Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown spotlights systematic racism, says it's 'bigger than basketball'

BOSTON -- Celtics All-Star Jaylen Brown weighed in on the discussion of racism in Boston before Game 3 of the team's first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, saying the issue transcends basketball.

Brown, addressing the media for the first time since undergoing season-ending wrist surgery earlier this month, spoke in the wake of comments made ahead of Game 3 by Kyrie Irving, who had said he hoped there would be "no belligerence or racism going on" at TD Garden when the series shifted to Boston.

Brown declined to take questions from the media, instead saying he had "a perspective to share."

"I saw things floating around with Boston and the topic of racism," he said. "People around me urged that I should share my perspective. I have not talked to anyone -- Kyrie, Marcus [Smart] or [Celtics GM] Danny Ainge -- about my thoughts or my perspective, but I do think it's a good conversation. I think that racism should be addressed, and systemic racism should be addressed in the city of Boston, and also the United States.

"However, I do not like the manner it was brought up, centering around a playoff game. The construct of racism, right? It's used as a crutch, or an opportunity to execute a personal gain. I'm not saying that's the case. But I do think racism is bigger than basketball, and I do think racism is bigger than Game 3 of the playoffs. I want to urge the media to paint that narrative as well. Because when it's painted in that manner, it's insensitive to people who have to deal with it on a daily basis.

"The constructs and constraints of systemic racism in our school system, inequality in education, lack of opportunity, lack of housing, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable health care, tokenism, the list goes on. So I recognize and acknowledge my privilege as an athlete. Once you get to the point where that financial experience overtakes the experiences people deal with on a daily basis, I want to emphasize that as well."

After Tuesday's blowout win over the Celtics in Brooklyn, Irving -- who hadn't played a game at TD Garden with fans in the building since leaving as a free agent two years ago -- said he hopes fans will stick to "strictly basketball" in their comments toward him when he took the court Friday night for Game 3.

"I am just looking forward to competing with my teammates and hopefully, we can just keep it strictly basketball; there's no belligerence or racism going on -- subtle racism," Irving said. "People yelling s--- from the crowd, but even if it is, it's part of the nature of the game and we're just going to focus on what we can control."

Irving was then asked if he'd ever dealt with racist comments made toward him while in TD Garden. He said he "was not the only one that can attest to this" and threw up his hands.

Smart, who has written for The Players Tribune about racist comments he's heard in Boston in the past, echoed Irving's comments after practice Thursday, saying he hoped fans would be "respectful" in how they address the former Celtics star.

Two years ago, a TD Garden fan was given a two-year ban for yelling a racial slur at All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins -- then with the Golden State Warriors -- in a game on Jan. 26, 2019. Current Nets star Kevin Durant was on that Warriors team, while Irving was, at the time, still a member of the Celtics.

Since Irving made those comments Tuesday night, incidents with fans cropped up in Philadelphia and New York, as well as Salt Lake City, where several Jazz fans were ejected in Game 2 of their series against the Memphis Grizzlies for racist comments directed at the family of Ja Morant.

"I understand the frustration right now," Brown said. "I've seen what's going on in sports and in sporting arenas with the two incidents obviously with Russell Westbrook and Trae Young, and I'm pissed, to be honest. I don't think we should have to put up with that, and I don't think that's OK, by any means necessary. But when I look in the media and I see those incidents attached to like a frame of racism, yes I think it's important to address those situations, but if the topic is racism, I think that those incidents don't compare, or those belligerent comments don't compare to what systemic racism is currently doing in our community and has done in the past. So it's important to frame it in that context.

"I think that not every Celtics fan -- I know that every Celtics fan in our arena is not a racist. We have people of all walks of life, ethnicities, colors, that are die-hard Celtics fans. So I think painting every Celtics fan as a racist would be unfair. However, Boston, we've got a lot of work to do, no question. Incarceration rate is ridiculous, the wealth disparity is embarrassing, the inequality in education specifically in Boston public schools needs to be better.

"There's a lack of resources there, lack of opportunity. The tokenism here in Boston needs to be addressed as well. But if we're going to talk about it and that's what the media is going to bring up, I think a sporting arena, things might exist. But in the real world things exist to far different extremities. So I definitely wanted to share my perspective. This is my opinion, of course, and people can challenge that. I definitely think, Boston, we've got a lot of work to do."