Jaylen Brown doesn’t speak without thinking. He pauses to assess questions, sometimes asking reporters to ask them again. Situations change and he adjusts his perspective on the past, taking into account the new context and times. So when Brown speaks, as he did in the new year, we should listen.
Consider the revelations about his relationship with Kyrie Irving. Irving sparked a firestorm during the 2021 first-round series between the Celtics and the Nets, fending off expressions of disgust from Boston fans about his departure two years ago with a call against subtle racism.
Some agreed with his experience, including several Celtics players. Others accuse Irving of drawing attention away from himself. When asked by a reporter about his encounters with the crowd, Irving and Kevin Durant agreed – the whole world knows.
Brown disagreed with the way Irving handled the topic of racism at the time, taking the podium unprompted before Game 3 to focus on systemic issues rather than a playoff rivalry.
“I saw things floating around with Boston and the subject of racism,” Brown said. “I think it’s a good conversation. I think attention needs to be paid to racism and systemic racism in the city of Boston and also in the United States. However, I don’t like the way it was brought up, centered around a playoff game. The construct of racism, it is used as a crutch or opportunity for personal gain. I’m not saying it is. But I think racism is bigger than basketball.
That should serve as a testament to Brown’s open-mindedness toward the city he called home in 2016. Brown has become one of the most beloved players in the years since. He invested in it through apparel, organizing long lines at the Seaport to buy his 7UICE clothing, which he created when TD Garden didn’t sell his jersey. Collaborating with colleges, a bridge program was created that aimed to address educational disparities and promote STEM for black students. Still, the frustration remains on and off the court in Boston.
His interview with New York Times showed his battles against systemic obstacles, which he often mentions, hindering his ability to create the impact he desires. Despite all the upcoming career uncertainty, this article and a Ringing interview from January paint—the latest of which was published this week—Brown’s perspective on the city should resonate as a wake-up call. 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 NOW. “I think my experience there wasn’t as transformative as I thought it would be. Even if you’re an athlete, you’d think you’d have some leverage to be able to have experience, to be able to have some things that open up a little bit easier. But even being who I am, trying to start a business, trying to buy a house, trying to do certain things, you run into some difficulties.
Brown has kept very quiet about these experiences and these situations need to come to light. Whether due to time constraints from interviews like these — Sopan Deb covers quite a bit of ground — or Brown’s diplomatic approach to the subject as a member of the Celtics and a citizen of Boston, he did not further explain these business and housing restrictions.
However, they should not surprise anyone, since historically, prevention against black wealth accumulation and housing integration served as the main obstacle against black people in post-slavery America. Legal guarantees appeared. They don’t solve everything. Deb noted that a 2015 study found the average black household wealth in Boston to be close to $0. For all the city’s pride in progressivism, it shows that it doesn’t live up to equality.
“I’ve been doing this since I came from Berkeley,” Brown told the Ringing. “It’s not like I started talking when the lights came on. I have given lectures. I’ve been able to talk about certain things since I was 18: break it down, give my perspective.
Brown gets the job done, at least what he can, while balancing the pressures of competing at the All-Star level, winning games and chasing a championship over a long season. He expressed disappointment that he had not seen progress on policing, education and other issues.
Although he received scrutiny for every move, understandably for joining Yeh, who has voiced contemptuous beliefs and actions over the past year, in the hope that the partnership could impact education, Brown later apologized and parted ways. At 26, he embraces a platform that demands perfection that is hard to achieve for people his age.
Brown addressed those criticisms in both interviews, presumably not wanting to join the Irving pile. He misstepped in tweeting in support of black Jewish Israelis protesting on Irving’s behalf, and used his union status and the group’s resemblance to a fraternity to occasionally defend Irving, whom he had previously spoken out against. He praised 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 do so,” Brown told NOW. “But the more you make people uncomfortable, the more criticism you’re going to get. And that’s just life.”
Both interviews revealed ways he hopes to keep the Celtics and the NBA honest. He said The bell he won’t commit to re-signing with Boston (he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer) so as not to create speculation or fan frenzy. He criticizes some Celtics fans for the toxic approach to how they follow the team while also harboring some mistrust from the Athletic reported Boston offered him for Kevin Durant.
Brown revealed that he, Jayson Tatum and Brad Stevens joined in on a conversation in which Stevens assured him he would not be moved. Reports indicated that the Nets may have used the Celtics for position, but never intended to trade Durant at the time. Still, Boston didn’t publicly condemn the rumors or end the daily conversation that dominated the summer and divided fans.
The NOW addressed Brown’s relationship with Tatum, prompting a response that seemed more indicative of fatigue on the subject than anything else — as it has always been. Brown’s desire to assert his own standing next to his fellow star remains evident, emphasizing the double teams he also drew when asked about dealing with the ones Tatum received last postseason. Brown talked about sacrificing himself and playing a role for the Celtics in the All-Star Game after admitting CLNS Media/CelticsBlog the challenging transition to an off-the-ball role under Joe Mazzula as Ime Udoka looked to improve his playmaking.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing your job on the team,” Brown said in Utah. “So throughout my career, I learned to be and play the role that I needed to be, and I think that’s part of the reason that success happened. To be able to humble yourself and be like yeah, I know I can be something somewhere else, but it’s okay to be a great team person and win here in Boston.”
Brown claims he can do more. Grow more. New challenges clearly excite him. In Minnesota last week, he emphasized the urgency and need for leadership to address the Celtics’ struggles in March. It’s understandable why there might be concern, especially organizationally, that he could leave in free agency in 2024. The NBA-wide voting system that dictates salaries like his seems ready to consider him a guard, where he’s less change, despite Basketball Handbook I’m eyeing him for more minutes going forward this season.
The lack of that distinction would prevent the Celtics from offering a roughly five-year, $290.3 million supermax extension and would inevitably force him into free agency, though the NBA and NBPA have reportedly discussed changing the rules that limit regular veteran extensions to 20% increase in current salary.
A bigger raise, like 40-50%, as reported by Shams Charania, would increase his first-year salary in such a deal from $36.9 million to $46.1 million in the 50% raise scenario, much closer to $50. 1 million super maximum number. Those financial perks might reassure Celtics fans, but they shouldn’t make anyone too comfortable.
With no clarity on their end, Boston must hope for the ability to offer the super max to chart the team’s future as soon as possible. If Brown turns down a super max, it will be time to look for a trade. Either way, a dialogue about his future needs to emerge.
Other problems loom for Brown, who has been unable to secure a sneaker partnership with a company willing to commit to his initiatives. A bigger role could give him a bigger stage that even the NBA Finals won’t allow him, and while a return to winning at this level seemed inevitable in June, a difficult closing stretch of this injury-riddled season, uncertainty for another player’s future, offensive execution and the vision of a new coach all challenge the team through an extended testing of their involvement in the championship.
“It’s up to leadership to make sure we don’t drop the ball and make sure everyone feels empowered,” Brown said in Minnesota. “I was challenged as a leader and it was one of those times where we need a little bit of urgency, so it’s one of those times where you have to step up, speak up, step up and be a leader in times of disaster … everything’s cool when everything’s fine when everyone’s hitting punches, but when the boat goes down, who’s going to step up? Who will be ready to go? I’m proud to be one of those guys.”