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Gary Washburn | On basketball

Get used to hearing Jaylen Brown use his voice to amplify the issues, not his play on the court

Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown has used his voice to speak out on matters of racial inequality, police brutality, and the mental challenges players face inside the NBA's Bubble.
Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown has used his voice to speak out on matters of racial inequality, police brutality, and the mental challenges players face inside the NBA's Bubble.Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

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ORLANDO — The game was over just for a few minutes. The Celtics held on to beat the Orlando Magic in overtime, 122-119, and improved to 4-2 in the bubble. Jaylen Brown’s train of thought in those 10 minutes shifted from basketball to social justice, and he wanted nothing to do with discussing his 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The world is bigger than playoff seeding or keeping momentum heading into next week’s first-round playoff series. Brown has two agendas here in the bubble: 1) leading the Celtics to the NBA Finals; and 2) urging people to vote and attempting to open eyes and ears about social issues that involved the African American community.

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So for at least the third time here in Orlando, Brown discussed nothing about basketball in his postgame media session. If you expected these NBA players to mute their thoughts and shut up and dribble for the entertainment of those bored sports fans looking for a release during the pandemic, then guess again. There is a message that accompanies the entertainment, so get used to it and be prepared to listen.

“I also want to take a look at the term ‘police brutality,’” he said Sunday following Boston’s OT victory. “And maybe offer a different perspective. Flashback to May 25, 2020. You watch George Floyd, a human being, be violently killed; the four men who nonchalantly terrorized Floyd belong to a state-sponsored law enforcement, law enforcement that historically in America that has targeted and profiled Black and minority civilian populations throughout.

“Now, I’m aware some Americans have the birthright and privilege to see police officers as protectors and maybe even peacekeepers or even embrace heroism. Unfortunately, I’m not from that side of America. I’m from the other side where people are in fear or terror of the police.”

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The players are living up to their promises they made while the NBA bubble was being created and the league and NBA Players Association were negotiating the conditions of a return. Many players spend their pandemic scarred and pained by Floyd’s death.

Jaylen Brown loses the ball as he drives to the basket against Orlando on Sunday.
Jaylen Brown loses the ball as he drives to the basket against Orlando on Sunday.Kim Klement/Associated Press

They have come to Orlando with a message. They want justice for Breonna Taylor. They want racial equality and diversity. They want their brethren to vote. They aren’t concerned if some fans could take offense.

If doesn’t matter if you like or agree with their activism. These millennials are stepping outside their own personal comfort zones, to draw attention to the realities of facing America, where more than 160,000 people have died from the COVID-19 pandemic that has forever altered every human being’s way of life.

So, without apology, the players are going to speak their minds, and speak intelligently for those unable to do so for themselves.

“Without being drafted by the Celtics, without being in the place that I’m in now, I would still be on that other side of America,” Brown said. “I want to take a look at ‘police brutality’ and maybe offer another term, as ‘domestic terrorism’ because that’s what it was in the eyes of George Floyd and that’s what it was in the eyes of Trayvon Martin and that’s what it is now with a lot of people of color and minorities communities. Thank you guys for listening.”

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The bubble has allowed Brown to concentrate even more on strengthening his social justice stances. He reads, studies and talks to those more knowledgeable for more information.

Brown said there was a downside to all the idle time inside the Bubble. Players away from their families have experienced feelings of isolation. They have had no contact with anyone but other players, coaches, team executives and media members for weeks

While technology has allowed players to conduct video conversation with their family members, the Bubble can be a secluded, lonely place off the court.

“I also want to bring attention to mental health and awareness,” Brown said. “Being here in this bubble, people might not speak on it, but it’s a challenge to a lot of guys. It’s like you’re at work all the time. A lot of guys want to be able to leave and forget about basketball for a little. It’s impossible here in the bubble.

“You go chill and you might see [Utah guard] Donovan Mitchell sitting there and you’re like, ‘Man, I don’t want to see him right now.’ I definitely want to bring awareness to mental health, anxiety and forms of depression at times like this and places like this in the bubble. Players probably struggle with that and don’t feel confident enough to speak openly about it.

“I know the images are of pool tables and swimming pools. It’s tough being here, being isolated from the rest of society. It will be interesting to see the long-term effect of being in this kind of conservative community.”

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If you don’t want to hear about these critical issues, turn off the television right after the game. But you’re missing out on the growth of many of these professional athletes into full-grown men who are invested in their communities and realize the impact of their voice.

The NBA Bubble has become the perfect vehicle to express these ideas without judgment or repercussions. It makes daily life here in this compound manageable for many of these guys.


Gary Washburn can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.