Troy Brown Jr. is setting his sights on an inclusive Black future.
The Washington Wizards small forward who hails from Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the rising stars in the NBA with a vision to boot. Brown inherited his love of basketball from his family, as everyone from his parents to his two oldest sisters enjoyed playing the sport recreationally and professionally.
“Basketball has never gone anywhere for me,” the 21-year-old said. “When everybody else wasn’t there for me or when I felt like I didn’t fit in with a certain crowd, I always feel like I had basketball. That’s always been my first love. That’s always been my number one priority growing up.”
Now in his second NBA season, Brown has taken on new challenges that he couldn’t anticipate as the ongoing pandemic wages on. Life in the NBA “bubble” means players are under strict restrictions to ensure safety and quality of life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it also presents new and enterprising ways of reaching people and speaking truth to justice.
But he’s also managed to also have some fun along the way. Brown marked some major milestones within the last few weeks, including celebrating his 21st birthday, and even stars in a popular Washington Wizards YouTube series called, Ballin in the Bubble with Troy Brown Jr.
The enigmatic player sat down with MadameNoire to talk about the shared responsibility Black athletes have during this crucial moment in America, furthering a necessary allyship with Black women and his thoughts on why voter suppression is one of the biggest obstacles to our freedom.
MadameNoire: As a Black athlete, do you feel you have a responsibility to speak truth to power by using your platform? And is there legitimate critique for Black athletes who choose against speaking against inequities where Black people are disproportionately targeted/suffer?
Troy Brown Jr.: I would say there’s definitely [responsibility] with especially how much we get paid and with our platform. There definitely a sense of responsibility that comes with that, especially as an African-American male. And I know that some people don’t feel that is the truth and that you should be whoever you want to be, but at the end of the day for me personally as a man, I feel like that’s something that comes with my job description. And I’m willing to accept that responsibility just based off the fact that I feel so strongly about stuff. It’s just one of those things where we have to be the voice for the people whose voices aren’t heard, you know? If you don’t feel comfortable about something you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do, but if you feel strongly and you have the platform you should say something.
MN: Who are some of the people you look up to, not just activists and organizers, but leaders that you learn from or try to grow from?
TB: I try to stay in engaged with people my age who are more in tune with my job. So I guess I would say like obviously like Jaylen Brown. He is somebody in the NBA that takes his stand behind Black Lives Matter very serious. Him, Malcolm Brogdon, Garret Temple. These are guys who I see them doing stuff in my industry and it makes me feel good. It’s a good representation for African-American men. And it makes you want to go help and speak up. Obviously we just lost John Lewis, but he was a great man that really took pride in making sure that African-Americans had what they needed, that we would be able to make the most of our gifts. From the women’s perspective we have Natasha Cloud who is literally sitting out her whole season to just focus on the fact that Black Lives Matter and that they just want equality across the board.
MN: Being in the bubble has to have presented some unprecedented challenges, especially because its harder to have access to organizers and protests happening on the ground. Has being in the bubble strained some of the ways in which you have been able to speak out or organize actions in the arena of social justice? If not, how have you persevered past it?
TB: Well the biggest thing is—obviously like you said, we are prohibited from being in the streets and being able to protest. I would say the biggest thing is just staying engaged and using my platform. At the end of the day we live in a day and age where everybody is always on their cell phones. Just putting out stuff about voting, and making sure that people know the dates of when they’re voting. And addressing issues on social media of what we’ve seen. Actually doing research to the point where you go through, read the article and actually know what happened. Being able to express yourself from a factual standpoint and state the obvious for people that see it but maybe feel like they don’t have the voice to say it. So that’s been the biggest thing for me is just try to speak out from the social media side of things even though I am doing my job at the same time.
MN: In speaking about groups which are largely ignored and disproportionately affected, Black women are often left out of conversations centered around police brutality. What are some ways you have helped to highlight violence against Black women, Black trans women and Black girls?
TB: I would say the biggest thing is using my voice especially being in a—I wouldn’t call it suppressed, but just being in the bubble. I have two Black sisters, two older black sisters, and I’ve seen what they’ve gone through and seen what they’ve had to deal with. Just from the experiences of not getting jobs just on the fact that my sister is an African-American women. I would say the biggest thing is just trying to make sure that people know our voices are heard. It even kind of contributes to the same way of the WNBA and not giving them the same platform that we have. And you know that’s why I thought it was huge for us, a lot of people I saw wearing the WNBA jackets when their season started up. It’s just more so about making sure that they know the empowerment and impact, that dealing with those deaths, regardless if its male or female, it needs to addressed the same way. They need to be addressed as such.
MN: What were your initial feelings when you read into the story of what happened to Breonna Taylor?
TB: It was just like shock. Honestly to hear something of that magnitude happen and it be underlined for so long. It’s just crazy to me that something like that could go unheard of for so long. And when we actually get the facts, and not to change the subject to the George Floyd thing, but when we put on these initial stories saying what happened, they’re nothing like what they said they were. Honestly it’s a very sickening feeling to be an African-American and see that that is happening in our world, especially to our race.
MN: What are some of the ways in how you have personally worked to unlearn misogyny or misogynoir in your personal journey to being a well-rounded Black man?
TB: I would say the biggest thing for me especially growing up in a household with having my mom in my life and my two older sisters, is just listening. Because at the end of the day and this is me from a man’s perspective, a woman will tell you how she feels and it’s your job to openly listen and really take in what they’re saying and let them know that their voice is heard. Especially because we live in a society where a lot of stuff gets thrown under the rug especially because it’s a woman. It’s one of those things where when women know their voices are heard and they feel empowered they’re more conscious to come out and say how they feel and to not suppress so much. Because I feel like we get to the point now, especially as Americans, sometimes I feel like women can feel hopeless in the sense that nothing’s going to change and “I just have to fight through it.” And its one of those things where at the end of the day we have to let them know that their voices are heard like everybody else’s.
MN: How do you envision helping other Black men understand the ways in which they participate in harmful patriarchal frames of thinking, especially misogynoir when it comes to Black women?
TB: You learn your habits early. As kids we kind of pick up on stuff and kind of figure out what’s right or what’s wrong. And some of the habits you can think are right, like growing up and seeing stuff that isn’t considered right, but at the end of the day it’s a way of life. So the biggest thing for me is just making sure that when something happens, at least from my standpoint of trying to change it, you need to address it at that moment. Like I said growing up with two sisters, just kind of seeing how men act towards them and what they think they can get away with just because they are females and men are considered to be the dominant one. That doesn’t make you above anybody else. You have to let that person know they’re out of line for what they said.
MN: What has the reaction been when you’ve found yourself holding your friends/brothers accountable?
TB: I’ve gotten both sides I’m not going to lie. People know I don’t really say much about people and the way they conduct their lives. But there’s certain lines that when you cross them, they have to be addressed. You get people that respond in a manner of defensiveness because of the fact that you’ve called them out. And then you get some people that when they have that respect for you, they understand that they’ve crossed that boundary. And that what they said wasn’t OK. So as a Black male growing up with women, African-American women in my house. I try to address it. At the end of the day, all I can make sure is that that message is taken so it will stick with them so that they don’t do it again.
MN: What are some of the systems that you believe need to be dismantled in order for us to get free Black communities to get free in America?
TB: I would say the hardest thing to watch with our government and everything going is just voter suppression, honestly. That really bothers me a lot because at the end of the day if we really want change, and we really want to see the things that we are talking about come into play, everything works through our government. Nobody is going to go into office and change something overnight. But if we slowly can start to change the way that voting is going, and in the direction that its going. In states down south where they can’t even get to the voting polls because they are closing the day before. Even like right now they’re saying that we can’t vote by mail and that’s crazy to me because a lot of people have jobs and they can’t wait all day in line for eight hours just to vote. And to have that be suppressed when its something so big in our communities and in our nation.
MN: What are some future or present collaborations that you foresee yourself partaking in to help people get access to voting education?
With the Wizards right now we are trying to collaborate and make some things happen. Last week we got everybody on our team to post election dates and the places where you can go to vote and to register for voting. A lot of my teammates were going around and making sure everybody was registered to vote in the states they live in, whether its in D.C. or if its back home. Just making sure everybody is registered and aware of their election days. We just got off a FaceTime call with Stacey Abrams talking about that and she has her own website that she’s going to collaborate with the Wizards. There’s definitely different outlets going on and I’m thankful for the Wizards for having different outlets to work with and share my voice with.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.