Jaylen Brown: The 2016 NBA draft’s Renaissance man
Sure to be a lottery pick, Brown is a true original
This post has been updated to reflect additional reporting done the week of the NBA Draft.
Jaylen Brown has been quite busy in his typical eccentric fashion since coming to New York City for the draft.
Brown took a tour of the Marshall Chess Club and played against chess star Nico Chasin, 9, the national champion for his age group, on Tuesday night. He did a autograph signing at Modell’s sporting good store in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon and was disappointed he couldn’t attend Steve Nash’s Charity Soccer Game at the same time.
He hosted a dinner for family and friends with Thomas at the Atwood, Kitchen & Bar Room on Wednesday night. Amongst his many media obligations, he went to Sirius Satellite radio to be interviewed for “Sway In The Morning” on Thursday and also had a photo shoot with SLAM Magazine on Wednesday that he went to on his own after taking an Uber. In the NBA Draft Green room, Brown will be joined by his parents, grandmother, brother and mentor, Steve Bouye while close friends and family members will be in the stands in Brooklyn. Brown also plans to attend a post-draft party that conscious rapper Talib Kweli is performing at.
So how does Brown feel with the draft arriving?
“I wouldn’t call it excited. I would say ready. I overly ready. I am ready to get to the city that I get drafted by. I am ready to dive into the culture, the community. I’m ready to get started. I’m ready,” Brown told The Undefeated.
The 6-foot-7-inch, 233-pounder with a flat-top instantly caught the eyes of the patrons as he walked into his beloved Pedro’s Brazil Café wearing a custom-made FC Barcelona futbol jersey. A veggie rice bowl with extra cilantro and two mango smoothies were on his mind after his 6:30 a.m. basketball workout last week. No, this is not your typical 19-year-old. This is the kind of 19-year-old NBA draft prospect who, for instance, chooses to enter the draft without an agent, a young man who one NBA executive said could be deemed “too smart for the league.”
Say hello to Brown, the most interesting prospect of the 2016 NBA draft.
“I am who I am. Take it or leave it,” Brown said. “I’m not going to change my values and change my approach because someone feels uncomfortable. I am not going to be disrespectful or step on any toes. But I am going to be me.”
Brown averaged 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds as a true freshman for the University of California-Berkeley last season and was named the 2016 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. After Cal was eliminated in the first round of the tournament, Brown quickly decided to forgo his remaining college eligibility and enter the NBA draft. While Duke’s Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons are widely regarded as the top two draft prospects, the Philadelphia 76ers, which has the first pick in the draft, is also expected to work out several others, including Brown.
Brown could work out for all the NBA teams drafting in the top eight and is expected to begin visiting teams next week, a source said.
“He has an NBA body already and everyone loves that,” said an NBA assistant general manager who asked not to be named. “He has an aggressive going-to-the-basket game. He’s not a very good shooter and he has to work on that. He has to become a better finisher in traffic. He is a good athlete with good length and size for his position.”
Brown would love to work out against Simmons and Ingram and is looking forward to his NBA workouts.
“I got an opportunity. It’s time to take advantage,” Brown said.
The NBA assistant general manager also said that Brown’s high level of intelligence and inquisitive nature could intimidate some general managers and coaches. He added that he is a good kid who “doesn’t fit the mold of a so-called basketball player.”
“He is an extremely intelligent kid,” the NBA assistant general manager said. “He took a graduate school class at Cal in his freshman year. He is a person who is inquisitive about everything. Because he is so smart, it might be intimidating to some teams. He wants to know why you are doing something instead of just doing it. I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s a form of questioning authority.
“It’s not malicious. He just wants to know what is going on. Old-school coaches don’t want guys that question stuff.”
Brown interviewed five well-regarded NBA agents to potentially represent him. He ultimately decided to enter the draft without an agent, with the collective bargaining agreement already slotting the salaries for two-year guaranteed rookie contracts (which come with an option for two-year extensions). Brown instead is relying on a unique circle of advisers, including Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas and former NBA All-Star and Cal star Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who made him feel comfortable and confident about not hiring representation.
“The resources I have and the people around me have all done this before,” Brown said. “Isiah Thomas has been through it. Shareef Abdur-Rahim has been through it. I’ve got educators, teachers with Ph.D.s, that are scholars who [are] around helping me out and advising me. I know they know what they are doing and what they are talking about.”
Brown’s circle of advisers is overseen by Cal alum and AAU Oakland Soldiers co-founder Hashim Ali. Brown said Cal men’s basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin introduced him during his recruiting visit to Ali, who is earning his doctorate from Cal’s school of education and is a former director of basketball operations at Florida International University, where Thomas once coached. Ali is handling Brown’s daily schedule and is setting up meetings with NBA teams.
Ali introduced Brown to Thomas. The former Toronto Raptors president, NBA head coach and two-time NBA champion has become Brown’s main adviser. Brown described Thomas as a “tremendous resource” and talks to him daily.
“He’s one of my favorite people on the planet. I found a kindred spirit with Isiah Thomas. We bounce things off each other and I absorb so much every time I talk to him,” Brown said.
Thomas said Brown is already very familiar with the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement and the rookie contracts. Brown has also already met NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) executive director Michele Roberts.
“He met all the top people in the NBA,” Thomas said. “He has taken time to learn how the NBA works, how the union works and how the collective bargaining agreement works.”
Brown, who is African-American, has a predominantly black advisory team. NBA agent Aaron Goodwin is aiding Brown with his shoe deal and off the court business interests (but will not serve as his agent); NBPA executive vice president Chryssa Chin; Jabari Mahiri, Cal’s associate professor of education and chair of the Language, Literacy, Society and Culture program; basketball trainer Ansar Al-Ameen (who previously has worked out Simmons, Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James, New York Knick Carmelo Anthony and other NBA players and travels with Brown); Base Ventures founder and managing director Erik Moore; and Derek Van Rheenen, who directs Cal’s cultural studies of sport in education master’s degree concentration for students studying the intersections of school and sport and is the only non-African-American in Brown’s circle.
“I got great resources, so I use them,” Brown said. “I got people on the inside who are my eyes and ears. People who understand the NBA, who played in the league for 10 to 15 years, who understand what I need and what I don’t. They give me great feedback to help me with different teams. They help put me in place to orchestrate things the way I want them to be orchestrated.”
Brown was a five-star recruit whom ESPN.com ranked only behind Australian Ben Simmons in the Class of 2015. The Marietta, Georgia, native turned down college basketball powers, such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas, to go to Cal. Cal had not been to the NCAA basketball tournament since 2013, before Brown’s arrival, but he was very impressed with the academics of the school, recently ranked sixth-best among universities worldwide by Times Higher Education. He actually paid for his own visit to Cal after using all of his five allotted official college visits.
“Education is something that is very important to me and my family,” Brown, who plans to earn his college degree, said. “Cal Berkeley is at the top of the list. When I visited there, the university fit me.”
The university is set in Berkeley, the small Bay Area city known for decades as a haven for folks with varieties of quirks, interests and eccentricities. Brown is neither a square nor what some might broadly stroke as a stereotypical American jock.
Here’s a snapshot: He learned Spanish during his freshman year at Cal and said that while improvement is still needed, he is confident he can conduct interviews in the language. He said being bilingual is good for personal growth and for business and he wants to learn three more languages by age 25. He took classes such at Cal on global poverty and practice, theoretical studies and student activism as a freshman, because he wanted to be able to debunk “a lot of misconceptions about people who are poor, homeless or etc.” He owns and can play an acoustic guitar (“I’m not going to toot my own horn. I’m all right.”). He interned two months at Base Ventures with Moore (“I was happy to find out that Jaylen was very keen to learn and take advantage of the tech eco system that thrives right in his backyard,” Moore said).
Brown keeps a journal instead of relying on his phone. He uses it to write down all the “great advice” he gets from mentors. He also enjoys vegetarian cuisine and doesn’t eat pork or red meat.
He’s a huge soccer fan who can speak as knowledgeably about FC Barcelona and Arsenal as he can about the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
His favorite player is Messi. He’s an avid chess player who learned the game from his grandfather and was captain of the chess team at Marietta Wheeler High School in Georgia. He also took a chess class at Cal as an elective and says the game is “comparable to life.”
“When I walked into the chess class at Cal, the people were looking at me like I was lost and in the wrong class,” Brown said.
One of Brown’s closes advisers is Hall of Famer Thomas, who might have played with the most eccentric of all NBA players in fellow Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman. But from a mental standpoint, Thomas also recognizes how unique Brown is.
“That was the kid in the classroom that the teacher would come and say, ‘I want to spend some extra time with this one because his mind in different,’ ” Thomas said about Brown. “It’s a different type of track and mentoring. You have to be able to mold and shape this mind and mentor it.”
Brown said his team of advisers is “helping me build my brand.” As such, he’s already taken to heart that the NBA is a business. Case in point, during the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago he attended interviews with teams wearing a suit and tie. Most prospects arrive wearing slacks and a dress shirt. Brown also brought a notebook and pen with him to take notes.
“I’m here to be a professional,” Brown said. “I’m not here to wear slacks or be on the couch with basketball attire. When you come to a business interview, what do you wear? You wear formal attire.”
NBA prospects with agents typically work out at locations handpicked by agents and/or their agencies in preparation for the draft. Brown — still living in an apartment with Cal freshman big man Ivan Rabb, eating at the school cafeteria daily — is working out with Al-Ameen at a recreation center on Cal’s campus and places like Oakland, California’s, Jam Town basketball facility. He continues his strength and conditioning workouts in a weight room on Cal’s campus.
Brown also likes old-school hoop knowledge.
Along with getting words from Thomas and Abdur-Rahim, Brown has talked to two-time NBA champion Bill Laimbeer and former WNBA star Teresa Weatherspoon about defense. He’s spent time talking to former NBA champion and head coach Brian Shaw, Milwaukee Bucks coach and former NBA and Cal star Jason Kidd and has worked out with Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler.
“Everyone is so focused on the offensive side of the ball,” Thomas said. “There are very few players that I have run into who are as gifted as he is athletically and offensively. He wants to learn to play defense and be a great defender.”
Brown is currently taking part in two-a-day solo basketball workouts that begin either at 5:30 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. Why? Shaw told Brown that five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant used to work out that early. He’s been working out primarily on ball-handling, defense, shooting, transition scenarios and being smarter offensively.
“I feel like nobody else is doing it,” Brown said. “I heard stories that Kobe Bryant wakes up at 4 or 5 and he’s at the gym at 5:30. He’s fully drenched in sweat by 6:30. He hits the weights after at 8 and then he starts practice at 10 back in the gym. All that Kobe has accomplished has been by a relentless work ethic.
“I’m a big believer that it takes 20,000 hours to be great. Kobe put in those hours. I’m trying to chase that model, that representation that Kobe laid out for us. He set a great example and I’m trying to follow.”