Jaylen Brown doesn’t speak without thinking. He’ll pause to assess questions, sometimes asking reporters to ask them again. Situations change, and he adjusted his perspective in the past accounting for new context and times. So when Brown talks, as he has in the new year, we should listen.
Consider the revelations on his relationship with Kyrie Irving. Irving had set off a firestorm during the 2021 first round series between the Celtics and Nets, preempting Boston fan’s expressions of distaste over his exit two years prior with a call against subtle racism.
Some agreed with his experience, including several Celtics players. Others accused Irving of deflecting attention from himself. When a reporter followed-up asking about his crowd encounters, Irving and Kevin Durant agreed — the whole world knows.
Brown disagreed with the way Irving engaged on the topic of racism at the time, taking the podium unprompted before Game 3 to turn attention toward systemic issues, rather than a playoff rivalry.
“I saw things floating around with Boston and the topic of racism,” Brown said. “I do think it’s a good conversation. I think that racism should be addressed, and systemic racism should be addressed in the city of Boston, and also the United States. However, I do not like the manner it was brought up, centering around a playoff game. The construct of racism, it’s used as a crutch or an opportunity to execute a personal gain. I’m not saying that’s the case. But I do think racism is bigger than basketball.”
That should serve as evidence of Brown’s open-mindedness toward the city that became his home in 2016. Brown emerged as one of the fan base’s most beloved players in the years since. He invested in it through clothing, hosting long lines in the seaport to purchase his 7UICE clothing, which he created when TD Garden wouldn’t sell his jersey. Collaborations with colleges birthed bridge program, which aimed to address educational inequities and promote STEM for Black students. Still, frustrations remain on and off the court in Boston.
His interview with the New York Times displayed his battles against systemic roadblocks he often mentions, hindering his ability to create the impact he desires. For all the impending career uncertainty that article and a Ringer interview from January paint — the latter released this week — Brown’s perspective on the city should resonate as a wake-up. Brown may not stay with the Celtics if they can’t provide a vehicle to create the impact he wants.
“There’s not a lot of room for people of color, Black entrepreneurs, to come in and start a business,” Brown told the NYT. “I think that my experience there has been not as fluid as I thought it would be. Even being an athlete, you would think that you’ve got a certain amount of influence to be able to have experiences, to be able to have some things that doors open a little bit easier. But even with me being who I am, trying to start a business, trying to buy a house, trying to do certain things, you run into some adversity.”
Brown left much unsaid about those experiences and those situations should come to light. Whether due to time constraints from interviews such as these — Sopan Deb’s covering quite a bit of ground — or Brown’s diplomatic approach to the topic as a member of the Celtics and citizen of Boston, he didn’t further explain those business and housing constraints.
They shouldn’t surprise anyone though, as historically, preventions against Black wealth-building and housing integration served as the foremost hindrances against Black people across America since the abolishment of slavery. Legal safeguards emerged. They don’t solve everything. Deb noted a 2015 study found Black median household wealth in Boston near $0. For all of the city’s pride in progressivism, that indicates it falls short on equality.
“I’ve been doing this since I came from Berkeley,” Brown told the Ringer. “It’s not like I started talking when the lights are on. I’ve done lectures. I’ve been able to speak on certain things since I was 18 years old: break them down, give my perspective.”
Brown does the work, at least what he can while balancing the pressures of competing at an all-star level, winning games and pursuing a championship over a long season. He noted disappointment, that he hasn’t seen progress on policing, education and other issues.
While he receives scrutiny for every move, understandably for aligning himself with Ye, who expressed despicable beliefs and actions over the past year, in hopes the partnership could impact education, Brown later apologized and separated himself. At 26-years-old, he embraces a platform that demands perfection difficult for some his age to attain.
Brown addressed those criticisms in both interviews, likely not wanting to join the Irving pile-on. He mis-stepped in tweeting support of the Black Hebrew Israelites protesting on behalf of Irving, and used his union status and the group’s resemblance to a fraternity defending Irving now and then, who he had previously spoken out against. He complimented Irving’s willingness to speak his mind. Brown will do the same.
“I’ve always used my platform to talk about certain things, and I will continue to,” Brown told the NYT. “But the more you make people uncomfortable, the more criticism you’re going to get. And that’s just life.”
Both interviews also revealed ways he hopes to keep the Celtics and NBA honest. He told The Ringer he won’t commit to re-signing with Boston (he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer) to not create speculation or craziness in the fanbase. He criticized some Celtics fans for a toxic approach to how they follow the team while carrying some distrust from the Athletic report that Boston offered him for Kevin Durant.
Brown revealed that he, Jayson Tatum and Brad Stevens joined a call where Stevens assured him they won’t move him. Reports indicated the Nets might’ve used the Celtics to posture while never intending to trade Durant period at that time. Still, Boston didn’t denounce rumors publicly and stop the daily conversation that dominated the summer and split the fan base.
The NYT addressed Brown’s relationship with Tatum, garnering a response that seemed indicative of fatigue over the topic more than anything else — same as it’s always been. Brown’s desire to assert his own standing alongside his fellow star remains evident, emphasizing the double teams he also draws when asked about handling ones Tatum received last postseason. Brown spoke of sacrificing and playing a role for the Celtics at the All Star Game after admitting to CLNS Media/CelticsBlog the challenging transition to an off-ball role under Joe Mazzulla after Ime Udoka tried to improve his playmaking.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing your job on the team,” Brown said in Utah. “So throughout my career, I’ve learned to be and play the role that has been needed for me to play, and I think that’s part of why the success has been able to happen. Being able to humble yourself and be like yeah, I know I could be something somewhere else, but there’s no problem being a great team guy and winning here in Boston.”
Brown asserts he can do more. Grow more. New challenges clearly excite him. In Minnesota last week, he stressed urgency and a need for leadership to respond to the Celtics’ March struggles. It’s understandable why concern could emerge, especially organizationally, that he might depart in free agency in 2024. The All-NBA voting system that dictates salaries like his appears poised to consider him a guard, where he stands less of a change, despite Basketball Reference tracking him for more minutes at forward this season.
Missing that distinction would prevent the Celtics from offering a roughly five-year, $290.3 million super max extension and inevitably set him up to go to free agency, though the NBA and NBPA reportedly discussed altering the rules that limit regular veteran extensions to a 20% increase on the current salary.
A larger increase, like 40-50% as Shams Charania reported, would increase his first-year salary under such a deal from $36.9-million to as high as $46.1-million in the 50% raise scenario, much closer to the $50.1-million super max number. Those financial advantages could calm Celtics fans, but it shouldn’t make anyone too comfortable.
Without clarity on their end, Boston needs to hope for the ability to offer the super max to chart the team’s future as soon as possible. If Brown declines a super max, it would be time to look for a trade. A dialogue regarding his future should emerge either way.
Other issues loom for Brown, who hasn’t been able to secure a sneaker partnership with a company willing to commit to his initiatives. A larger role could provide him a larger stage that even NBA Final contention didn’t allow him, and while a return to winning at that level seemed inevitable in June, the difficult closing stretch to this season, filled with injuries, uncertainty over another player’s future, offensive execution and a new coach’s vision all challenging the team through a stretch testing their championship meddle.
“It’s up to leadership to make sure we don’t drop the ball and make sure everybody feels empowered,” Brown said in Minnesota. “I’ve been challenged as a leader and this was one of those moments where we need a little bit of urgency, so this is one of those moments where you’ve got to step up, talk more, step up and be a leader in times of adversity ... everything’s cool when everything’s fine, when everybody’s hitting shots, but when the boat is going down, who’s gonna step up? Who’s gonna be ready to go? I pride myself on being one of those guys.”