Jaylen Brown: ‘Sport is a mechanism of control in America’

As the Boston Celtics star prepares to play in London, he talks to Donald McRae about race, the NBA and the death of his best friend

By Donald McRae | The Guardian | January 9, 2018


Jaylen Brown is one the most intelligent and interesting young athletes I’ve met in years and it seems fitting that, midway through our interview in Boston, he should retell a parable that brings together Martin Luther King and the great American writer David Foster Wallace.

“We’ve got two young fish swimming one way and an older fish swimming the other way,” the 21-year-old star of the Boston Celtics says as he considers the enduring backdrop of race in the United States. “They cross paths and the older fish says: ‘What’s up guys, how’s the water?’ The two younger fish turn around and look back at the wiser fish and ask: ‘What’s water?’ They’ve never recognised that this is what they actually live in. So it takes somebody special like Martin Luther King to see past what you’ve been embedded in your whole life.”

Three years before his death, Foster Wallace included the parable in one of his most widely-read pieces of writing. Yet it carries fresh resonance when said with quiet force by a young basketball player who stands apart from many of his contemporaries – to the extent that there have been numerous articles in which an unnamed NBA executive apparently suggested that Brown might be “too smart” for the league or “his own good”.