In reflection, Jaylen Brown didn’t want to reflect. He didn’t want to talk about a half-decade ago, when he was merely another Division 1 basketball prospect whose life could have gone in any direction.
Theoretically, he could have been in the Cobb County Jail, but his teacher’s words irked him because he knew that wasn’t his journey or destiny.
Brown refused to detail the situation that prompted his teacher at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., to tell him when he was a high school junior that she’d visit him in jail in five years.
That was five years ago, when Brown’s future was cloudy. He wanted to pursue basketball, attend a fine university, and eventually play in the NBA, but who envisioned it working out so perfectly? Who envisioned five years after Brown tweeted out his teacher’s prognostication that he would be dunking on Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals as a member of the Boston Celtics.
Brown didn’t retweet that tweet from April 28, 2014, but it did surface on the exact date five years later. He is a 22-year-old man, one who has spoken at Harvard University about the perils of the public education system and how lower-income children are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of pursuing a college education or even a moderately successful life.
My teacher said she will look me up in the Cobb county jail in 5 years .. Wow— Jaylen Brown (@FCHWPO) April 28, 2014
He was one of those kids, and there was a sense of betrayal that someone hired to guide and instruct Brown would not only tell him he wouldn’t attend college but that he would land in jail. Perhaps it was motivation, but Brown obviously didn’t take it that way.
“When someone says something like that you never really forget it,” Brown said. “Something like that you hang on to. I don’t really want to get into what happened because I’m going to leave it in the past. It’s true.
“In Georgia, the education system isn’t the best. So I don’t really put too much blame on the teacher. It is what it is. You got one teacher handling 35 kids in one class. It’s tough and it’s a lot of teachers that go through stuff and take a lot of crap all day, so who knows what had been going through her mind when she said that.
“I let it be the past. I use it as motivation. But I wasn’t trying to draw any attention to myself. I had no idea it would turn out to be what it was.”
A Cobb County School District spokesperson said in an e-mail, “The teachers and staff of Cobb County are united in a single purpose — to see each and every one of our students succeed. We are proud of everything that Jaylen Brown has accomplished.”
But it definitely serves as a teachable moment. Those kids who feel discarded and disregarded can make their dreams come true, no matter what some ill-willed adult says. Of course, Brown was a big-time basketball prospect, a man-child as a 17-year-old, so his athletic prowess was exponentially higher than most kids his age.
But he was young, so much so that those words, the projection he would land in jail, damaged him because it was a sign of hopelessness, that he had already been given up on.
“If kids look at it the right way in terms of somebody ever said anything to try to put them down or shoot their dreams down, and it motivated them to get where they are, I salute that,” Brown said. “I tweet it when I was 17 years old, five years ago to do this day.
“It’s crazy because I guess I would be getting out of jail tomorrow, according to the tweet, but I’ll leave it in the past where it belongs. But it was a pretty cool moment to be where I am now. Five years ago, who would have thought, especially where I come from.”
Brown isn’t alone. He realizes there are millions of kids from these same working-class or disadvantaged communities that aren’t 6 feet, 7 inches and who can’t jump out of the gym. What about them? Do we have hope for those kids who may have made some juvenile mistakes or may not mature as fast as others or those who are considered less gifted?
It’s easy to dismiss these kids because they aren’t perhaps as polished as we’d like or look differently than we’d like them to, but that’s no reason to give up hope or lose optimism.
“A lot of people come from communities worse or better, so everybody has aspirations and dreams to get to where they belong,” Brown said. “I’m happy I’m here, playing basketball with the Celtics.”
The key is not holding on to those bitter feelings. It should be used as motivation, but never payback. Payback is in the success and in the satisfaction that you accomplished your dream, however farfetched that dream may have been at age 17.
Brown said, “To be honest, I moved on from [the incident] a long time ago. My family, the school they dealt with it when it happened. Stuff like that adds fuel to the fire and then when it resurfaces, it adds more fuel to the fire. I don’t look at it as a negative or I’m not looking to get back at the teacher. I’m past that, emotionally and spiritually. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.