Chess molds NBA Champion, Jaylen Brown

A couple of nights ago, Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics became an NBA Champion. He was also voted the Most Valuable Player of the series, justifying his mammoth five-year, $304 million contract signed the previous year. There were questions about whether the dynamic duo of Brown and fellow All-Star Jayson Tatum would materialize into an NBA title. Those questions were emphatically answered after the Celtics beat the Dallas Mavericks 106-88 to win the series 4-1.

Just last week, social media was trending on how brilliant Brown was, not only as a basketball player but as an all-around person. His impressive academic resume went viral and created quite a buzz. On that resume was chess. Around the same time he signed his record-breaking contract, Brown’s 7uice Foundation partnered with to host a workshop on life lessons learned from basketball and chess. FM James Canty III and IM Kassa Korley conducted the event.

“I kind of compare chess to the game of basketball, just making the right reads, making the right decisions.” 

~Jaylen Brown

The Black Knight

Back in 2016, there was an article on about the role chess played in his development. “I kind of compare chess to the game of basketball, just making the right reads, making the right decisions.” Unfortunately, the article’s author, Matt Petersen, contrasted chess with basketball, describing the former as “rigid and defined compared to the free-flowing motion that is hoops.” That’s another off-the-mark analogy written by a non-chess journalist. All sporting activities have rigid rules, including basketball. What Petersen may not realize is that a chess player can also be free-flowing within chess rules just as a basketball player can within basketball rules.

It’s no surprise that when asked about Brown’s desired piece, he chose the knight because of its craftiness. “The knight is sneakier… If you miscount the next three (knight) moves, it can be detrimental.” True words indeed. If you watch Brown’s style of basketball, what sticks out (besides his athleticism) is his shiftiness and craftiness. He beats defenses, makes the right reads, and always seems slightly ahead of the defender. Thinking a move ahead may sound like a cliche, but chess has helped him express his unique combination of creativity and guile.

Jaylen Brown… the superhero “Black Knight”?

Chess for Success

Brown’s talents were caught early. With a mother who was an adjunct professor and a father who was a former professional boxer, discipline and work ethic were instilled. However, it was his grandmother who forced him and his brother Quenton to read and write even when they didn’t want to. The discipline paid off in the long run, as he starred at Wheeler High School and won Mr. Georgia Basketball as a senior. He was recruited by many blue-chip programs, such as Kentucky and Kansas, but decided on University of California-Berkeley because the academics were better. It would make sense for the valedictorian.

At Cal-Berkeley, he was named an MIT Media Lab Fellow and received an internship offer from NASA. When he had any extra time, he played chess at the UC Berkeley Chess Club. Tournament chess players will negate the positivity of Brown’s story by focusing on his chess ability. While he does not have a U.S. Chess rating, Brown is about a 1200-1300 player on He is a casual player but of course very passionate about the game. Back in the day, Bill Robinzine, who played for the Kansas City Kings, was said to have been about 1600 strength.

What is it about chess that seems to be an ingredient to successful careers? One reason is chess is exercise for the mind. There are elements of chess that help to strengthen mental faculties that the average person would rarely use. Rightly or wrongly, there is the notion that chess players are “smart.” Playing chess does not mean you are smart, nor will it necessarily make you a genius. However, it can help sharpen one’s faculties for application in other areas. There are many studies on this.

Brown giving a lecture at Harvard University. When he is not being a beast on the court, he spends time on chess. Before the 2016 NBA draft, he visited the famous Marshall Chess Club in New York. He was 3rd overall pick behind Ben Simmons (LSU) and Brandon Ingram (Duke).

Brown, a Renaissance Polymath

While Brown is applauded for his basketball exploits, his other activities make his story even more impressive. The stereotype of athletes as poor academic performers is commonplace in American society. While there is tangible data on underperforming athletes, there are many cases where athletes have become successful in their post-athletic careers. Football player John Urschel retired from football and earned a doctorate in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At one time, Urschel was very active in the space and was streaming chess on Twitter.

“You only get once chance to be great.”

~Jaylen Brown

While it is doubtful that Brown will embark on a chess streaming career, he will have many options in his post-NBA career. Already an NBA champion and All-Star, he is also a Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). As mentioned, he has organized chess activities for his charity, and perhaps he can help move the needle in terms of chess popularity, particularly in the African-American demographic. Now that he has accomplished a coveted goal in his basketball career, he can consider telling us how chess helped to make him great.


Jaylen Brown, cover of SLAM

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