Bill Russell stories rang widely this week as the world in 2020 reflects on the activism of the 1960s. The atrocities Russell faced, including rejection in Boston, paralleled his leadership after Martin Luther King Jr. died and when the KKK flanked his basketball camps in the south.
Jaylen Brown wants to fill those shoes, befitting a moment where basketball players consider whether this moment demands them being in the streets more than on the court. Brown drove 15 hours during the first week of the George Floyd protests, which continue into their third week following the death of Rayshard Brooks in Brown’s hometown of Atlanta.
Bill Russell's role in honoring Evers' legacy is powerful. Russell called Charles Evers asking how he could help. The answer was an integrated basketball camp in Mississippi. The KKK posted up on the other side of street. Russell knew the threat on his life, but went anyway. https://t.co/0kqhgOaFnd— Justin Tinsley (@JustinTinsley) June 12, 2020
“Jaylen can absolutely be the voice,” Justin Poulin said on CLNS Media’s Celtics Stuff Live. “I remember when Marc Spears did the piece before the draft. Everybody was like almost like, ‘eh he might be too smart. Too smart could be an issue’ … This team locked him up because they saw something in him.”
The seemingly inevitable return to NBA action in July shifted last week as Kyrie Irving, among others, wondered how to best use their voice right now. Brown supported Colin Kaepernick’s protests, detested the rhetoric of Donald Trump, spoke at Harvard and now organized a protest in Atlanta all before age 24.
That, along with his ascent into a 20.4 point per game scorer in 2020, already renders Danny Ainge’s last-minute extension of Brown a massive success. Brown continues a legacy of advancement and advocacy on the Celtics that spans back to their earliest days.
The too-smart jab already appears a rhetoric from a time only several years ago where society expected athletes to stick to sports. As if people could not be multi-faceted, some likely wondered if Brown’s other focus would pull away from his progression on the court. The Celtics arguably reached for Brown with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 Draft, now he’s shooting 49% from the field, nearly 40% from three and dunking on LeBron James.
Off the court, the two continue to work hand-in-hand, with James turning his focus toward voter advocacy in the wake of Georgia’s round of voter suppression last week.
“It’s his dedication, you can put that anywhere, he’s intelligent,” Poulin said. “It’s the dedication to his craft, the dedication to his community, the dedication to his team … there’s a commitment level to him and a level of responsibility.”