Tuesday, January 16News That Matters

Jaylen Brown: ‘Sport is a mechanism of control in America’

As the Boston Celtics star prepares to play in London, “hes talking to” Donald McRae about race, the NBA and the deaths among his best friend

Jaylen Brown is one the most intelligent and interesting young contestants I’ve met in years and it seems accessory that, midway through our interview in Boston, he should retell a parable that brings together Martin Luther King and the great American columnist David Foster Wallace.

” We’ve got two young fish swimming one style and an older fish swimming the other path ,” the 21 -year-old star of the Boston Celtics says as he considers the enduring backdrop of race in the United States.” They cross routes and the older fish says:’ What’s up people, how’s the ocean ?’ The two younger fish turned back and looked at at the wiser fish and request:’ What’s ocean ?’ They’ve never recognised that this is what they actually live in. So it takes somebody special like Martin Luther King to understand past what you’ve been embedded in your whole life .”

Three times before his death, Foster Wallace included the parable in one of his most widely-read articles of writing. Yet it carries fresh resonance when said with quiet violence by a young basketball musician who stands apart from many of his contemporaries- to the extent that there have been numerous sections in which an unnamed NBA executive apparently intimated that Brown might be “too smart” for the league or” his own good “.

Brown was the No3 pick in the 2016 NBA draft and now, in his second season with Boston, he is a key figure as the Celtics arrive in London the coming week as the leading team in the Eastern Conference. We’ve already spoken about Brown’s desire to learn new expressions and his interest in journals and chess- while he desires playing the piano and listening to grunge artists from east London. Even more intimately he has relived the deaths among his closest friend Trevin Steede in November. In the two plays after that destroying loss Brown produced inspirational concerts, which he dedicated to Steede.

He has also looked forward to playing in London on Thursday, against the Philadelphia 76 ers, and answered a question as to whether his young Celtics team may become NBA champs in the next few seasons:” Why not this year? People say perhaps we’ll is all very well in two years- but I think we’re good now. Right now we’ve got one of best available accounts in the tournament. I think we could be as good as we want to be. But the more we let people erect our mindset, and start saying two years from now, is the moment “were losing” .”

Last week the Celtics beat LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers 102 -8 8. Excitement and prospect surrounds the Celtics but race still stalks our exchange- and it has echoed hauntingly through Brown’s life.” Racism definitely still exists in the South ,” he says, remembering his youth in Marietta, Georgia.” I’ve suffered it through basketball. I’ve had people call me the n-word. I’ve had people come to basketball games garmented in monkey suits with a jersey on. I’ve had people paint their look black at my plays. I’ve had people shed bananas in the stands.

” Racism definitely exists across America today. Of track it’s changed a lot- and my opportunities are far greater than they would have been 50 years ago. So some people conceive racism has dissipated or no longer exists. But it’s hidden in more strategic places. You have less people coming to your face and telling you certain things. But[ Donald] Trump has shaped it a lot more acceptable for racists to speak their heads .”

Jaylen Brown takes on LeBron James earlier this season. Photo: CJ Gunther/ EPA

Brown admits that, when he was 14,” It wounds you. But when I got older and came to the University of California[ Berkeley] I read about a more subtle combating racism and how it filters across our education system through tracking, obscured curriculums, social stratification and things I had no idea of before. I was truly emotional- because one of the most subtle but aggressive directions racism prevails is through our education system .”

In his year at college, before interrupting his degree to play in the NBA, Brown wrote a thesis about how institutionalised sport their effects on education.” I was super emotional reading about it ,” he says of his chosen subject.” There’s this idea of America that some people have to win and some have to lose so certain things are in place to make this happen. Some people have to be the next legislators and political upper-class and some “re going to have to” fill the prisons and work in McDonald’s. That’s how America runs. It’s a machine which needs people up top, and people down low.

” Even though I’ve ended up in a great region, who is to say where I would’ve been without basketball? It makes me feel for my friends. And my little brothers or cousins have no thought how their social mobility is being shaped. I wish more and more that I can explain it to them. Just because I’m the outlier in my neighbourhood who managed to avoid the barriers set up to keep the privileged in privilege, and the poor still poor, why should I keep forgetting the people who didn’t have the same fortune as me ?”

What did he think of Colin Kaepernick’s demonstration against police inhumanity and racism- which the former San Francisco 49 ers quarterback began even before Trump’s election to the White House?” It was peaceful and successful. It established people remember. It constructed people angry. It built people want to talk. Often everybody is comfy with their persona in life and they forget about the people who are uncomfortable. So for Colin to put his job on the line, and sacrifice himself, was astounding. But Colin was fed up with the police brutality and pure racism. He communicates for many people in this country- including me .”

Did Brown understand from the outset that Kaepernick’s career was in jeopardy?” Utterly. I wasn’t scandalized how it turned out. Colin was trying to get back into the NFL and find another team and he’s more than capable. But I knew it was over. I knew they weren’t going to let him back. Nobody wanted the media attention or to take the risk. They probably just wanted to blackball him out of the league.

” That’s the reality because sports is a mechanism of command. If people didn’t have athletics they would be a lot more disappointed with their role in culture. There would be a lot more feeling or stress about the injustice of poverty and starvation. Sports is a lane to channel our vigour into something positive. Without athletics who knows what half of these kids would be doing?

” We’re having some of the same problems we had 50 years ago. Some things have changed a lot but other factors are deeply embedded in our society. It takes objections like Kaepernick’s to make people uncomfortable and aware of these hidden injustices. People are now a lot more aware, involved and united in our culture. It takes a special person like Kaepernick to force these changes- because often reporters and followers say:’ If you’re an athlete I don’t want you to say anything. You should be happy you’re making x amount of money playing athletic. You should be honouring America instead of critiquing it .’ That’s our society .”

Has his anger been amplified during Trump’s presidency?” Not genuinely. I just think Trump’s character and some of his values induces him unfit to leading. For someone like him to be president, and in charge of our troops? It’s scary to be honest .”

Trump’s Twitter war in November with LaVar Ball tip-off the scale of assessments, for Brown, beyond credulity. The President accused Ball of being “ungrateful”– following the release from China of his son, LiAngelo, and two other UCLA basketball players when he was caught shoplifting.” He required a thank you ,” Brown says of Trump.” It’s ridiculous. What happened to people doing things out of the magnanimity of their nerve or because it was the right thing to do? There have been multiple situations where it’s been ridiculous but that one was like:’ OK I’m done. I’m done listening to anything you have to say .’ A 19 -year-old kid makes a mistake overseas and[ Trump] demands an apologetic from his father? I belief Trump’s unfit to produce .”

Jaylen Brown dunks during a game against the Brooklyn Net. Photograph: Justin Lane/ EPA

Brown’s readiness to talk about politics and cultural activities might account for the surreal suggestion in 2016 that he was ” too smart” for the NBA. From the outside,’ smart’ seemed a euphemism for’ troublesome ‘. What did Brown belief when, as a adolescent, he heard terms unlikely to be used in conjunction with a lily-white player?” It was hinting at something very problematic within society. It riled me but I was so concentrate on getting to where I was running I never dissected it or pointed it out to anybody.

” But I disagree that canadian athletes can’t be intelligent. Some people think that, in basketball, we have a bunch of masculine adults who don’t know how to control themselves. They’re feeble-minded and can’t employ or articulate ideas. That’s a narrative they keep trying to paint. We’re trying to change it because that statement emphatically has a racist undercurrent .”

Brown elected Berkeley because he knew he would be stretched academically. Has he missed the intellectual stimulus since swapping college for professional basketball?” Absolutely. I’ve missed it so much better. I’m in a good environ here but at Cal I was memorizing something new every day. I’m now trying to keep well-balanced instead of single-minded. I take piano lessons after I expended the last year teaching myself piano. If I’m frustrated or had a bad period, but need to keep committed, practising the piano does that for me. Same with the YouTube[ vlogs which he makes ]. I use the camera so I can show something of “peoples lives” to the everyday person who is interested in interpreting what it’s like for an athlete on a day-to-day basis. Everybody throws you on a pedestal especially when you’re playing well and they make it seem like you’re not human. But I’m just a regular person .”

During his first time at Berkeley, in his spare time, Brown learned Spanish from scratch and became fluent.” I’m not as good now ,” he says.” I started again because there’re so many conjugations that steal your mind if you don’t rule. But I likewise merely learned the Arabic alphabet. I’m proud of myself because the accent is hard .”

Brown starts to say the Arabic alphabet out loud and, to an untutored ear, he seems impressive. “Yeah,” he says with a grinning, “I’m trying.”

He describes himself as an introvert- and it must be hard being quiet and reflective in a boisterous sporting surrounding?” Utterly. It’s not just the locker chamber. In life if you stay quiet you’ll get left behind. So I had to learn to be more vocal and outgoing. I just try to be respectful of everybody. But the closer you get with guys the more you talk to them. It becomes like a family- specially when you’re winning. Last-place year I was much quieter but this year my opinion is valued more. We have a good locker room .”

Jaylen Brown’s Celtics are determined for a deep playoff run this season. Photo: CJ Gunther/ EPA

The value of that locker room was felt by Brown after the tragic suicide of his pal Trevin Steede. Brown discovered the will to play against the NBA champions, the Golden state Warriors, the nighttime after Steede’s death- and he stimulated the Celtics to a memorable succes by scoring “the worlds largest” phases[ 22] while developing tenacious defense. After video games Kyrie Irving, the Celtics’s superstar, gave Brown the projectile and said:’ This one’s for Trevin.’

Before they played again, in Atlanta, where Steede’s family live, Brown visited his friend’s mother and other mourning relatives. He then went out and shot a career-high 27 phases.” I’m so thankful for the person or persons around me. They hoisted me up. I don’t know what my mental condition would be right now without them.

” I convened Trevin when I moved to Wheeler- which is a big basketball academy in Marietta, Georgia. Trevin was a year older so he was a sophomore and I was a freshman. They brought me in and there was only one spot left on the team and it was between me and him. They gave it to me.

” I didn’t know anybody when I first got there so at lunch in the first week I’d eat by myself- behaving like I’m on my phone. Trevin came up to me after the third largest period. I’d seen him in workouts but I didn’t really know him. He said,’ Man, come sit over here with us .’ Ever since then, we were best friends .

How did he hear about Trevin’s death?” His mom called me. I’m thinking she’s just checking on me or saying hi. But she called to tell me he’s passed .”

Brown seems down and his suffer is obvious. He also declares he required the support of Steede’s mother to face Golden State.” I probably wouldn’t have played unless she called me. Brad Stevens[ the Celtics coach] wished to know how I was doing. I told him,’ I don’t think I’m able to come in today. He said:’ That’s fine. Take your time.’ Three seconds after I hung up, Trevin’s mom called. I told her I wasn’t doing well and I probably wasn’t going to play that night. She said:’ You know that’s not what I want and that’s not what Trevin would have wanted. So if you can find it in your nerve got to go and play for him, do it .'”

Did he play in a dazzle, or was he inspired by Trevin to help Celtics win?” I didn’t feel anything. It was like I was out there by myself .”

The chance to play in London hoisted his feeling.” I inspected London for the first time last summertime. It was great. I went to see Big Ben because one of my idols is Benjamin Banneker[ the African American scientist who, amongst other accomplishments, worked with striking clocks in the 18 th century ].”

This week Brown would like to hear more grime and to see Arsenal.” I like Barcelona because of the players they’ve had traditionally- from Ronaldinho to Messi. I really like Arsenal too. I like their tradition, and their diehard followers. I hope to see them in London. I reckon Thierry Henry is going to be there so I’ll only hit him up and see if I can get some access to the[ stadium] tour, get some hits on the field. Last summer I grew really close with Thierry. I got to talk to him and we keep up with one another and he gives me advice- about sports and life. He’s one of the all-time greats .”

At the Celtics’ instruct facility, on the outskirts of Boston, Brown rises to his full 6ft 7in. He seems around the empty court before turning back with a smile when I say we’ve embraced a lot of soil- from the whodunits of sea for two young fish and the enduring problems of race in America to the impact of learning and the pleasure of following sport around the world. “Yeah,” Brown says softly, stretching out his hands,” that’s the way I like it “.

* The NBA London Game 2018 realise the Philadelphia 76 ers host Boston Celtics at The O2 on 11 January. The game will likewise be live their lives BT Sport and NBA League Pass .

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