Celtics’ Jaylen Brown says he’s skeptical NBA owners will back up pledges of support

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown says he’s skeptical that NBA owners will back up their pledges to support NBA players in their push for social justice.

“I’m not sure,” Brown said on a Zoom conference call Saturday afternoon. “I can’t speak for everybody. I can only speak for myself, and I am not sure. I’m not as confident as I would like to be, I’ll say that.

“I think promises are made year after year. We’ve heard a lot of these terms and words before. We heard them in 2014 — reform. We’re still hearing them now. A lot of them are just reshaping the same ideas and nothing is actually taking place. Long-term goals are one thing, but I think there’s stuff in our wheelhouse as athletes with our resources and the people that we’re connected to that short-term effect is possible as well.

“Everybody keeps saying, ‘Change is going to take this, change is going to take that.’ That’s the incrementalism idea that keeps stringing you along to make you feel like something’s going to happen, something’s going to happen. People were dying in 2014, and it’s 2020 and people are still dying the same way. They keep saying ‘reform, reform, reform,’ and ain’t nothing being reformed. I’m not as confident as I would like to be.”

Brown has been one of the NBA’s most outspoken players in the fight for social justice and police reform and to combat racial inequality. He drove to his native Atlanta to lead a protest while the season was suspended, and has repeatedly spoken out about his desire to see changes being made.

During Wednesday night’s meeting among the players in the wake of the Milwaukee Bucks choosing not to play their playoff game against the Orlando Magic, Brown asked his fellow players that, if they were going to leave the bubble, were they going to just go home, or were they going to go out and protest for the changes they all wanted?

Part of Brown’s hesitation to support the owners stems from his belief that they already didn’t go far enough with one of the planks of the three-part initiative the NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, put out Friday afternoon as part of the official announcement of the playoffs resuming Saturday.

Brown said that while the NBA owners agreed to make any arena that is owned by the team’s owner a location that can be used as a voting center, originally all 29 NBA arenas were supposed to be involved.

“Initially, when we went into those discussions with the board of governors, every arena was supposed to be the case, not just arenas that were owned by the team that we play for,” Brown said. “Every arena needs to be open. Voter suppression is real. I don’t understand why that’s a problem or that’s an issue. But every arena should be open, it should be available in access to be able to have people of color, disadvantaged people to feel like they can vote.

“Voting shouldn’t be this hard. It shouldn’t be this much of a disconnect between. It should be something easy. And yet, there [are] less and less voting polls in certain communities, less and less workers in certain communities. And it makes it extremely difficult. It’s difficult, it already is already. It makes it even more difficult to get outside and vote. So, I would like to see every NBA team that regardless of what was agreed upon … open [their arena] and I would like to see more players and athletes, people of influence, bring it to their cities to kind of combat that.”

Despite his reservations, Brown praised the work that the NBA and the players have done in Orlando — but also expressed his frustration at how the work they have done hasn’t led to the changes he’d like to see.

“I think the NBA did a good job initially about putting Black Lives Matter on the court, our jerseys have a message behind them, TV timeouts, we’ve done numerous amounts of videos, and it’s still not enough,” Brown said. “People are still getting killed in the street, and the climate of America is still the same.”

He also praised the Bucks, as he did during that meeting Wednesday, for their decision not to play, and highlighted the awareness that it brought to the causes the players are fighting for. He also said, on multiple occasions, that “It could be done again,” if a situation arose where it was necessary.

Brown did, however, express disappointment on the contents of that meeting becoming public — and, specifically, on how it was portrayed as a divisive or negative moment. He said he was very happy about the talks that came out of that conversation, and said having the rare opportunity to get players and coaches from 13 teams into one room together was a beneficial, and unifying, one.

“It was supposed to be a private meeting, and I’ve seen some of the headlines, and I think there’s an emphasis on the divisiveness of what took place in those meetings, but what’s not being talked about is the unification being shown,” he said. “There were a lot of guys in the room who had a lot of pain. We all saw the recent videos, and we’ve seen the videos over the years, and frankly we feel helpless and we feel tired. I was proud to see a lot of guys come in here and share emotions and have real conversations in the room. Instead, people are focused on the divisiveness of the conversations, but to be honest, getting all of those guys in the same room to talk about one thing was important.

“There’s a lot of guys that came down here for reasons other than basketball, and to use our platforms. Milwaukee did exactly that, and if necessary it could be done again. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but using our platform is why a lot of guys came down here.”

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