. Unlike Otis in “The Temptations,” Tatum and Brown can rest assured that they’re headliners. 

Celtics fans come to see them both.

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at