Jaylen Brown is kind of a unicorn. Notable unicorn-isms for Brown: he went to the University of California, Berkeley to play basketball, and despite only playing one year there, he was named to the Pac-12 First team and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. At 22, Brown became the youngest elected Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association. Despite his 6’6, 223-pound frame, his mind shines more stentorian than those statistics, being an avid lover of chess, and reader of the late French philosopher Michel Foucault. And sticking to MIT-level mind-games—an institution, mind you, of which Brown was named a Media Lab fellow in 2019—his social media handles spell out a distinct way of being, that of FCHWPO: faith, consistency, hard work pays off.
The unicorn nature of Brown seems to feel aligned with his life path, however, in retrospect. Considering his decision to attend Berkeley, Brown relates, “Education was definitely a part [of attending Berkeley], but it was also a spirit thing,” he says, glowing, head wrapped up in a fitted cap. “I couldn’t explain why I was being called to that area at the time, but now it makes all the sense in the world why I went to a school like Berkeley. From the leaders, to the movements that came through that area and the rest of the United States—the freedom of speech movement to the Black Panther party, there have been so many things and that energy is still there. Open-minded. Protests. I met some amazing people that are wired similar to me and that want to change the world and make the world a better place, and willing to go the length.”
We could probably conclude this interview there, with that final brush stroke from that quote, as it vibrates so close to Brown’s perceived personal ethos, “People...that are willing to go the length...” Yet we continue excavating, and, you may reasonably ask, What lengths are we talking about? Well, as far as we can tell, Brown is talking about human lengths, or, the lengths of human capacity, whether that be in the cultural sphere or on the basketball court.
Speaking of basketball courts, it is interesting that Brown didn’t even mention basketball when giving a brief essence of why he attended Berkeley, which would certainly be puzzling for the average sports fan reader, considering Brown is the starting shooting guard for the Boston Celtics, a two time NBA all-star, and courtesy of this summer’s much buzzed about contract extension, one of the league’s highest-paid players. But, similar to how Brown’s path makes sense in retrospect, his omission of basketball whilst speaking also makes sense. The man is on a mission, after all.
Brown’s 7uice foundation (pronounced ‘juice’) is seeking to change the fabric of human existence well beyond his time here on earth. He says of the project, “I hope to continue to grow the foundation so it’s more recognizable, so we can help people on a greater scale. For it to be something that, even after I’m long gone, can still be helping people. I hope that the legacy of the foundation and my name can be something that continues to make an impact when I’m not even around anymore.”
We can only imagine 7uice will make said impact, considering it highlights providing deeper and stronger educational opportunities for Black and Brown youth so prominently, which is a movement dear to Brown’s heart. “Giving back to the community has always been a passion,” he emphasizes. “I’m grateful to be able to use my platform in that way. No matter what zip code you come from or what background, people need opportunities for social mobility in this world—a lot of the things I do with the foundation is to try and bridge those gaps, and give kids with less opportunities the opportunity to be successful.”
Speaking of the word ‘bridge,’ one of Brown’s most notable ventures is his Bridge Program, which he collaborated on with MIT (and has recently partnered with NASA, too) to help mentor Greater Boston youth and high school students of color interested in pursuing careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs. “Education is one of the things I’ve always emphasized, particularly with my Bridge Program. I’m in my third year of it,” he says.
Brown continues, “A lot of time in public schools, the curriculum is government issued, based upon the zip code you live in. I look at that as a form of racism, where it’s not about ‘you or me not liking each other because of the way we look,’ but a power dynamic: being able to go to school, get a job, take out a loan, affordable housing, or having to prove things, and use these methods hegemonically to push people out and create a demographic.” Undoubtedly, education is such a vital aspect in changing culture on many different scales of life. Brown continues, “So, education became something that I was quickly passionate about. I’m always advocating for the youth. And that’s why I’m so passionate about Bridge.”
We gather that Brown is a unique thinker, a man on his own path and trajectory of belief, but we also gather that he is inspired by his surroundings, similar to his interest in the aforementioned Michel Foucault—whose primary philosophy explores power structures and the knowledge base built into the structures or taken out of them, as a form of oppression. This makes sense that Brown is keen on education and the idea of knowledge helping bring power back to the individual, and this is something he incorporates into his work as VP of the Players Association, particularly while speaking to younger players, “It’s part of my job to help mentor the younger guys coming into the NBA, so they understand how to navigate the athlete space.”
And this can permeate out for each and every player. And while the tactics Brown has on speaking your mind are considerably wise, they remain aware of the challenges, “I always try to take the time and do my research and speak thoughtfully,” he explains. “Sports are one of the most influential platforms on the planet. They are always putting a microphone in front of our face. A lot of my favorite athletes of all time, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they were controversial at times and used their platforms to talk about things bigger than just the sports they played, yet now they almost teach the athletes to do the opposite, like a kind of media training. They want you to be quiet as it might not be best for their brand—but what is best for your brand?”
Brown continues passionately on one’s brand, “Your community, the greater community, the neighborhood you grew up in, the high school or college you went to, the city you play in. I do encourage the younger guys in the NBA to not be afraid, especially if they’re passionate about something. Because you can speak for somebody that may not have a voice.” We can’t help but wonder if this level of philanthropy and awareness should be carried out by every athlete or entertainer in a position of power? We can’t help but wonder if Brown thinks this is unique to him and a select group of others, or if everybody should participate?
“For me, personally, I’m a community guy,” he counters. “My mother and my grandmother raised me to be a member of my community and to expand that globally through sports. And understanding my platform and using my voice to do that. I think it is a responsibility and it’s part of my calling to do so. Yet, there’s so many ways to make your community better and a more holistic environment, and that can be done in an even more powerful way than a dollar. A lot of times people just need to care; that could be helping the elderly, protesting, showing up to local political events.” And have we completely forgotten about the golden rule? Look good while doing it? Of course not, this is FLAUNT. FLAUNT is FLAUNT and Brown is Brown: a man true to himself, and his fashion is no different, “It comes from within,” he says, speaking on sartorial decisions, “There are certainly people [that have influenced my style] but it doesn’t always need to be a celebrity—it could be somebody that just works down the street. I lean on what gravitates to my eye and taste. Over time that changes. Fashion is a way to express myself. Not every time I step out of the crib needs to be a fashion moment, but at times I do use it as an expression.”
And being in Boston, one of the colder climes in the United States, we ask the evergreen winter or summer question, but Brown lands in the middle—that of Fall, true to his October birthday calling, “I love the fall,” he says. “That in-between time. A light sweater. You might get away with shorts. I’m an October baby so that’s’ my favorite time of year. And everybody knows I love earth tones. I think that’s why I love the fall. Olive green, brown, black, charcoal gray. That’s more of what I gravitate too.”
Gravitate he does. Whether he’s defying it mid-air within the stadiums of the sport he was born to play, or raising the gravity of life upward in the community and on the streets across the globe. Higher, higher, higher. Brown like a unicorn on planet Earth, shedding light, wonder, and his everlasting resource of renewed faith in being.
Photographed by Tayo Kuku Jr
Styled by Gloria Johnson
Written by Augustus Britton
Flaunt Film: Tayo Kuku Jr
DP: Colin Pagnoni
Photo Assistant: Malakhai Pearson
Stylist Assistant: Shawn Boakye
Location: The Newbury Hotel