The premise of this article was supposed to be why Jaylen Brown would be the most important player for the Boston Celtics during an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Toronto Raptors.
But basketball seems a bit inconsequential at the moment, so let’s instead tell you why Jaylen Brown is one of the most important players inside the bubble.
Rewind to July 6, a few days before Boston relocated to Florida, when Brown appeared on a Zoom conference with reporters and admitted, "I didn’t want to go to Orlando.” What changed his mind, he explained, was the opportunity to use the NBA’s platform to inspire actual change in the quest for social justice.
He wanted to be part of history.
When fed-up NBA players boycotted Wednesday’s slate of games, he accomplished part of his goal.
Brown has always recognized that what’s happening in the world right now is bigger than basketball. This is a 23-year-old who, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, hopped in his car and drove 15 hours to his native Georgia to lead a peaceful protest. During Boston’s bubble stay, Brown has routinely used his press conferences to demand justice for Breonna Taylor and encourage people to vote.
On Tuesday, Brown delivered a powerful statement in the aftermath of Jacob Blake’s shooting, where he admitted he can’t even see his own No. 7 jersey without now thinking of the seven bullets that Wisconsin police fired into Blake’s back.
So it comes as little surprise to hear that, on Wednesday night, as players gathered to plot a path forward, that Brown, a vice president on the NBA Players Association, was one of the more vocal presences. ESPN reported that, as some players expressed frustration at the Bucks’ abrupt decision to boycott, Brown said they did not need to explain their decision. He also challenged those that expressed a desire to leave the bubble about how they might impact change from the outside.
A day earlier, Brown detailed his own grapple with the best way to influence change.
“In a sense, you kind of feel very helpless here in the bubble. You kind of feel like you want to do more,” said Brown. “I feel like I should be out there protesting like a lot of people are doing right now, but I’m here, in a bubble, playing basketball.
"I do think the NBA has done a great job, initially, to kind of give us the platform to speak on certain things … but I do kind of feel like it is kind of lessened as the playoffs have gotten started. Things have kind of diminished. I’m curious to see what creative ways, if people put their minds together, to continue to push these conversations to make me feel more comfortable about playing basketball in the middle of a lot of the things that are going on.
I know I’m not a politician or an elected official or whatever, but I still care about my community. I still care about what’s going on outside in the world. I have a family. I have cousins, I have people who have history with the police, or have been convicted of felonies, etc., and I want them to be treated fairly. But most people want me to just shut up and dribble.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has repeatedly said that Brown’s greatest impact will come away from the hardwood and Brown is proving it. You feel the emotion when he talks about his desire for change. You see the preparedness when he arrives at the podium with a message to convey. You hear the thoughtfulness in his words.
Brown recognized the opportunity that Orlando afforded and, as the NBA reaches a critical juncture, it feels like he is particularly eager to ensure the league takes the right step to maximize the message it came here to promote.
It’s not easy for a young player in the NBA to have a loud voice, particularly on social issues. It’s usually the biggest of stars — players like LeBron James — who are tasked with offering perspective on the toughest topics. But Brown doesn’t shy away from prickly issues and Boston should feel fortunate to have someone as thoughtful as Brown embracing that spotlight.
We thought Brown would be important this week. Maybe soon we can get back to focusing on his defense against Pascal Siakam, or how he might punish the Raptors if they choose to make him a secondary focus.
But, right now, Brown's impact will be on something far greater than a best-of-seven series.