NEWPORT, Rhode Island – Friendship usually boils down to the connection between two people, but in the case of two young Celtics, their friendship boils down to the connection between two letters: J and B.
That’s where it all started for Jaylen Brown and Jabari Bird.
Two years ago, a young, wide-eyed Brown showed up to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, as a highly-recruited 18-year-old looking to make a name for himself. Shortly after his arrival, however, he learned that someone else – Bird – had already taken claim to his accustomed nickname.
“I remember at (Cal) Coach (Cuonzo) Martin was like, “Hey, JB!” and we both looked,” Brown remembered with a smile, “and [Jabari] looked at me and hit me like this (with an elbow) and said, “I’m JB, punk.”
And so it began.
The JB-JB connection didn’t get off to a great start, if but only for a misunderstanding, but it quickly turned into a friendship that has grown immensely over time. Now, two years later, as their friendship has traveled all the way across the country to Boston, they describe themselves as “really good friends” and “brothers.”
Bird was an elder statesman, one who had already risen to his junior year, by the time Brown arrived at Cal, and that’s why he owned the right to the “JB” nickname. As such, he also owned the responsibility to take the younger Golden Bears under his wing.
He did exactly that, particularly with Brown, as he taught the young and athletic wing all he needed to know about college life and college hoops. They went on to become co-starters for 22 of Cal’s 34 games as they each averaged double-figures in the scoring column.
Life can be funny sometimes, and this is certainly one such instance. The JB-JB connection still exists to this day, but their roles have reversed in an ironic way. It’s now time for Brown to return the favor to Bird and guide him through a new experience.
Brown, still only 20, just began his second NBA season Tuesday morning as the Boston Celtics broke camp in Newport.
Bird, meanwhile, has turned into the wide-eyed rookie looking for guidance after being chosen with the 56th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by Brown’s C’s.
Fortunately for Bird, the original JB, the man who shares his initials has been there for him since Draft night back in June.
“It’s been fun, honestly,” Bird said of his relationship with Brown. “He’s done a really good job of helping me out, showing me around, telling me the things I should expect going into training camp of my first year.
“Honestly, I see it as an advantage going into my rookie year, to have somebody who’s been through it already and just came off a good rookie year and can kind’ve show me the way.”
Brown said he has spent most of his time trying to teach Bird about the off-the-court lifestyle of an NBA player, particularly in relation to the roadblocks Brown experienced as a rookie such as time management, sleep schedule, diet, and routine. Brown, however, doesn’t anticipate that Bird will be affected by all of those challenges, and Bird agrees.
“Being in college for four years, you kind of pick up on those things,” Bird said after his first day of training camp with Boston. “After a while you kind’ve mature. So for me, I feel like I should be able to adapt kind of easily.”
That is, at least off the court. On the court? That’s a different story.
Brown came out of Cal after his freshman year because he was an elite athlete with an NBA-ready frame. Bird remained in school for four years, improving all the while, but never showcased the type of speed, power and athleticism that induced the Celtics to select Brown with the third overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
NBA basketball comes easy for Brown, who excelled as a rookie for Boston. For Bird, succeeding at this level will require an incredible amount of hard work and patience.
“You get here, and all of a sudden you’re guarding All-Stars on the wing,” Bird said Tuesday evening, shaking his head for emphasis. “So it’s like, guarding Gordon Hayward on Day 1, compared to guarding a guy who might play overseas, is two different things.”
Bird admitted that stepping into the fire of training camp was quite the challenge, but he understands that there is plenty of time to recover and succeed.
“Day 1 was OK. I’m kind of learning the ropes,” he said. “Not like I wanted it to go, obviously, but I have a long way to go to reach my potential, and each day I’m going to come in here and try to get better.”
All the while, Brown will be right by his side, just as he was during their days back at Cal.
But neither will forget – their roles are now reversed.
“Brad (Stevens) knows who JB is,” Brown cracked before looking back over his shoulder. “He’s Jabari.”