Near the end of the Celtics’ win over the Golden State Warriors in late January, with the outcome already decided, a familiar “We want Tacko!” chant emanated from the balcony level at TD Garden.
It was understandable that the fans wanted Tacko Fall to enter the game given the circumstances, but there was a slight problem: Fall wasn’t on the bench. He wasn’t even in the arena.
Chanting Fall’s name in the fourth quarter has become as mainstream as “Gino Time” at Celtics games, whether he’s there or not. When the 7-foot-5 rookie center does get into the game, the cheers are oftentimes louder than any others the entire night. Wednesday against the Orlando Magic, when he entered for a defensive possession with 1.6 seconds left in the half, and again in the final minute of the game, the crowd erupted and hollered his name.
Fall, who splits time between the Celtics and the G League affiliate Maine Red Claws on a two-way contract, has become a cult phenomenon in New England and beyond. He finished sixth in the fan vote and ninth overall in All-Star voting among Eastern Conference frontcourt players despite only playing a total of 26 minutes in six games so far this season.
The 24-year-old center, who has a fascinating backstory that started in Senegal and continued in Florida, lives an unusual life, frequently in the spotlight and rarely able to avoid the extra attention. He never seems to mind it, though, embracing the opportunity by conducting the Boston Pops, riding in a go-kart, and always stopping to sign autographs and take pictures with adoring fans.
7’5″ Tacko Fall in a go-kart ?
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 5, 2020
Boston.com spoke with Celtics teammates Grant Williams, Javonte Green, Romeo Langford, Vincent Poirier, and Carsen Edwards to learn more about what makes Fall special.
His interests extend well beyond basketball.
Over the summer, when the Celtics Summer League team was heading from the hotel to practice, Green recalls Fall bumping Migos and rapping every lyric to every song.
“He knew every word for every ad lib,” Green said, laughing. “He knew Takeoff’s part, Quevo’s part, he knew Offset’s part.”
Green considers himself a Migos fan, too. He thought he knew the lyrics well, and then he met Fall.
“He was on beat,” Green said. “It was so funny, because I didn’t expect that. I knew Tacko for probably like six days, and then that happened, so it was crazy.”
Langford recalls a similar experience, when Fall unexpectedly knew every word to James Brown’s 1973 hit “The Payback.”
His interests outside of basketball go beyond music. Williams, who called Fall intelligent and goofy at the same time, said Fall enjoys anime, video games such as Assasin’s Creed, and board games.
Williams said Fall is still focused on popular anime series such as Naruto and One Piece, so he’s trying to expose him to more in-depth series such as Demon Slayer. Whether they’re dissecting basketball or playing a multi-player game on the console, the conversation never dies down.
“We can talk about anything in the world,” Williams said. “You can give us a topic, and we’ll be able to converse for like 45 minutes on it.”
“Who don’t love Tacko?”
After a game earlier this season, Poirier remembers spotting a treadmill on the back of Fall’s pickup truck.
Poirier asked him whose treadmill it was, and why it was there, and Fall said it wasn’t his and told him he was helping someone else. Sometimes, Poirier said, Fall goes out of his way to assist others, even when it doesn’t benefit him at all.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan reported that teammate Enes Kanter had to stop Fall from giving out his phone number to fans who asked, and some of Fall’s other teammates paint a similar picture.
“He has a kind heart,” Williams said. “I feel like that’s self-explanatory. He’s a guy that really cares about others. You love to have him in the locker room, because he’s selfless and he truly gives his all for everyone around him.”
Edwards said the first attributes he noticed about Fall when they met were his unselfishness and compassion. Langford said he’s never seen him mad outside of basketball. Green said it’s easy to tell Fall was raised right.
He never turns to his height as an excuse to avoid talking to people. If anything, he uses it as a means of authentically connecting with others. Poirier said strangers can often be rude to tall people, so he tells Fall to block out the haters and ignore any unwanted attention that comes his way.
“From what I can see, I don’t think you can do a better job at handling all the attention he gets,” Green said. “Not even just the fans screaming his name at the Garden, saying, ‘We want Tacko,’ but no matter where we’re at, somebody’s screaming his name. He does a great job at handling the fame and all the things that come with it.”
Green said he would “go crazy” if he were as famous as Fall, and he’s consistently amazed that Fall never lets it fluster him or deter him.
“Tacko doesn’t act like he’s 7’5,” Green said. “He has a heart and a personality as a kid. He’s always smiling and always has great energy. He’s a great guy. You can tell that he was raised right. He’s very humbled. Who don’t love Tacko?”
“He’s not putting on a show.”
Sean Deveney of Forbes wrote an in-depth piece about Fall’s journey to the NBA. Fall realizes his life will never be normal, but it’s no secret he wants to earn respect as a versatile basketball player who’s known for more than just his physical stature.
“I stand out,” Fall told Deveney. “Obviously. But it is a blessing. I don’t complain about it. People, whatever the reason, like me, they come up to me. I can’t complain about that. Sometimes though, you want some quiet, you want it to be normal. I don’t want to be a freak show.”
Tacko Fall checks in at TD Garden for the first time in the regular season to a standing ovation ? pic.twitter.com/lgL07t7qH5
— ESPN (@espn) December 21, 2019
As of Tuesday, Fall is averaging 13.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game for the Red Claws. With the Celtics, those numbers are at 3.2 and 1.8 per game, for a whopping player efficiency rating of 24.04. That PER would put him 15th in the NBA, just behind Jimmy Butler and ahead of Rudy Gobert, if he qualified. Fall typically plays with the game out of reach, and with his teammates going out of their way to get him the ball.
Fall’s teammates are confident he will find his niche as his career progresses.
“To score a basket on him is tough,” said Poirier, who stands 7 feet tall himself. “It takes a couple times. You’re going to get blocked one, two, three times, but it’s good to play against him, because you improve your game. You try to find another way to score.”
Williams said he tried to dunk on Fall when they first met, and it didn’t work out too well. He said Fall’s post game is steadily developing, and he’s adding a right hook and turnaround to his repertoire. There’s a lot in his bag that he’s been working on, Williams said, and he’s eager for NBA fans to see the full display.
“He’s a guy that puts the time in,” Williams said. “He’s not a guy that just comes in and checks the box and moves on. He’s in there consistently with a smile on his face and ready to get better. That’s something that you respect about him. He’s not putting on a show. He’s being himself and being genuine, and he’s truly getting better, both intellectually and physically, every single day.”
— NBA (@NBA) December 21, 2019
Green said Fall’s length helps him alter shots that other people wouldn’t affect. He said his ability to read where the ball is going and react is impressive. Sometimes he blocks a shot and then jumps, Green said, which always makes Green smile.
He remembers seeing highlights of Fall before they became teammates, and now he marvels at how much Fall has already improved this year. Green said one next step for Fall is sharpening his lateral footwork, and he believes that will come the more he plays.
Langford said Fall is willing to be taught and eager to try to get better. Williams said he’s seeing the game better and playing at a faster pace. Poirier said he’s working hard to carve out more of a role for himself and prove he’s a capable option.
They’re all excited about what his future holds.
“I think he can be a dominant force in the NBA,” Green said.