Celtics' Jaylen Brown Talks Self-Identity, Social Empowerment at Harvard

Professor Jaylen Brown
Celtics second-year wing Jaylen Brown spoke in front of a packed crowd at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Thursday evening.
For most who are familiar with the name Jaylen Brown, terms such as “third pick in the 2016 NBA Draft” or “young Celtics phenom” immediately come to mind. During Thursday’s night lecture talk entitled “One and One with Jaylen Brown: Athlete and Intellectual” at the Harvard Education School, Brown challenged his audience to judge athletes like himself beyond simply their physical skills and on-court talent.

“When I open my mouth and talk, sometimes people say they are amazed of my intellect,” Brown said. “I don’t know if that’s because I truly speak in a way that people can understand or feel a certain way, or because they don’t expect it. I don’t know. That’s something I am curious about.”

In front of a packed crowd inside Longfellow Hall, Brown noted that he was greatly humbled by the opportunity and emphasized the importance of athletes using their platform in a positive, vocal manner. Particularly, he addressed recent comments by Fox News host Laura Ingraham that Cavaliers star Lebron James should “shut up and dribble.”

“This has been the notion in our society for last 10 or 15 so years,” Brown said. “That athletes are not allowed to have an opinion, not allowed to have a voice. Even me coming up here today, I had concerns that there would be some kind of pushback...To be honest, I’m not afraid. This has been the notion for too long and it is time to change.”

Jaylen Brown—a student-athlete at the University of California, Berkeley for one year before declaring for the NBA Draft—has always been noted by his peers and evaluators for possessing a high academic curiosity and passion for learning.

As noted on the forum event page, Brown had “experienced the ‘too smart’ for basketball” stigma since his youth”. Off the court, Brown has committed himself toward learning Spanish and Arabic and is an avid chess and piano enthusiast.

“Jaylen joins a long tradition of athletes from Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick who see their role not only to play but to lead, especially in an increasingly unstable and inequitable world.” said moderator and associate professor Jal Mehta. “While many people here might see an exciting night as going to a Celtics game, Jaylen sees an exciting night as coming here to talk to us.”

Additionally, the second-year professional maintains a passionate interest in understanding the American educational system, speaking out against the opportunity gap and racial inequality present in American schools. Importantly, Brown addressed themes such as the “trapping” of African-American youth within a flawed and divided educational system.

Focusing on the banking concept of education—which he believes promotes passive education and regurgitation instead of skill-building and empowerment — Brown advocated that only through providing youth with the right avenues of positive learning and the appropriate “counter-spaces” for development could society see a lowering of educational stratification.

“Just because I escaped the barriers of society, why should I forget about the people who didn’t, or haven’t, or won’t?” Brown asked. “If I didn’t have the counter-space of basketball, what would my reality be? Where would I channel my energy? Would I do something positive with it? Would I resort to violence?”

When pressed about recent political controversies connected to sports, Brown emphasized that athlete activism today is “more accepted” and that the narrative around negative consequences is “changing”. Brown expressed support for Colin Kaepernick’s anthem kneel movement and said that he wants to be a similar pioneer among NBA players.

“Athletes have all the influence in the world,” Brown said. “Everyone wants to hear what you have to say. More people care about LeBron James than some religious leader. Just not be afraid is one of the things I would say. Just continue to push forward.”

In continuing to build his awareness and elevate his platform, Brown mentioned that he is actively looking toward taking classes at Harvard in the offseason. Additionally, Brown has acquainted himself with the Harvard Basketball program, even assisting Coach Tommy Amaker in last year’s attempt to recruit Wendell Carter. One of the top-rated recruits last season, Carter narrowed his decision between Duke and Harvard before committing to the Blue Devils.

“I talked to Tommy [Amaker] a few times,” Brown said. “He actually invited me on campus for some recruitment stuff and I came up to the school to play some open gym. I was trying to get Wendell Carter to come here. Harvard was on his list...I think there is a lot of power in that such a prestigious university, having someone of such basketball stature and just combining the two. Sports and education, I think they overlap.”

This intersection between athletic and academic success has provided Jaylen Brown with a new platform. As shown today, it won’t be a surprise for Harvard students to see the former Golden Bear walking around campus, playing pick-up with the Crimson team, or attending classes in the near future.

—Staff writer Henry Zhu can be reached at


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