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Jaylen Brown Is Trying to Find a Balance

The Celtics star wants to be known for more than just basketball, even as he tries to help Boston to a repeat NBA Finals bid. But recent missteps, largely stemming from his affiliation with Kyrie Irving and Ye, have shown just how difficult that may be.

Victor Bizar Gómez

When Jaylen Brown was being recruited to the University of California, he met Derek Van Rheenen, a prominent cultural studies professor. They struck up a friendship months later, in a Cal summer program that Brown attended. Impressed by Brown’s intellect and persistence, Van Rheenen pushed for Brown to receive a special exemption to enroll in his graduate course the Theoretical Foundations of the Cultural Studies of Sport in Education.

One morning, Van Rheenen led a discussion about the ignorant belief that Black athletes are genetically more gifted than athletes of other races. “The corollary there is that maybe they’re not as intellectually or cognitively up for the task,” Van Rheenen tells me. “Like, yeah, you’re really good at playing basketball, but we don’t expect much more from you relative to your intellectual scholarship.”

The lecture lingered in Brown’s mind long after class. At basketball practice later that day, he lagged through drills and missed basic instructions. “There was this intense conversation; I’m working through it,” coaches recalled him saying. “I can’t just do the thing that you’re asking me to do.”

Brown was Cal’s highest-ranked basketball recruit since Jason Kidd, but he committed to the school ahead of the 2015-16 season hoping to find an identity beyond sports and to play for the predominantly Black coaching staff led by Cuonzo Martin. But on the way to practice that fall day, Brown felt like he was just another athlete living out the stereotype he’d discussed in class. Worse, he was the face of an institution making money off his talent.

“It make you not want to play at all,” Brown tells me. “Make you not want to even show up.”

When I saw Brown in Boston in January, he was going through a similar conflict. In the seven years since the Boston Celtics picked him third overall, Brown has blossomed from an inconsistent contributor into the face of one of the most successful franchises in sports. On the floor, he helped lead the Celtics to their first NBA Finals in a decade last season. Off the floor, the 26-year-old has used his voice and profile to enact social change. His foundation has partnered with colleges to create a bridge program for underrepresented youth aimed at closing the educational gap between races. And in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, he led protests, became an advocate for social change, and inspired the Celtics front office to revamp its approach to community outreach.

But his quest to find worth beyond the game resulted in a number of public missteps in the past year. Last spring, he signed with Donda Sports, an agency founded by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West; five months later, the agency went dormant, and the school associated with it shut down because of the musician’s offensive behavior and comments. A couple of weeks later, Brown publicly defended Kyrie Irving’s right to free speech after his former teammate tweeted a link to a movie that spewed antisemitic tropes.

His basketball life has also been complicated. He’s still reconciling the departure of Ime Udoka, the former Celtics head coach whom Brown advocated to hire but was later suspended before this season for an improper relationship with a subordinate. Brown also spent the summer in trade rumors, heightening his feelings about being a commodity for an institution rather than a partner in the quest for the Celtics’ 18th banner.

As this season grinds to a close, Brown’s Celtics, riding a breakthrough season from Jayson Tatum and following the lead of new head coach Joe Mazzulla, have struggled, but remain among the favorites to make it back to the Finals. But Brown is also striving to strike a balance between playing the game and being known beyond it.

“Obviously, our goal is to win the championship. That’s, I think, what everybody is focused on,” Brown tells me. “Me, I feel like I still have so many more limits to tap individually. To be better, to be a better leader, to be a better player, et cetera. As for now, I’m just playing my role on the team to help us get back to do what we got to do. So, nothing wrong with being a part of a team and doing your job. That’s how I look at it.”

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The beginning of Brown’s NBA career was marred by inconsistency. As a rookie, he impressed with his defense on LeBron James in the 2017 postseason, and he excelled in a pivotal role the following season for a Celtics team that again reached the Eastern Conference finals. But his urge to live up to his draft position often overrode his desire to reach team goals.

“I wanted to win; I wanted to also prove that I was the third pick of the draft,” Brown says. “At the time, when you’re young, you see all your counterparts out there doing all types of stuff. Ben Simmons in Philly, Brandon Ingram in L.A., they are in the same draft, and so you want to keep showing people that you are not a bust. You are of equal talent. So during that time, that’s all it was for me, just trying to make sure people knew that Jaylen could play.”

When Brown played selfishly, shooting a contested jumper early in the shot clock or dribbling into a double-team, his teammates would grumble.

“He always used to get in trouble,” Marcus Smart, Brown’s best friend on the team, tells me. “Because he would go one-on-five a lot when he was young, and everybody would just be like, ‘Slow down, man.’

“So I asked him, I’m like, ‘J.B., what be going through your head when we be yelling at you, “Slow down”’?

“He’s like, ‘All right, listen. So, right, y’all screaming slow down—the defender hears that. So I’m thinking he’s going to think I’m slowing down, so I’m going to speed up.’

“And I’m like, ‘No, man.’ I’m like, ‘Nah, nah, nah, you got to change that. That’s not how you got to think.’”

Role changes also proved difficult. After starting during the 2017-18 campaign and helping to push LeBron and the Cavs to a Game 7 without new additions Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Brown was relegated to the bench for most of the following season. He began to wonder if he’d ever get a prominent role in Boston.

“The pain came from being ready to do more,” Brown says. “And not being allowed to. From a basketball standpoint, I always felt like … throw me out there no matter if I’m in Boston or in Japan [playing for Team USA]. I’m going to figure it out. I’m more athletic, I’ve got more skill than the majority of people in this league. And I’m a wing, which is of extreme value. I got long arms. I’m athletic. I can get to where I’m going. I can see the game. I got a feel for it. I had to learn more about how to play the game. And that came with experience.”

But the Celtics’ veteran core—which, in addition to Irving and Hayward, included the likes of Al Horford and Marcus Morris Sr.—didn’t have time to wait. When Brown, Tatum, or Terry Rozier would make mistakes, Irving would lash out, and Brown, the most outspoken of the young players, would push back.

“Me and Kyrie didn’t really see eye to eye when we was here,” Brown tells me. “Really at all.”

Irving, already with a championship under his belt, felt it was his responsibility to help facilitate Brown’s ambitious goals and to guide the young Celtics into contention for years to come. But Irving now admits he missed the mark.

“Sometimes—and I could say this for myself—sometimes our individual goals are before the team goals, and he had to adjust,” Irving says. “You think about our team. I want you to really look back at our team that we had and see how talented we were. And we had a lockup in every position. It was two, three guys in every position. So it was not only competitive with me and J.B., but it was competitive amongst all of us. And that wasn’t the best recipe for team success if you’re competing with your brothers every day.”

Prior to the 2018-19 season, Irving, who was in the last year of his contract, publicly committed to the Celtics at a season-ticket holder event. But Irving says his personal life began to interfere with his organizational promises.

“I mean, for me, I lost my grandfather my second year in Boston, so it was my first time really losing someone close like that to me, other than my mom and my grandmother when I was young,” Irving says. “So me being in Boston, not being home, not having that emotional support, I really felt alone, even though I wasn’t alone. So I didn’t really connect with everybody as much as I should, and I didn’t open up as much as I should.

“The week before my grandfather passed, I was committed to the Boston Celtics, and I wanted to stay here. And then my grandfather passed a week later, and then my whole world shifts after that point, and I don’t think anyone understood it. Not the Celtic fan base, not the NBA fans, not anybody from afar.”

As the season wore on, Irving says his plans changed. In the summer, he opted to move to New Jersey, where he grew up, and play for the Brooklyn Nets alongside Kevin Durant. Brown, meanwhile, began to blossom, earning an All-Star bid in 2020-21 and developing into one of the best two-way wings in basketball. In 2019, at the age of 22, he was named a vice president of the players union, quenching his desire for a leadership role. Brown didn’t hear much from Irving until the pandemic shut down the NBA in March 2020.

“He reached out to me, kind of let me know what his experience was when he was in Boston, what he was feeling,” Brown says. “And I understood what he was going through personally. So, life is a journey. We all got ups and downs. And most of all, we don’t always handle everything in the perfect media-appropriate demeanor. Kyrie, one thing about him, he going to be who he is. I appreciate that.”

A month into the 2022-23 season, Irving tweeted a link to an antisemitic film, garnering widespread criticism. After failing to apologize for promoting the link, he was suspended by the Nets and given six requirements to fulfill in order to be reinstated, including sensitivity training and a $500,000 donation to anti-hate groups. Prominent players spoke out against the ruling, including Irving’s former teammate James, who tweeted that the suspension was “excessive.” “I don’t believe in sharing hurtful information. And I’ll continue to be that way but Kyrie apologized and he should be able to play,” James tweeted. “That’s what I think. It’s that simple. Help him learn—but he should be playing.”

Brown had a similar critique of the suspension. When members of Israel United in Christ, a religious sect designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, protested Irving’s punishment in front of Barclays Center, Brown quote-tweeted a video of the group with the caption “Energy.” Brown later clarified that he mistakenly believed the group to be a member of the Black fraternity Omega Psi Psi.

Brown tells me that he still believes that Irving’s punishment was unjust, not because he agrees with the content of the film, but because the suspension violated the collective bargaining agreement.

“That’s my job as vice president of the union,” Brown says. “The union is supposed to be an entity to protect the players, especially their rights and their freedom of speech. I feel like what the Brooklyn Nets did—I still feel the same way—it was inappropriate. I think it was like a public ransom note almost, in a sense, where he had a list of demands he had to do to return to the game. It was a violation of our CBA. It’s a violation of our agreement and kind of got looked over like it was nothing.”

Privately, Brown reassured Irving that the controversy would pass. “He was one of the main ones that really stood beside me,” Irving says. “And was 10 toes with me and just telling me like, ‘You know, it’s going to be all right. There’s peace of mind at the end of this road, but I want to let you know that you’re not alone in this.’”

Irving now describes Brown as a “brother.” During February’s All-Star Game, Brown tweeted in support of Irving’s custom shoes that covered up the Nike swoosh, in protest of the brand that dropped Irving following the controversy in the fall. In the same exhibition, Brown covered up the Nike logo of his own Kobe 3 sneakers with the word “liberation.” Brown has been a sneaker free agent since leaving Adidas in 2021. In recent years, he’s criticized sneaker brands that have courted him for not wanting to support his off-court initiatives.

Irving has caused much public consternation over the past few years, including for his decision to sit out in protest of COVID vaccination requirements and his toxic relationship with the Nets, which recently led to his trade to the Dallas Mavericks. But Brown sees a different side of Irving.

“Kyrie is one of those people who isn’t afraid of being wrong,” Brown says. “He isn’t afraid of being embarrassed. He’s not afraid of big moments either, doing great things. He’s one of those people that’s special. We see him at the top of the world, and we see him make some mistakes as well. But I appreciate the fact that the fear factor for him, even though he might have been afraid, didn’t stop him from doing or saying what he felt was right, for what he felt he needed to do. And that doesn’t exist in 99 percent of people. So, people can say what they want about Kyrie Irving, but he’s definitely my friend.”

Phoenix Suns v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

A day before Boston’s 125-121 win over the Lakers in January, authorities released a 30-minute video of five Memphis policemen beating Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, causing injuries from which he’d later die. It marked another public instance of a private citizen dying from police violence, sparking outrage over America’s police practices. At the end of Brown’s postgame press conference, he was asked about the fatal encounter.

“I’d just be remiss if we didn’t ask you for comment about the situation in Memphis,” a reporter said.

Brown has come to expect these kinds of questions. He welcomes them. His interest in activism comes from his mother, Mechalle Brown, who instilled in Jaylen that being an athlete wasn’t enough. “I always stressed to Jaylen that no matter how tall you are, and how well you play the game, basketball is what you do, it is not who you are,” Mechalle tells me by email. “Who you are is measured by the mark you leave on the world. And to truly leave a mark on the world, you have to do the right things, and speak out against the wrong things. But in order to do that, you have to use your voice. After you use your voice you have to back it up with actions.”

That credo has motivated a lot of Brown’s decisions. At Cal, he participated in student-led protests on campus and frequently consulted with the school’s faculty on how to be an organizer. During his second season in Boston, he led a lecture at Harvard about the importance of athletes having a voice on social issues. Three years ago, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta, his hometown, to lead a protest against police brutality. And in 2021, Brown’s 7uice Foundation partnered with MIT to create the Bridge Program, a 12-week summer course for kids from underrepresented communities to learn artificial intelligence, biology, and civics.

“I’ve been doing this since I came from Berkeley,” Brown tells me. “It’s not like I started talking when the lights are on. I’ve done lectures. I’ve been able to speak on certain things since I was 18 years old: break them down, give my perspective.”

Because of this work, Brown has become a go-to voice when tragedies like the Nichols killing occur. After Floyd’s murder, members of the Celtics front office sought his advice about how to respond as an organization. Brad Stevens says roundtable discussions during the pandemic-induced bubble of 2020 featuring Brown, his fellow Black teammates, and Stevens gave the then coach a better understanding of his players’ feelings.

But Brown’s desire to speak out in support of the Black community also led to the largest error of his career. Last summer, he signed on as a client of Ye’s Donda Sports, the agency that also signed NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown and Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Members of Brown’s inner circle warned Brown of Ye’s growing erratic behavior. In 2018, he referred to slavery as a “choice.” And in months before Brown signed, the rapper harassed his ex-wife’s boyfriend and referred to former TV host Trevor Noah as a “koon” on social media.

However, Brown grew up as a fan of Ye’s music. In Ye, Brown saw a Black man building a self-sustaining community for his people, which is what Brown was hoping to achieve with his foundations. Ye’s father was involved with the Black Panther Party, a political organization Brown studied religiously in college. And the rapper promised an opportunity to teach students in person at the Donda Academy, Ye’s private Christian school, and mentor student-athletes from the Donda Doves, the school’s basketball team. “A lot of time goes into creating an entity or organization,” Brown told The Boston Globe last fall. “The reason why I signed with Donda Sports, it represented education, it represented activism, disruption, it represented single-parent households.”

But Ye’s grand plan of educating the next generation was undercut by prejudiced and often incoherent outbursts against Jewish people. In October, he posted on Twitter that he would go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” a tweet that got him banned him from the platform. Despite Ye’s troubling behavior, Brown told the Globe in late October that he would stay with Donda Sports, figuring Ye’s words were separate from Brown’s initiatives at the school. “I don’t condone any hurt, harm, or danger toward any group of people or individuals whatsoever,” Brown told the Globe. “I’ve been a member of my community, trying to uplift my community, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

But a day later, Brown reversed course and left the agency.

“What would have happened if I stayed?” Brown told reporters. “I work hard to be able to have the platform that I have and use it to be a voice for the voiceless. So to potentially, maybe, have to sacrifice that platform, I don’t think that would be the right decision. So I had to do what we have to do.”

In his comments to the media and on Twitter after his departure from Donda, Brown lamented the closure of Donda Academy. “Education resources and opportunity is key,” Brown tweeted on October 27. “Donda Academy supplied that for these student athletes in hopes to get exposure and potentially change there families lives generationally that opportunity was taken away from them today to prove a point? Why make them apart of this?

“Anti-Semitism should be handled with sensitivity and respect, Inequalities /lack of opportunity in our education system should be handled with sensitivity and respect,” Brown continued, as part of a tweet thread. “A school with resources/ opportunity academically and athletically have been taken away abruptly without notice.”

When I broach the topic of Ye to Brown in Boston, the guard quickly declines to comment. “I don’t want to answer that question,” he says. “I don’t want to answer that.” When I followed up weeks later, I was directed toward the official statement he tweeted in the fall.

People close to Brown say that the young NBA star was naive, that despite their warnings about Ye before signing with Donda, Brown’s passion for uplifting the Black community, and maybe even his connection to Ye’s music growing up, masked the troubling behavior brewing in Ye’s personal life. But even the best intentions are undermined by the mere association with someone like Ye, who since the disbanding of Donda Sports has continued to make hurtful and bizarre comments.

“The longer you stay with people with really, really compromised values, people believe that they’re also yours,” says DeRay Mckesson, a prominent civil rights activist. “Whether you say the things or not. I don’t think that people can pull up quotes where he was antisemitic, or a host of things, but he stayed too long.”

But Mckesson also thinks there’s a chance for Brown to bounce back from his mistakes.

“People love a comeback. People love a redemption arc, and the best thing for Jaylen would be to learn and reflect and grow from it,” Mckesson says. “In organizing, we talk about the idea that we don’t throw people away, that people will do things imperfectly, and as long as they grow from it, there’s always a place in community.”

Despite the recent fallout, Brown still wants to be a voice on social issues. He isn’t exactly sure why people turn to him for guidance, but he welcomes the burden.

“I don’t know how it came about,” Brown tells me. “But I guess people feel comfortable hearing me talk about certain things. That might be part of the problem. But I definitely plan on doing it more. Sometimes getting people out of their comfort zone is where change can happen.”

So when he was asked about Nichols soon after scoring a team-high 37 points, including a layup plus and-1 to send the game into overtime, in an eventual win over the Lakers, Brown took a deep breath and spoke.

“I break it down as like, there’s certain people that want the world to change and continue to move forward, and there’s certain people that’s OK with where the world is at,” Brown said. “I’m going to continue to challenge those people, because it doesn’t matter if it benefits your pockets or benefits your financial opportunities.”

“We have to push our society forward, and we’ve got to do better in a lot of regards. As we’ve said many times, and we’re going to continue to say, our society has to do better.”

Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Last month, Brown participated in his second All-Star Game, playing against his teammate Jayson Tatum. LeBron used his second pick among reserves in the All-Star draft on Brown, while Giannis Antetokounmpo picked Tatum as his first starter. Little defense was played throughout the matchup in Utah, but Brown and Tatum playfully guarded each other on several occasions.

Brown and Tatum have become simultaneously the most successful and dissected duo in the league. Since the turn of the century, Brown has the 10th-most postseason wins over a player’s first six seasons; Tatum, who came into the league a year after Brown, is already 23rd on that list. Tatum is the star of the group, a potential MVP candidate; Brown has become an All-Star himself but is often painted as the more defensive-minded costar. How they approach fame differs as well: During the All-Star festivities, Tatum was never far from his son, Deuce, while Brown, forced to play in a mask after a recent facial fracture, keeps much of his life and family away from public view, and seemed to soak in the scene by himself.

“I prefer to be alone at times,” Brown says. “I’m not saying that because it sounds cool or it’s the healthiest thing. I think it’s how I’m designed. I’m OK with being alone. I like space. Quarantine was fine for me. There was nothing wrong with quarantine. So, that’s just how I am. I go through times where you like human interaction. But a lot of the time, I’m fine with all of you humans leaving me alone.”

But Brown says he’s been able to coexist with Tatum where it matters most: “Basketball. That’s where we find common ground: on the court. Basketball is the greatest teacher and the greatest equalizer as well,” he says. “A lot of people, fans, are fascinated with our relationship and how that has developed and grown over time. He’s got fans within the Celtics fan base. I got fans within the Celtics fan base. And I think our fans have more of a hard time coexisting than me and him do. We never had an argument. I don’t think we’ve ever had a real argument, fight. Nothing crazy like that.”

Smart says Brown and Tatum are “probably better friends than most in this league—that people don’t really understand. You might not see them talk to each other a lot in person, but that don’t mean they ain’t talking. You know what I’m saying? Because not everything’s supposed to be for everybody.”

But the collaboration between Brown and Tatum nearly ended last July, when Kevin Durant requested a trade from the Nets. The Celtics were among the teams to express interest, reportedly offering a package that included Brown, Derrick White, and future draft picks.

“[KD] and JT are friends. They was working out together and whatnot,” Brown says. “So, I wasn’t sure what the energy was. I wasn’t sure what the direction of the organization was.”

Puzzled, Brown placed a three-way call to Stevens and Tatum. During that discussion, Stevens says he assured Brown that the guard wasn’t going anywhere. “You just have to have a direct conversation,” Stevens tells me of the meeting. “And you just have to be able to say, ‘This is what’s real. This is where we are. Obviously, you and Jayson are the two guys that we’ve built the whole roster around. And our every expectation is for us to come and compete together and try to be two games better than we were last year.’”

Brown says, “Once we all got together and kind of talked it through, we all left on the same page. But the actions that was taking place during that time, it just didn’t seem like that was the direction that the organization was going in. I don’t know. It was hard to tell, at least.”

For as long as Brown has been with the Celtics, he’s been involved in trade rumors. Last month, when Durant again requested a trade, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck called Brown to squelch any worry Brown might’ve had. The nearly endless cycle has left some scars. Brown generally doesn’t trust easily, and that now extends to his relationship with the Celtics.

“It’s hard coming into teams and organizations and being warm. They operate on different principles, I think. This is an organization. They look at it as a business, where they’ll tell you one thing, and then behind closed doors, they’ll say another, and they’ll trade you off,” he says. “Tell you, ‘We love you,’ and they’ll be having like, ‘We’re going to trade him next week.’ I think that’s just how business is run.

“Like, where I’m from in the South, if you don’t come through the front door, it’s considered disrespectful. I feel like a lot of times, when you deal in these corporate spaces, everybody wants to come through the back door or come through an angle.”

As if the trade rumors weren’t enough, the Celtics’ bid to return to the Finals only became more complicated when Udoka was suspended for the season just days before training camp. Brown had advocated for Udoka’s hiring in 2021, after working with him on Team USA at the 2019 World Cup. Brown also credits Udoka’s leadership for giving the Celtics the edge they needed to make it to the 2022 Finals.

“I didn’t know how to feel. I was a little bit shocked, to be honest,” Brown says. “It was not the vibe, you know what I mean? That’s the way I always describe it. It was not good vibes.”

The Celtics have provided little information about what reports have described as Udoka’s improper relationship with a subordinate, attributing his season-long suspension merely to multiple violations of team policies. Udoka has been a candidate for recent head-coaching openings in Brooklyn and Atlanta, and Brown hopes his former coach lands on his feet.

“I hope Ime is doing well,” Brown says. “I haven’t talked to him, but I hope he gets another chance coaching again. There were some conflictions on the information that was kind of going around and stuff like that … that has put some dirt on his name. It’s a lot. It’s very nuanced. So, whether you stood on this side or this side, they was going to find wrong from a coach that I advocated to bring here to Boston. I wanted to see him back on his feet here, no matter what it was. I don’t think that’s the wrong thing to feel.”

But any lingering feelings of resentment over Udoka’s dismissal subsided just a few days into the tenure of Joe Mazzulla, who took over as interim head coach after just three years as an NBA assistant. “He helped the most by trusting me right off the bat,” Mazzulla tells me. “He didn’t have to do that. … And so his open-mindedness to say, ‘Hey, I trust you. We’ll see what we can do here,’ allowed me to be myself and allowed me to coach him, so I’m grateful for that.”

Mazzulla, 34, is taking a different approach with the Celtics. While Udoka roamed the sidelines with a scowl, barking defensive orders to his players, Mazzulla is more reserved, often standing stoic near the scorer’s table as the game unfolds and letting his players feel out the game on their own. Though the Celtics have faltered lately, falling to third place in the East, Mazzulla’s lighter touch has had success: Boston has the third-best record in the NBA, and the second-best title odds in The Ringer’s Odds Machine.

Brown and Tatum have flourished individually too. Both are putting up career statistics virtually across the board. Tatum was named All-Star MVP after putting up a record 55 points, and a recent ESPN poll had him in fourth for the regular-season honor. Together, they are on pace to become one of only four duos in NBA history to both average over 27 points per game or more, according to The Ringer’s Zach Kram.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Tatum said in early February. “I talk about it pretty often, and we’ve had our good times and not-so-good times. But I think those are just growing pains. We were just both 19-year-old kids that came into the league hungry and trying to get better and help our team win. And through that, we’ve had to learn how to play in this league, learn how to play with each other, learn how to lead a team, and I feel like we still have a long way from ultimately where, exactly, we want to be, but we’ve made amazing strides from the beginning.”

Even though they’re widely regarded as one of the best tandems in the league, Tatum and Brown are still missing one key component to be lauded among the best locally.

“I don’t see them anywhere right now—until they win a championship. At the end of the day here, you’re judged by bringing another banner. So to me, they are unfinished,” says Cedric Maxwell, a Celtics radio color commentator who won two titles with Boston in the 1980s. “These guys are going to be pillars for a long time. ... Barring injury, I could see both of those numbers being retired.”

Tatum has two more years left on his current contract after this one but will likely be eligible for a supermax extension before that. Brown has just one more year left, and given the expected spike in revenue coming to the NBA from new national television deals, most analysts don’t expect him to sign an extension. When asked whether he wants to stay in Boston long term, Brown is noncommittal.

“I don’t know. As long as I’m needed. It’s not up to me,” he says. “We’ll see how they feel about me over time and I feel about them over time. Hopefully, whatever it is, it makes sense. But I will stay where I’m wanted. I will stay where I’m needed and treated correct.”

When asked how long he wants to play with Tatum, Brown keeps his focus on the immediate future.

“I just enjoy the time that you have now,” he says. “If it’s your whole career, it’s your whole career. If it’s not, it’s not. Some of the greatest players of all time haven’t finished with their organization. Michael Jordan retired a Wizard. As much as we like it here and enjoy being here, you see where life takes you. You see how the process goes. All you do is really focus on what’s in front of you right now, to be honest. But I don’t really know or want to answer that question because that type of stuff makes Celtics fans speculate and go crazy. Especially right now, I’ll just say we’ll get there when we get there.”

But Brown is searching for more than just on-court success. Yes, he wants to win a championship. And yes, he still wants to succeed individually, much like he did when he first entered the league. But he wants every other pursuit in his life to matter, too, no matter how complicated that’s been lately.

“I’ve grown up a lot,” he tells me. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve been able to travel the world, study different cultures, meet different people, which has made me, I feel like, a more experienced human being. I still kind of feel like that same kid on the inside. But for now, I’m definitely moving along in the journey. Shit, I’m the leader of this team. I’m one of the faces of this franchise, trying to be a global representation or an ambassador for our league and trying to bring people together.”

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