Jaylen Brown, a hard-earned MVP at both ends of the court

The Boston Celtics player not only stood out in the offensive aspect during the NBA Finals, but was also crucial in stopping Luka Doncic

Jaylen Brown
Jaylen Brown during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, which the Boston Celtics won to claim the the NBA title.AMANDA SABGA (EFE)
Miguel Jiménez

Does anyone remember how Michael Jordan defended? In basketball, offense has always taken the spotlight. The Chicago Bulls star, who has the most complete collection of MVP awards in NBA history, earned those accolades with his three-pointers, mid-range shots, layups and dunks. If anything, also through a few assists. This year, in the Finals series between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks, Jaylen Brown won the award for being the best player under both hoops: his scoring was as important as his defensive sacrifice.

Brown, 27, beat Jayson Tatum, the Celtics’ other star player, 7-4 in the jury’s vote. Tatum played his best game of the Finals last Monday, racking up 31 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He has been the team’s leader in all three facets. Brown has posted averages of 20.8 points, 5.4 assists and five rebounds over the five Finals games, while Tatum has averaged 22.2, 7.8 and 7.2. However, Brown took on the role of slowing down Luka Doncic and was instrumental in holding the Dallas Mavericks to under 100 points in the four games that earned the Celtics the title and him the award that bears the name of a Celtics legend — Bill Russell.

“To be honest, I can’t even put it into words,” Brown said after being named MVP. “Just Bill Russell and what he’s meant for me through my Boston journey and his spirit. Everything that he stood for, just for this to be the Bill Russell MVP Award, it just — I’ve got nothing, man. I don’t even know what to say.”

“It could have gone to anybody. It could have gone to Jayson [Tatum]. Jayson, like I can’t talk enough about his selflessness. I can’t talk enough about his attitude. It’s just how he approached — not just this series or the Finals, but the playoffs in general. And we did it together as a team, and that was the most important thing,” Brown added.

Doubts have surrounded Brown ever since he was drafted by the Celtics in 2016, something he has taken in his stride with humility. “I just came in and kept my head down and told myself, ‘I’m going to just keep working.’ And to be here in this moment now, through all the years, through all the doubt, through all of the ups and downs, through all of the verdicts, through all of the everything, it just makes the story that much sweeter.”

The 6-foot-8 Brown was picked No. 3 overall in the 2016 draft, behind Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, but has emerged as the best of his class. This is a special player. For years, he carried the stigma of being “too smart” to play basketball. He plays chess, plays the piano, and has lectured at Harvard and MIT, as well as Berkeley, where he studied. He learned Spanish and had an interest in studying other languages.

The year after Brown joined the Celtics selected — also at No. 3 in the draft — Tatum, who, like his teammate, turned out to be the best of his year, well ahead of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, who were chosen ahead of him. In two years, Boston added two rookies who would define the team’s future. The duo coincided with Kyrie Irving for two seasons, who due to his injuries, lack of commitment, and backdoor exit ended up being derided in Boston.

Instead, the Tatum-Brown duo went about overcoming adversity and growing through disappointments. The 2022 Finals defeat to the Warriors was tough, but last year’s loss in the Eastern Conference Finals when everything pointed to a historic comeback against the Miami Heat was almost worse. After that, one of Brown’s obsessions was to become one of the best defensive players in the NBA. He hasn’t quite gotten that far, but the defensive facet paved his way to MVP.

On Monday, he praised his teammates upon receiving the award: “It was a full team effort and I share this with my brothers, and my partner in crime, Jayson Tatum. He was with me the whole way,” he said before the two embraced.

In Brown’s six seasons with the team, the Celtics have reached six Conference Finals and two NBA Finals, but the coveted ring didn’t come until Monday. The next challenge is to win back-to-back titles, something Boston has not achieved since 1969.

Brown signed a record $304 million, five-year contract with Boston last year. Interestingly, despite being an established star — now even more so — he is perhaps the only player at his level who does not have a contract with a sneaker brand, after his deal with Adidas expired in 2021. During last February’s All-Star Game, he wore shoes designed for Kyrie Irving, who ended up being on the opposing side in the recently concluded NBA Finals.

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