It’s not like Friday’s game between the Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics ultimately mattered; it’s preseason basketball. And with the home team falling behind by 24 points at the end of the opening quarter, the Amway Center crowd quickly abandoned any desire to see a Magic victory. There was only one thing they wanted.
“We want Tacko! “We want Tacko!”
The chants began in the second quarter and grew in volume and number as the blowout wore on.
“WE WANT TACKO!”
He received the same treatment in Boston during the Celtics’ preseason opener on Sunday and all throughout the NBA’s Summer League, where he was the star attraction after Zion Williamson was sidelined by a knee injury.
“I don’t think I’ll get used to it,” Fall said about the booming calls for him.
The only question as the fourth quarter commenced was this: Would Celtics head coach Brad Stevens give everyone what they clamored for?
Or really, in the case of those who followed and rooted for Fall throughout his UCF Knights career, what they paid for?
It became an exercise in stalking. Everyone focused on Stevens to see which player he would pull off the bench next.
Tremont Waters? The masses made their feelings known: “Boooooo!”
Vincent Poirier? “Boooooo!”
Max Strus? “Booooooooooooooo!”
Every non-Tacko Celtics player got the same greeting as they checked in during the fourth quarter.
But then, at the 5:33 mark — finally — he appeared.
Once again the crowd goes wild for Tacko Fall pic.twitter.com/bYmO3zVt9j— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) October 12, 2019
“I actually told [Tacko] at the six- or seven-minute timeout, I said, ‘Hey, if it gets to five minues and you haven’t gone in yet, just come and throw your stuff down at my face and just walk in, and then we’ll all play along,’” Stevens recalled. “We didn’t get to that. That would have been good.
“He’s really getting better as a basketball player. Not as good of an actor yet.”
Fall grabbed a couple of rebounds, an assist and didn’t score. Not a single person inside that arena really cared about his final line. They got to see him on the court; that is what truly mattered on this night.
And to play in front of those fans and receive that kind of reception mattered to Fall.
“It was awesome. This is my second home,” he said. “I played at UCF all those years, and all those people have cheered me on all throughout my college career.”
Our @EricLopezELO’s take: Tacko Fall is the most popular #UCF athlete in all of sports.— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) October 11, 2019
He returns to #Orlando tonight with the @Celtics. https://t.co/rbx2FKW8Oa
With Tacko, the cheering never seems to stop. Stevens said he’s not sure if Fall is always comfortable with the amount of excitement that’s centered around him. But how the big man handles it has really impressed his coach.
“I marvel at his grace. I mean, when you’re walking through the hotels, you’re walking through Boston, you’re walking through here, he draws so much attention and he just is such a smart, humble guy,” Stevens said. “You root for guys like that.”
Mo Bamba, the Magic’s star center and Fall’s friend, said: “He has a big heart.
“But he wrecked my car.”
Uh, excuse me?
“Yeah, he wrecked my car. Ask him about it. Ask him about my car,” Bamba said with a smile.
As if this story needed any more juice.
“I didn’t crash his car; somebody hit me. It’s a difference,” Fall responded, letting out a laugh.
Tacko Fall talks about the reception he got tonight at the Amway Center, what his life has been like in the NBA, and the real important question: Did he crash Mo Bamba's car?? #UCF pic.twitter.com/V8qViJHY5G— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) October 12, 2019
On the court, Stevens acknowledged the strides Fall has made since joining the Celtics in June. Although, since it’s Tacko Fall, of course he’s making big strides.
“I would say that those are the biggest strides any of us could imagine,” Stevens quipped.
In order to make the Celtics’ opening-day roster, Stevens said Fall needs to be consistent with his play while also constantly adjusting to the speed of the game. There is no doubt that Fall moves on the floor with more ease and fluidity than just a couple of years ago, and Fall said his feel for the game and his on-court patience have improved the most since he entered he pros.
Also, apparently Tacko Fall is a perimeter shooter now...?
ALERT: Tacko Fall is drilling 3-pointers now. https://t.co/BJLy2Njce6— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) October 12, 2019
Fall described these past few months, from the NBA Draft through the Summer League to now, as “crazy” and “a little overwhelming.” But as with everything else, he deals with all of it deftly.
“I’m really thankful for all that has happened,” he said. “It’s been a great journey, and I’m really looking forward to the future.”
That future will include more visits from his mother. UCF fans know the story well now; they fell in love with it in March. Marianne Sene had not seen her son in nearly seven years, ever since he moved from their home in Dakar, Senegal to come to the United States. Then, prior to Fall’s final home game at UCF, he was reunited with his mother and little brother in Orlando.
Marianne hasn’t returned to the U.S. since then, but that is about to change. Fall said after the game that his mother recently received a 10-year visa, “so she can just come back and forth whenever she wants.”
If everything goes right for Fall with the Celtics, he will be back in Orlando on Jan. 24 and in the Magic’s penultimate regular-season home game on April 10.
You know what the fans will want to see. And Fall is looking forward to seeing them, too.
“I just want to tell them ‘Thank you’ and hopefully there will be many more times when they will come to see me,” he said of the local fans. “They won’t be disappointed.”