Once hesitant about the prospects of the NBA’s bubble, Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown has embraced the stage the restart has provided, both on the court but especially off, and has emerged as a powerful voice in the quest for change.
After the Celtics completed a lengthy offday workout on Wednesday night, a mask-clad Brown engaged in a thoughtful 12-minute Zoom session with reporters that only briefly touched on basketball subjects. Brown spent most of the session imploring people to vote and continuing his quest for social justice.
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"I’m only one person but I want to continue to use my platform and hopefully inspire others to make the right decisions and to treat each other equally,” said Brown. Later he punctuated one of his answers with the declaration, "I’m not going to be quiet.”
Make no mistake, basketball is a priority for Brown and he’s proven it by being maybe Boston’s best player during scrimmage play. Unlike many of his teammates, Brown displayed little rust and all the hard work he put in while the season was paused has positioned him to thrive when Boston plays the first of eight seeding games on Friday night against the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
But the more impressive part of Brown’s evolution has been off the court. The 23-year-old has confidently fielded tough questions about hot-button issues and offered thoughtful, detailed responses.
In late May, Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Earlier this month, as the Celtics prepared to travel to Orlando, Brown admitted he had hesitations about the NBA’s bubble plan but ultimately decided to embrace it because of the potential to be part of history, with players able to use the restart stage to promote real societal change.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has often noted that Brown will accomplish far more off the court than on it during his lifetime, continues to marvel at the way Brown has used his platform.
“[Brown is] such a thoughtful, smart leader,” said Stevens. "And I'm glad he's with us.”
Brown has even used fashion to promote awareness, wearing a Martin Luther King Jr. T-shirt on the bench during Boston’s scrimmage finale on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he was asked initially about what he had decided to wear on the back of his jersey for the restart, but first delivered a thoughtful two-minute statement.
"Before I get started, I want to continue to demand justice for Breonna Taylor,” said Brown. "I want that to continue to be reiterated while I’m down here. Also, I want to encourage people in my community to get out and vote, not just for the presidential election but state representatives, elected officials, et cetera. I think there’s a lot of power in coming together and voting, especially in the Black community. Politicians have made empty promises to the Black community year after year after year. They think that's OK and acceptable, and it’s not.
"I want to emphasize that we have to continue to vote, we have to come together and use our power, utilize it in the right manner. I want to inspire people from Georgia, where I’m from, Marietta, Gwinnett County, DeKalb County, Boston, Massachusetts, Dorchester, Roxbury, Oakland, East Oakland, West Oakland — wherever my influence reaches, I want people to continue to vote. There’s a lot of power in exercising that, and we gotta use it. I want to continue to exercise that.
“For sure, we have to get some of these guys out of office who don’t care, who don’t think it’s appropriate that we’re trying to end systemic racism. I want to make voting a trend, I want to use my platform, I want athletes to come together and continue to talk about it. I understand the apprehension from the African-American community. Politicians have made empty promises, as well people feeling like, ‘Why would I participate in a political system that hasn’t necessarily participated with me?' I believe in small victories, getting the right people in office, a big part of that is voting. Let’s continue to express that, let’s continue to lead in that direction.
"I want to use my platform to inspire people, using their influence, whatever color, whatever race, that voting is important but especially in the Black community, let’s exercise that power and get out and vote.”
Brown then said he is considering, “Liberation,” to wear on the back of his jersey during the bubble games while noting that, "The definition of liberation is free yourself from oppression, slavery, or marginalization. I wanted to represent that. This is the season to break free of some of those cycles.”
During Wednesday’s media session, Brown followed with long responses to questions about the importance of voting and the pursuit of justice for Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in Louisville after they raided her home.
"We all come from our moms, we all have sisters, aunts, nieces, et cetera, so not just with African-Americans not feeling comfortable in this American society, it’s a lot of women who don’t feel comfortable as well,” said Brown. "We want to continue to show our support for them for sure.
"I had a call with Tamika Palmer, which is Breonna Taylor’s mother, not too long ago, and it was — it was emotional for me. The fact that she can get on a call with a bunch of NBA guys and utilize her strength in front of us. We know she was hurting. That was her baby girl that's gone. Her daughter was killed. And for her to be able to get on a phone call and exhibit that strength in front of us and rally us up and let us know that we don’t want this to happen to the next girl or the next person or color, or woman of color, I stand with her.”
Teammates like Marcus Smart have also used their media time to promote change, with Smart simply repeating, “Justice for Breonna Taylor,” as his answer to every question during one session.
Brown is embracing this stage. He’s making people think, including those who might not otherwise ponder such topics. He’s ignoring those that scream for NBA players to, “Shut up and dribble,” and showing that NBA players can create change with their voices.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Bucks, which begins Friday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.