From the national anthem protests of NBA players – and the near-universal showings of support from their coaches – to the many who have spoken out and up for the causes of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black victims of police violence, an early fear appears to have been addressed – that the actual basketball would distract from the message.
But Jaylen Brown hasn’t seen enough yet. Indeed, the Celtics forward may never be satisfied.
“I think more needs to be done, to be honest,” he said of the messaging and activism. “I think athletes need to continue to use their voice, and people of influence have more work to do. There’s a lot of things that still need a lot of attention. I know it’s hard and uncomfortable to be at the games, with our schedules up and down. But athletes, including myself, need to do a better job, in my opinion.”
Brown has emerged as one of the youngest members of the players association to take the lead in social activism. After perhaps only LeBron James, Brown’s voice has been one of the loudest since he drove 15 hours to Atlanta and led a march shortly after Floyd’s death.
And as Brown has discovered, fellow players are now turning to him for advice on how to raise their social platforms. It’s not easy for many of them, said the Celtics forward. There’s still a concern among many of a possible backlash for speaking out.
“I think what I’ve learned here is that guys care more than they necessarily show on their platforms,” he said. “Some of them are scared, some of them don’t know – athletes don’t know how to pick and choose their spots. They don’t know what to say because they are afraid of saying the wrong things, but a lot of guys here care.
“People can think, I know we’re paid professionals and we’re in a different tax bracket than we once were before, but we still can be a voice for our communities and we still could inspire others who didn’t make it out,” said Brown. “It’s hard to get in this position. I don’t think people understand how hard it is to make it out of some of these neighborhoods and things that we came out of to get to where we are now. People celebrate that — those stories where guys make it from the bottom to the top, or some guys were homeless that I know and made it to the NBA, single-parent households, despite a lot of odds.
“We celebrate those stories so we’re aware of what’s going in some of these impoverished neighborhoods and disadvantaged communities, but we only show awareness when it’s an athlete or somebody who is making it out. But when somebody is going through it and they don’t, we seem to not care. So what I’ve learned from being here is that a lot of guys care, a lot of guys pull me to the side and ask questions, a lot of guys want to have discussions of topics and things like that to learn more. They don’t necessarily know how to say things because of the backlash the media may give, or they’re scared to say the wrong thing. But I want them to know, to continue to have that courage. We have it together. It’s harder to single out one of us and make us look like we don’t know what we’re talking about.”
Nothing like home
What passes for a home game in the bubble, with music played from each arena’s game night program, and fans piped in on the video board for the so-called home team each night, doesn’t really count for much on the floor.
“I don’t think there’s a difference, to be honest,” said Brown. “I think it’s kind of neutral. (Neutrality) could be an advantage for a lot of teams.”
If anything, Brad Stevens has noticed these faint trappings of home even less.
“I don’t know if I really notice it a ton. I’ve enjoyed some of the videos after the fact but I haven’t noticed them in the game,” said the Celtics coach. “For whatever reason, I’m just focused on the game and don’t hear the sounds going on around us. Good question for the guys, I’m not sure I have an answer for you from my perspective.”
Langford doing the little things
Though Romeo Langford has looked strong with the ball in his hands, scoring isn’t what will earn the rookie playing time once the playoffs begin. Instead, Langford is earning his way into more playing time with defense and work off the ball.
“He’s from Indiana so I would hope he’s got feel for the game,” Stevens joked about his fellow Hoosier. “I would say his defense has been a surprise. He’s certainly capable of defense when he came but it’s been a lot of work with (Celtics assistant coach) Joe Mazzulla to get ready for that, both individually and understanding system and understanding what his role is in each play.
“His chance of getting on the court in the playoffs or games where we’re fully healthy is to be a ball-mover and a cutter, make an open shot and guard,” he said. “I think that’s what it boils down to right now. As he gets older, he will have more responsibility. Right now though, if he can do those things, then he adds to our team. I think that’s really important. He’s done a good job when called upon this year and he certainly is capable, it’s just a new world for him.”