Jaylen Brown will not be silenced
As the NBA playoffs begin, one thing is clear: The Celtics star will use his voice
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Jaylen Brown had just scored 30 points in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Aug. 2. But sitting in front of a camera, wearing a white T-shirt with a smiling kid shooting a basketball that read, “Shoot hoops. Not people,” he didn’t want to talk about his performance.
Before taking his first question from the media that evening, the Boston Celtics’ rising star needed to discuss the national anthem.
“Angela Davis once said that racism is so dangerous, not because of individual acts. It’s dangerous because it’s deeply embedded in the apparatus,” Brown said. “I think about that quote a lot. I think about the national anthem. It was written by Francis Scott Key, who was a slave owner. ”
For nearly two minutes, Brown brought attention to the racism that has long persisted in this country, including in “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Brown’s message on this day was clear: His voice would not be silenced while playing basketball in the NBA bubble.
When the league decided in June to resume its 2019-20 season in Orlando, Florida, shortly after the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in May sparked protests worldwide, there was concern from players that the fight against social injustice, systemic racism and police brutality would fade into the background. But since arriving in the bubble, players have been making every effort to use their platform daily.
NBA players and coaches have expressed their views on racism. They have called for justice for Breonna Taylor. They have worn dozens of social justice messages on their jerseys and shirts.
And, with the NBA playoffs beginning on Monday, they plan to continue speaking out.
“As athletes, our job at the least is to continue to keep these conversations going,” Brown told The Undefeated. “We’re not political elites. We’re not politicians. We’re not educators. But we’ve got influence and we care about our community. What we can do is enhance the people whose voices need to be enhanced and also use our influence to keep these conversations going. As athletes, while we’re down here, we’ve got a tremendous opportunity to play while the whole world is watching.
“It’s a responsibility for us to show we’re playing basketball through a pandemic. But we’re playing because we want to show solidarity or show awareness to the things that’s going on outside the world here.
“Even though we’re in a bubble, we ain’t gotta act like it.”
Brown has been one of the most vocal athletes in sports since Floyd died on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
On May 30, the Georgia native drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful march against injustice and police brutality that began at Martin Luther King Jr., National Historical Park. Using a bullhorn, Brown told the crowd, “First and foremost, I’m a Black man and I’m a member of this community.”
Brown was joined by Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, Brooklyn Nets guard Justin Anderson and rapper Lil Yachty.
“Jaylen’s greatest impact, as good as he is at basketball, won’t be in basketball,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens in June. “He’s a special guy, a special leader. He’s smart, but he has courage.”
During the NBA’s restart, Brown, who is a member of the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee, has continued to lead. The fourth-year guard said several players have reached out to him for advice. He has spent time with them in Orlando to find ways to use their influence and resources.
“Most of us come from humble beginnings, and just because we escaped the barriers that society has put up doesn’t mean we should forget about the people who won’t or didn’t,” said Brown, who has been wearing the message “Liberation” on his jersey.
“It took a lot for some of us to make it to the NBA. It wasn’t cake for me, or an easy path for me to get here, growing up in the neighborhood that I grew up in, the school system, single-parent household. There was so much stuff telling me that I shouldn’t be able to make it. Despite it, we’re here.”
Brown has excelled on the court for the Celtics, averaging career-highs of 20.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists this season. On Monday, he will lead the third-seeded Celtics into the playoffs against the sixth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
The Celtics franchise, which last won an NBA title in 2008, has championship aspirations.
“I believe we have what it takes,” Brown said. “It’s just a matter of us believing. It’s a matter of us going out and showing it. …
“We just have to continue to fight. We’re small. But it’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog. If we fight, I like our chances against anybody.”
If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Brown will continue fighting for equality whether he’s inside or outside of the NBA bubble.
“Poverty, incarceration rates, Black fathers that’s not around, the education system or the lack thereof. … It makes it hard for somebody of color to actually be successful,” Brown said. “But I guess when we get to those points of success, they tell us to be quiet. ‘What do we have to complain about?’ But they’re tone-deaf to everything it took for us to get into this spot.
“People expect me, because I made it to the NBA or I make a certain amount of money, I should be quiet. Well, I’m not.”