BOSTON (CBS) — Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is saddened by what is going on in the country at the moment. But he is extremely proud of his players for standing up and taking an active role in the fight for racial equality in America.

Boston players Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier were all part of protests over the weekend, stemming from the murder of George Floyd during a police arrest last week in Minneapolis. Brown, a Georgia native, made the 15-hour drive from Boston to Atlanta to lead a peaceful protest in his home state on Saturday, while Smart, Kanter and Poirier all played active roles in protests in Boston on Sunday.

“I think it’s been great,” Stevens said of the activism his players have been partaking in. “I think paying attention and having individual conversations with everyone on our team, knowing what has happened has been appalling and brutal and hurtful and painful. I’ve said this many times, I think the NBA is amazing and our players are amazing. We’re lucky we have such great people representing us with the Celtics.”

During his Tuesday video conference with reporters, Stevens did not mince his words at the current state of the country, which has seen peaceful protests in many cities turn into violent riots and looting.

“I think that a lot of people feel the pain and it transfers to anger,” the head coach said. “I wrote a letter to our guys this weekend, and it took me a while to put down exactly what I wanted to say. The thing I wanted them to know is that every decent person is hurting. Every decent person feels the pain of the African American community. But I don’t want to pretend I know the exact distinct pain. I wanted them to know I was with them and I think that’s very important.

“It’s so great to see so many guys so active,” he continued. “I’ve talked to a lot of guys – everybody is hurting. The leadership they have shown is terrific, and hopefully, the most important thing is we can work toward short-term healing and long-term sustainable action that creates change.”

Stevens continues to be impressed with Brown, who in addition to having a breakout season in 2019-20, continues to further himself as a valuable contributor to society away from the basketball court.

“Jaylen’s greatest impact, as good as he is at basketball, won’t be in basketball,” said Stevens. “He’s a special guy and a special leader. He is smart and has courage. He has a lot of great stuff to him and I think we recognized that when we drafted him. But he has been even more unbelievable every day, every year. I’ve always, personally, really enjoyed listening to him and talking to him about things outside of basketball.

“I’m not surprised by him taking a leadership role. That’s who he is,” Stevens said of the 23-year-old.

With a league made up of predominantly white head coaches and figureheads, Stevens said it’s important that they embrace what their players are fighting for, and take on an active role as much as they can.

“We may not be able to know the depth of the pain of our colleagues that are black, players or assistance that are black, but we have a responsibility to be empathetic and drive change,” he said. “We have all been in these conversations before and you’re moved to drive change. Sometimes actionable steps lead to what you think is progress, but this sure doesn’t look like progress. What we need to do is play our part and make sure we’re part of long-term, sustainable change.”

The NBA hasn’t played in over two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with the recent events around the country, Stevens said the hiatus has furthered his appreciation for the game. Not for what they accomplish on the floor, but what the NBA represents as a whole.

“Sports are powerful things. There has been very little way to feel a part of a community than when you’re moving towards a common goal and common desire. In sports, that happens whenever you get in the locker room and people from all walks of life are joined in,” he said. “You learn to be part of others and part of a team, and that is irreplaceable. Not only from my own perspective but my family’s perspective too. I love that my kids have grown up the members of diverse teams, both racially and nationally, their whole loves.

“It’s special to be a part of it and I don’t think it’s a huge surprise our guys can lead with such courage,” he continued. “They put themselves out there every day in a kind of a meaningless game, when you think about it. The impact we all can have on each other is pretty special. Those relationships I’ve made, what I’ve learned from players and staff, the people you are coaching and coaching against, are pretty special and I’m thankful for it.”

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