Jaylen Brown not only made a long-term commitment to the Celtics, he made a long-term commitment to helping Boston become a more viable and lucrative home for people of color.
What he plans to do off the court following his five-year, $304 million contract extension was the first thing he wanted to address when the deal was official.
The young participants in Brown’s STEM camp at MIT were present at his news conference, so was John Carlos, who held his black-fisted left hand in the air along with Team USA 200-meter teammate Tommie Smith during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in perhaps the most impactful protest in American sports history.
So Brown wanted to express his master plan, his vision for leaving Boston a better city than when he arrived in the summer of 2016.
“I appreciate the investment and commitment from the Celtics and from the rest of the community,” he said. “And that investment and commitment will be felt in return from me here in Boston on and off the floor, and hopefully soon around the world.”
Brown is a dreamer, a 26-year-old who chooses not to be consumed with Instagram followers or sneaker contracts, but with uplifting his community. It’s not just about pouring money into community programs or cutting ribbons on new basketball courts. Brown has a deeper vision.
“I want to launch a project to bring Black Wall Street here to Boston,” he told me Wednesday. “I want to attack the wealth disparity here. I think there’s analytics that support that stimulating the wealth gap could actually be something that could be a betterment for the entire economy with the biggest financial deal in NBA history, it makes sense to talk about one, your investment in your community but two, also the wealth disparity that no one wants to talk about.
“It’s top five in the US and it’s something that we can all improve on and it’s unsettling. Through my platform, we can come together and create new jobs, new resources, new businesses, new ideas that could highlight minorities but also stimulate the economy and wealth gap at the same time.
“Boston could be a fully-integrated, self-sufficient hub.”
According to a 2017 Globe story, the median net worth in Boston for a white family was $247,500, while just $8 for a Black family. It will take a collective effort to change this disparity, but Brown wants the community and city to know he’s fully invested and committed. Philanthropy is common among professional athletes. Many NBA players, including the much-maligned Kyrie Irving, have given money to various charitable efforts.
But investing in the city that drafted you, that you have adopted, takes dedication because it’s not home, it’s not where you have roots. Brown has reiterated his comfort in Boston, despite his disdain for the financial inequities of people of color and those from underrepresented communities.
His relationship with the city is complex, but it also has the potential to be fruitful.
“There is much appreciation from me for the investment and commitment that I’ve gotten from the city since I’ve been here,” Brown said. “I don’t take that for granted. A lot of times you can pick and choose and point out situations that may not have gone your way but the overall appreciation to be able to be in this position. It’s fantastic.
“For me to be able to go out there every single night and play and also represent the causes and things I stand for in the community, represent being a voice for the voiceless, to me it gives my life and my meaning so much more purpose. I’m excited to do so. I’m excited to represent this city, this organization. I’m excited to play. I’m excited to walk in the lives of people like John Carlos, people like Bill Russell that have paved the way for athletes to be able to have platforms.
“Life is changing. The world is changing. I’m proud to be part of that change.”
Brown won’t be able to make those changes alone. It will be a monumental task that will require great assistance, but the desire for change and for impact is there.
“When [the contract] first was finalized, the first thing that came to mind was, ‘Look at what all you [can] do, how much you could invest into your community, what you can build with it,’ ” Brown said.
”What you can change, how many lives you can touch and what you can do in real time. Money isn’t everything, but the ability to have resources, to put stuff together, to build things, to change things, to have influence is more inspirational than anything. I’m excited to do so.”
Davis looks fondly on time with Celtics
It’s been 15 years since the Celtics won the NBA title with rookie forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis serving as a key reserve, making big plays during the playoff run.
Davis is 37, eight years removed from his final NBA game, but he said he’s constantly reminded by fans about his contributions on that 2007-08 team. Adjusting to life after basketball hasn’t been easy, but Davis said he cherishes those Celtics years, when he was mentored, and at times berated, by Kevin Garnett. They are now close friends.
“It’s seems like yesterday,” Davis said of the championship. “A lot of people, just as far as basketball culture, it’s still [relevant] and I’m shocked because I haven’t played in so long. I’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, I did win a championship, I did play in the Finals.’ I always think about it when we get together, when I see KG and Paul [Pierce], always reminiscence. I’m happy I can be part of that.”
Davis said playing with Garnett, who constantly chided him about his size and sometimes lack of toughness, extended his career.
“He gave me probably three or four more years of my career,” Davis said. “Because I didn’t know how to work. I didn’t know what it took and he gave me an example every day. And we were best friends and we are best friends, and I learned so much from him. We’re friends for life.”
The Celtics traded Davis to the Magic just as the 2011 lockout ended, a sign-and-trade deal for Brandon Bass. Davis wanted a bigger role and was going to get it in Orlando. But his Magic tenure was marred by injury and team inconsistency. His contract was bought out in 2014 and he finished his last two seasons playing for his old Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, with the Clippers.
Never able to get into premium shape, Davis has spent time playing in Canada, the Big3, in various summer and exhibition leagues, and even had a stint as a stand-up comedian, while also having legal issues. Davis said his issues are past, and he’s in film production with Hidden Empire Films, which is working on a documentary on streetball legend Pee Wee Kirkland.
“[Life after basketball] has been difficult,” Davis said. “Because of getting your feet wet and getting the experience you need. But the [film] experience has been dope.”
The big man era has changed since Davis’s heyday. Big, burly centers have been replaced by stretch-4s or centers who would rather shoot threes than post up. The perfect example is Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama, considered the most skillful 7-footer in a generation, but the 7-foot-4-inch Frenchman lacks the girth to bump with average-sized big men.
He may have been broken in half playing against the 290-plus-pound Davis.
“The length I probably would have struggled with,” Davis said. “I definitely would have used my body against the boy.”
McGrady offers words of wisdom
Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady has become a role model for many current NBA players and in his playing days was compared with Kobe Bryant as one of the premier small forwards. McGrady has pointed opinions about today’s league that are respected because he bridges the gap between old and new school.
McGrady came into the league from high school in 1998 and endured growing pains before becoming a seven-time All-Star. He has advice for players such as Ja Morant and Zion Williamson, who have experienced off-court troubles in recent months.
“You look at Miami, who they had at the end of their bench, monitoring and keeping guys in check,” McGrady said in reference to 20-year veteran Udonis Haslem. “You look at what Golden State did with [Andre Iguodala]. Just look around the league and some of these veteran guys that have been through the gauntlet and have been great representation of the NBA and been great ambassadors, you need them on your bench.
“A lot of times on your team now, your veteran guy is 23, 24 years old and you’re trying to have this guy be a leader of an NBA franchise. Yes, he’s the best player, but he’s young. He’s not experienced in that area.”
McGrady, 44, said veteran experience and mentorship is critical to the development of younger players.
“You’ve got to have these guys on your bench,” he said. “When the train starts to derail, you’ve got somebody to take their will and get things back on track. That’s what these vets do.”
McGrady said one player who has the perfect support system is Victor Wembanyama. The Spurs have cultivated players through a two-decade-long mentoring system that includes David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Sean Elliott.
McGrady actually played on a team that reached the NBA Finals. After playing in China, McGrady signed a rest-of-the-season contract with the Spurs after the 2012-13 regular season. He played in six playoff games during San Antonio’s run to the Finals, including two games in the seven-game loss to the Heat.
“I don’t have to give [Wembanyama] no advice because who he’s surrounded by is greatness,” McGrady said. “We’re talking about the greatest power forward [Duncan]. You’re talking about one of the greatest centers in David Robinson and arguably the greatest coach in Gregg Popovich. What advice am I going to give? These guys won 15 titles combined.”
Griner making most of return
This month’s WNBA All-Star Game served as a celebration for the return of Brittney Griner, who spent nine months in a Russian prison after being caught with marijuana paraphernalia during a stint with her overseas team. President Biden negotiated her return, swapping arms dealer Viktor Bout in a controversial move.
Griner has returned to action for the Mercury after missing last season and is averaging 18.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocked shots in 20 games. She was named to her eighth All-Star Game in 10 seasons and cherished every moment.
“It means a lot,” Griner said. “That’s all the people that you never met before, that you didn’t know, that wrote a letter, or I’m still finding messages people have sent me on social media, different posts. I’ll be on someone’s page and see a post, or a fan will show me something or send me something. To have that ovation and all those little memories that I can cherish now, it means the world. So it was no question that I was going to come and play as quickly as I did. They never wavered in support, and I was never going to waver in being on the court and trying to give them a show.”
Griner, the WNBA’s all-time leader in dunks, broke away for another jam during the All-Star Game. Griner has endured her share of issues, but as the years pass and her career closes out, she has become more appreciative of the little things.
Griner, 32, was drafted 10 years ago, a 6-foot-8-inch multitalented center with no comparisons. Perhaps she didn’t turn into the megastar many anticipated, but Griner has made a positive impact. Dunking is no longer rare in women’s basketball. Players taller than 6-5 are no longer just planted in the paint. They run the floor. They shoot threes. They dunk on fast breaks.
“That’s a good one to hold,” Griner said of the dunk record. “I know someone is going to come and break it eventually. But just being able to give younger girls someone to see doing it, I think that’s what matters the most to me.”
Former WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart picked Griner second overall in the All-Star Game draft. Because of her journey and the adversity she has overcome, Griner has become a role model and mentor for many WNBA players. All-Star Weekend served as an opportunity to pay her back and players acknowledged the WNBA suffered last season in Griner’s absence.
“I was honored, first pick, so I knew I had to do something so I can pay that back,” Griner said. “Those dunks and getting the W, I think that may have did it right there. But I was honored. I was happy. Our season got cut a little short overseas playing together [with Stewart], so just being back on the court with her and with [Courtney Vandersloot] on the same team, that was pretty special for me.”
Al Horford may be 37, but he still has interest in playing for his country and was listed on the preliminary roster for the Dominican Republic in preparation for the World Cup in August. Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, who considers Horford a mentor, is also on the roster, as is Sacramento guard Chris Duarte. Team USA’s roster is filled with younger players in hopes they can compete for a medal. Celtics guard Payton Pritchard is on the USA Select Team, which is the first step to playing in international competition . . . James Harden remains committed to playing for the Clippers but no deal is close and the 76ers remain in limbo. The Clippers are reluctant to trade any of their young players for Harden, knowing he’s a free agent again after this season and has requested a trade three times in four years. Would Harden, along with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, put the Clippers into Finals contention? That depends on the supporting cast. George and Leonard are unlikely to come close to 70 games because of injuries and load management, while Harden’s mercurial ways create another level of uncertainty. But there is pressure for the Clippers to thrive because of failed expectations in past years and a new arena coming in Inglewood next season. Coach Tyronn Lue has stressed to George and Leonard the importance of playing in the regular season, gaining chemistry, and enhancing their playoff seed. The Clippers as constructed would enter the season behind the likes of the Lakers, Suns, Warriors, Grizzlies, and defending champion Nuggets in the Western Conference . . . The Celtics have one two-way contract available but are expected to wait at least until training camp to fill that spot. The club has signed JD Davison and Jay Scrubb to two-way deals with both expected to spend most of next season with G League Maine. The Celtics also have minimum-salary contracts to offer as the free agent market is drying up and quality players will have to accept minimum deals. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens said the Celtics are looking for wing help, and players such as Kelly Oubre Jr., Hamidou Diallo, and Terence Davis are still on the market.