To show his support amid the protests following the death of George Floyd, Celtics coach Brad Stevens wrote a letter to his players this weekend.
“It took me a while to put down exactly what I wanted to say,” Stevens said Tuesday morning in a conference call. “I think the thing I wanted them to know is that every decent person is hurting. Every decent person feels the pain of the African American community. But I also don’t want to pretend that I know the exact, distinct pain. What I wanted them to know is that I’m with them. I thought that was really important.”
Stevens said Celtics forward Jaylen Brown informed him on Thursday of his plans to drive 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta in order to organize and lead a peaceful protest on Saturday. Joined by Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon and rapper Lil Yachty, Brown said the purpose of his protest was to “raise awareness about some of the injustices” affecting Black men and women.
“Jaylen’s greatest impact, as good as he is at basketball, won’t be in basketball,” Stevens said. “He’s a special guy. He’s a special leader. He’s smart, but he has courage. He’s got a lot of great stuff to him. I think we recognized that when we drafted him. But I think that he has been even more unbelievable every day, every year.”
Marcus Smart, Vincent Poirier, and Enes Kanter also participated in a protest in downtown Boston on Sunday.
“We want them to stand for what they believe in and we want to be supportive of that,” said Stevens.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, a number of protests and demonstrations have taken place across the country in an effort to decry police brutality. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who pleaded he couldn’t breathe while a Minnesota police officer knelt on his neck, is yet another name on the list of killings at the hands of law enforcement.
Stevens acknowledged his responsibility to not only be empathetic but to “help drive change.” He said he hopes to contribute to “short-term healing” as well as “long-term sustainable action that creates change.” The NBA Coaches Association recently held a conference call with all 30 coaches, who issued a statement on their commitment to leveraging their power productively.
“I think the pain that everybody feels has been there for a long time,” Stevens said. “The lack of progress is too jarring. What we need to all do is do our part. Part of my responsibility in that is listening and learning.”
The Celtics opened their practice facility on Monday, and, according to Stevens, “a number of players” have gone in for voluntary workouts. His and the team’s focus right now, however, remains on supporting the wellbeing of players.
“Nobody’s talking about basketball this week,” Stevens said.
The Celtics issued a statement on Sunday, which read, in part: “The Boston Celtics have always stood for the ideals of equality, understanding, and respect. We can’t simply hope and pray for these things, we need to lead through our actions. We stand with our players, employees, partners, and fans in being committed to championing the change we need. We need to be honest about confronting racism and abuse of power. We can and must demand equality for everyone. We can and will respond by committing to being part of the solution.”