As 22 teams prepare to converge on Orlando this week to restart the 2019-20 season after it was halted because of COVID-19, not all of them will be whole. Eight players have said they will not accompany their teams, mostly citing personal reasons or injury risks, and others are said to be considering opting out.
The Celtics are expected to have their full roster, along with two-way contract players Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall. But forward Jaylen Brown said on Monday that it was not always so clear. He said that there was apprehension among the Celtics due to concerns about COVID-19 as well as questions about important social justice messages potentially being lost in the shuffle.
“I want to make that clear,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to go to Orlando. Like, I had apprehensions not just because of social justice, but COVID-related and had some family issues as well.”
But Brown said that as time passed and the NBA more thoroughly relayed its safety protocols and its commitment to furthering the Black Lives Matter movement, many of the concerns were allayed.
“Once I thought about the opportunity that the organization and the NBA presented to play for something bigger than myself, I would have signed up right away,” Brown said. “I plan on using my voice when I’m down there, I plan on inspiring and spreading light on things that are getting dimmed, and hopefully the NBA and our organization can understand.”
On May 31, six days the death of George Floyd, Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest. The Georgia native was joined by Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon and about 100 others in one of the first demonstrations during this time led by a pro athlete.
Brown said three of the protesters were arrested, and he acknowledged that it was a tense time because there had been rioting a night earlier.
“But I just felt like that has been a major issue in our country, relationships between the police force and the rest of society,” Brown said. “And I think that relationship needs to improve or we’re going to see more [unrest].”
In the days that followed, there was increasing unease among NBA players that restarting their season could distract from the social justice movement that had generated clear momentum. On a conference call with about 100 players, former Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, one of the vice presidents of the National Basketball Players Association, suggested the season should not continue.
Irving’s push received some criticism, mostly because he is injured and not playing this season anyway. But Brown, who is also an NBPA vice president, made it clear Monday that it should not have.
“There was a few players that decided to take care of their families and I don’t think they should be ridiculed or talked about in a negative way, because that’s a decision they made,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, Black lives matter, and Black athletes’ lives matter as well. So I respect any guy’s decision. My decision was to play just because I felt like it’s bigger than me and it’s bigger than my family and it’s bigger than all of us. People have died for the opportunity to be able to shed light and speak on certain causes. The least I could do is play basketball.”
Now, Brown is among those determined to keep the social justice conversation going as he enters the Orlando bubble for up to three months.
“With the conversations that we’ve had, I think it’s going to enhance, rather than dim, the light that’s being spread right now,” Brown said. “I think everybody wants to watch basketball and the NBA, and we have voices of influence in our communities and we have obligations to our communities, not just obligations to our organizations. The more the NBA understands that, the better everybody will feel about it, especially players.”