Six years before facing LeBron in the conference finals, Jayson Tatum just wanted him to follow back on Twitter

Starting Sunday, Jayson Tatum will be one of many Boston Celtics entrusted with trying to keep LeBron James from rampaging past them and into his fourth straight NBA Finals. Time was, though, the Celtics’ rookie star was just another teen with big dreams … both on the hardwood, and on social media:

Yep: that’s a 14-year-old Jayson looking for a follow back from a Miami Heat-era LeBron, dangling as bait a photo of a fresh-faced young Tatum posing with the King. Alas, LeBron has chosen not to get updates from Tatum’s Twitter feed — as of press time, anyway, though that could change. (Though it could also not, given the whole Zero Dark Thirty Twenty-Three Plus Some More Numbers thing.)

That hasn’t slowed Tatum’s roll, though. The youngster has progressed through AAU ball to become one of the country’s top prospects, a blue-chip recruit at Duke, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft and one of the most important pieces on a Celtics team that’s progressed to the league’s final four despite season-ending injuries to All-Stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. In fairness, LeBron’s been a little busy the past six years, what with all the NBA Finals runs, becoming a titan of international industry, and delivering the first championship in Cleveland Cavaliers history.

Related: See the best photos from the second round of the playoffs: 

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NBA playoffs: The best photos from Round 2
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NBA playoffs: The best photos from Round 2
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after making a three-point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 1, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 01: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball as Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors defends in the second half of Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 1, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics takes a shot against Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers during Game One in Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the 76ers 117-101. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after hitting a three point shot against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter of Game One of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- MAY 3 - Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) dunks as the Toronto Raptors play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the NBA playoffs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. May 3, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 3: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics goes to the basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 06: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz goes to the basket under the defense of James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the second half during Game Four of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 6, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Rockets beat the Jazz 100-87. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 05: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers hits the game winning shot over the outstretched hand of OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors to win Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals 105-103 during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 5, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 7: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers gets into an altercation with Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics as Jayson Tatum #0 and Marcus Morris #13 of the Boston Celtics and Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers try to break them up in the second quarter during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on May 7, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 05: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates his game winning shot with Kevin Love #0 next to Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 5, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
May 7, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) and Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) drive for a loose ball during the second quarter in game four of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
May 5, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) stands on the scorer's table after hitting the final shot to win the game against the Toronto Raptors in game three of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 08: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans goes up for a dunk on Quinn Cook #4, Kevon Looney #5, and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 8, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 9: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics takes a shot over T.J. McConnell #12 of the Philadelphia 76ers during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 9, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the 76ers 114-112 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
May 9, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) reacts after scoring against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half in game five of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
May 8, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) passes the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward David West (3) and guard Shaun Livingston (34) during the first quarter in game five of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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‘I was in like fourth grade’

Tatum recalled the circumstances behind the photo and the tweet back in October, shortly after making his NBA debut against LeBron and the Cavs on the opening night of the 2017-18 season. From MassLive.com:

“I was like in fourth grade when I took that photo,” Tatum said. “And I was like nine or 10. I remember after the game, I took a picture of him. And then I guess five years ago I tweeted it trying to get a follow back.” […]

Even Tatum said he had forgotten about the tweet until someone dug it up earlier this week. So when the Celtics and Cavaliers met on opening night, he didn’t give James a hard time about refusing to follow him years ago.

“I said what’s up,” Tatum said. “But I didn’t mention anything — I forgot about the picture and the tweet.”

“I used to watch LeBron on TV growing up, and now I’m playing my first game against him,” Tatum said before October’s season opener, smiling as he remembered his daydreams of one day matching up with James in the league. “It’s a lot […] It went good in my head. In my head.”

From following to leading

Tatum acquitted himself well in that season opener in Cleveland, starting in his NBA debut in place of the injured Marcus Morris and finding himself pressed into significantly heavier duty by the horrific ankle injury Hayward suffered in the game’s opening minutes. He defended smartly, ran the floor and didn’t shrink from the moment, finishing with 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting, 10 rebounds, three assists and one turnover in 37 minutes as Boston came up just short against the three-time-defending Eastern Conference champs. It was a preview of what was to come.

Seven months later, Tatum’s grown into one of the linchpins of a Celtics team that has soldiered on without Irving and Hayward, winning 55 games, finishing with the East’s No. 2 seed and knocking off both Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks and the Joel Embiid- and Ben Simmons-led Philadelphia 76ers to earn their way into the Eastern Conference finals. He’s been brilliant when Boston has needed him most, scoring 20 or more points in seven straight games — tied for the second-longest such streak by a rookie in NBA history — and coming up huge in the deciding Game 5, scoring a team-high 25 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, capped by a clutch layup through contact with 22 seconds left that gave the C’s a lead they’d never relinquish.

Tatum’s grown in leaps and bounds since the first time he stepped on the court with James, let alone since he posed for that picture or asked for that follow. The challenge now will be showing that growth and not looking his age in the most pressure-packed moments of what’s been a remarkable rookie season. And maybe after all’s said and done, if he holds his own and earns LeBron’s grudging respect as a worthy opponent, he’ll finally get that follow.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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