Tacko Fall ducks through a doorway on his way to practice Thursday at the Portland Expo. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Practice had ended, and in the locker room of the Portland Expo, members of the Maine Red Claws started thinking about the mundane aspects of their off-the-court existence.

Tremont Waters, Maine’s point guard, needed to pick up some detergent and dryer sheets.

“Wait for me,” said his roommate, Tacko Fall. “I have to go to Walmart.”

There was a pause, because both men know that the 7-foot-5 Fall is not going to stroll into a department store without attracting a horde of people wanting to take selfies with him.

Fall wouldn’t have been able to tag along, anyway. A crew from CBS’s “60 Minutes” had been setting up lights in the Expo bleachers for an interview with one of the most intriguing young professional basketball players to emerge from Africa.

Fall, a 23-year-old native of Senegal, is perhaps the most famous player in the history of the Red Claws – before he’s ever appeared in a game in Portland. That will take place on Friday evening, when the Red Claws open the home schedule of their 11th G League season against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. The game is sold out, with $82 courtside seats selling for twice that much on the secondary ticket market.


Season-ticket sales are 15 percent higher than a year ago, when the team’s attendance fell for the eighth consecutive year to a franchise-worst 44,633 last winter.

“To me, this is very reminiscent of our first and second years in terms of excitement and enthusiasm around the team,” Red Claws President Dajuan Eubanks said. “I don’t think I’ve had a conversation without someone saying, ‘How is it with Tacko being in town? How can we get an autograph?’ Every conversation involves him.”

Fall is a pro basketball rookie, having signed as a free agent this summer with the Boston Celtics, the NBA affiliate and owner of the Red Claws. He’ll play with Maine most of this winter as part of a “two-way contract” that allows him to spend up to 45 days with the Celtics. The contract calls for him to be paid slightly less than $80,000 with the Red Claws, and any time he spends with the Celtics, he’ll receive a pro-rated salary of the NBA minimum $898,310.

Seven-foot-5 Tacko Fall shakes hands with Red Claws associate head coach Alex Barlow during practice Thursday at Portland Expo. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Although he played four years of basketball at the University of Central Florida, Fall flew under the radar of many sports fans until March, when he led UCF into the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years. After beating Virginia Commonwealth in the opening round, the Knights put a scare into top-seeded Duke in the second round as Fall more than held his own against the more ballyhooed Zion Williamson, who would go on to be the first pick in the June NBA draft.

Fall approached draft night with high hopes, in a custom-fitted suit and followed by a camera crew. Sixty players were chosen, but Fall was not among them.

“That was one of my biggest disappointments,” he said. “I mean, I did all I could do. I did the work. I really felt I was going to be drafted that night, but some things are not meant to be.”


Austin Ainge, the former Red Claws head coach who now serves as director of player personnel for the Celtics, was the first to call. The Celtics had invited Fall in for a workout a year earlier, and stayed in touch.

“They had been following me for a while,” Fall said. “The team’s been great. I’m really happy to be with them.”

Playing for the Celtics’ summer-league team in Las Vegas, Fall proved impressive on the court and a resounding hit with fans, who often chanted for him to enter the game. Interest grew even more back in Boston during the exhibition season, with some fans even dressing up as tacos and going wild whenever he blocked a shot or made a basket.

Even at opposing arenas, fans chanted “We want Tacko!” at Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who acquiesced in the fourth quarter of a 118-95 victory over the Knicks in Madison Square Garden in late October to give Fall his NBA debut. He dunked twice and authoritatively blocked a shot by New York’s Kevin Knox.

Fall understands that the Celtics already have their front-court rotation in place, and that above him on the depth chart are Enes Kanter, Robert Williams, Daniel Theis and Vincent Poirier.

Tacko Fall, left, and Yante Maten work on dribbling skills at the Portland Expo on Thursday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“I’m excited to experiment with Tacko a little bit,” Ainge said. “He’s such a unique player; we have not really had anyone like him. Experimenting with zone defense, man defense, different coverages, different offensive things – I think that could be a great use of his time here (in Portland), obviously to develop him, but also to develop a system in how best to use him.”


In the Red Claws’ season opener at Delaware on Saturday night, Fall scored 13 points and had 11 rebounds and three blocks in Maine’s 148-125 victory.

“He just brings a different type of energy and style to the game,” Red Claws veteran guard Trey Davis said. “Defensively, he allows us to pressure because he’s so big and can protect the rim. Offensively, he’s a humongous screen, so he’s going to free a lot of guys up for shots, for open passes and things like that. And he’s a great guy on and off the court: humble, wants to work hard, good guy to be around. I have nothing but good things to say about him.”

Despite Fall’s limited time in the NBA, there already is a Tacko Time T-shirt for sale, officially licensed by the National Basketball Players Association. Red Claws spokesman Evans Boston has been dealing with a flood of requests for Fall to appear at schools and charity events. He did not go unnoticed when the team flew out of Logan Airport for the season opener in Delaware.

“He was followed by people with phones, taking pictures and yelling his name,” Boston said. “But he rolls with it. He’ll acknowledge almost 100 percent of the people. He’s got a very good attitude about it.”

When Fall and Waters ventured into the Maine Mall recently to get Mexican food at Qdoba, Fall had to leave because of the crowd that surrounded him, asking for pictures.

“He was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t do this anymore,’ ” Waters said. “I just went in, grabbed what he wanted and we left, because I didn’t want him to walk through the mall and have to go through that again.”


Tacko Fall arrives for Red Claws practice at Portland Expo on Thursday in his Ford F-150 truck. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Last week, Fall stopped to eat at Chili’s Grill & Bar when a woman approached and asked him to stand with her for a photo. Fall said he had just come from practice, that he was tired and he preferred to remain seated. Undaunted, she climbed onto his lap for a photo.

“She had two kids,” Fall said. “Her daughter was like, ‘Mom, stop!’ That was funny.”

His birth name is Elhadji Sereigne Tacko Diop Fall. Although most everyone employs the third part of his name, a few of his schoolmates back in Dakar used the second, which is pronounced serene, an adjective that seems to fit.

“There’s pros and cons,” he said of being athletic and 7-foot-5 and noticed everywhere he goes. “But it’s more pros. Like, I don’t complain about it. I see it as a blessing.”

“He handles it well,” said Davis, who attended a recent event hosted by his childhood friend, Celtics guard Marcus Smart, where fans clamored to take pictures with Tacko. “I’ve never seen him shoot somebody down, and a lot of people come up to him. That just tells you what kind of guy he is, what kind of character he has. He worked hard to get here, and he’s reaping the benefits, so good job, Tacko.”

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