How Hated Celtics Rival Isiah Thomas Mentored Jaylen Brown

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The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, right, during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

BOSTON — Isiah Thomas stood next to Center Court in TD Garden. He was next to the leprechaun logo of the Celtics, who haunted his pistons for a historically significant part of the 1980s until he and his buddies slew their dragon en route to three straight NBA Finals.

Here in the present, the Celts are back in the championship series, and Thomas, who works here for NBA TV, hasn’t contained his pride in one of their numbers very well — not that he’s tried to hold back anything a few years ago he had formed a mentoring relationship with Jaylen Brown, a student at Cal where Thomas received his master’s degree. Brown only spent a year on campus and tried to make the most of it.

“He was trying to get into a grad class. He called me to advocate for him taking this graduate course with this professor I had worked with,” Thomas recalled. “Everyone was wondering if Jaylen could handle the course. He was just a freshman but when I spoke to him and heard what he wanted to do and what he wanted to get out of the course I felt it was perfect for him.

“And of course his academic advisor wanted to make sure he got good grades so he could stay eligible. They thought maybe the course was a bit too difficult. But that’s how we met. We bonded and got to know each other through education.”


Thomas: “I love what he’s grown into”

And now, with the Celtics approaching Thursday’s sixth game against the Warriors 3-2 down, Brown is getting more graduate-level studies — with hopes he could secure a Masters of Arts if the Bostonians go with two wins and a title come back sorted.

1A to Jayson Tatum’s 1 at the Celts, 25-year-old Brown is carrying a heavy load in his sixth season, averaging 21.4 points in that series. He arrived in Boston as the not-so-fan-loved #3 pick in the 2016 draft, part of the haul the Celtics received in the blockbuster trade with Brooklyn.

But local fans aren’t questioning the choice now. Brown was an All-Star in 2021 and might have had even better shots at the honor this year if he hadn’t missed 13 of 18 games in November and December.

Thomas always trusted the process — even the part where Brown was picked out by one of his old rivals. Actually especially this part.

“I love what he’s become – to see him play, to see him perform as Celtic on that stage in that jersey,” Isiah told Heavy.com. “I remember telling Jaylen that when he got out of college. I said, ‘You know, you don’t understand this yet, but one day you will. You are Celtic.”

“And you know, he proved he’s everything we thought he was. But the most important thing is that he got to work. I mean, if you watch him play, you watch him shoot, you watch him defend, you can see it. It’s the work he puts into it every summer; You can see it in his game and in this series. Take a look at where he was as a basketball player a few years ago and where he is today. That’s work ethic, that’s what we want to be. You have to give him a lot of credit.

“You know, it’s one thing when a teacher gives you a book; it’s another thing when you go home and actually read it and then you understand what you have.”


Was Jaylen Brown… “Too Smart”?

Thomas laughed when reminded of a preliminary draft against Brown – that he was “too smart”.

“Yes,” he said. “But you know, I learned from the Celtics, and I learned in Detroit, that you win with smart people. You don’t win with people who make mistakes.

“And when Jaylen went to pre-draft camp, not only were teams interviewing him, but he had pen and paper, and he was also interviewing teams to see who was a good fit with his values ​​and personality. So the intellectual side and the personality side of him is part of what makes him a good basketball player that becomes a great basketball player. But also the intellectual journey of connecting mind and body. So that you can play and perform in games like this. I mean, the whole body has to be connected, mind and body, and too often we only judge players from the neck down. But Jaylen Brown connected mind and body.”

Thomas is an objective observer of this series, and he appreciates bits of his own game being featured in a Steph Curry. But he certainly wouldn’t be unhappy if Jaylen Brown linked the Celtics and the win to create a Game 7. However, he knows that regardless of the outcome of this duel, the person he advised took a right path.

“He’s everything we hoped he would become – vice president of the Players Association, and we hope that one day he will be president of the Players Association,” Thomas said. “The chance to be on a championship team. Everything he’s looked at and said he wants, he’s either achieved or it’s in front of him. He worked for it. The key word is “work” because I don’t want anyone to think that these things just happened. He worked for them and that is his credit.”

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