Kyrie Irving called out the city of Boston prior to his return to the TD Garden.
Ahead of Friday’s Nets vs. Celtics Game 3, Irving said that he hoped there wouldn’t be any “subtle racism” in his return to the city he once called home.
“Hopefully, we can just keep it strictly basketball; there’s no belligerence or racism going on — subtle racism,” Irving said, per ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “People yelling s— from the crowd, but even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game and we’re just going to focus on what we can control.”
Irving went on to speak about the racism that he has experienced in Boston and said that he “was not the only one that can attest to this.”
To be fair, Irving has a point. Black athletes have long been targeted by racist remarks during games at Boston venues. Recently, the TD Garden, home of the Celtics, banned a fan for two years who “muttered the n-word” at then-Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins. That was in January 2019.
More notably, in May 2017, then-Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones detailed “one of the worst cases of fan abuse” he had ever suffered during his career.
“A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me,” Jones said after the game in question, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome.’’
Even Celtics legend Bill Russell has detailed his own troubling interactions with Boston fans throughout his lifetime, and once called the city “a flea market of racism.” And in a personal essay published on The Players’ Tribune in 2020, Marcus Smart detailed being called a racial slur outside of the TD Garden, among other issues.
Irving well may have experienced racism during his time in Boston, too. He just hasn’t spoken about his experiences to date. That said, he was already primed to get a poor reception upon his return to the Garden, and it has everything to do with how he left the Celtics.
Before the 2018-19 NBA season, Irving guaranteed that he’d re-sign in Boston at a fan event.
“If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here,” Irving said to the Boston crowd, per NBA.com.
And just a day later, he continued to sing the praises of the Celtics team.
“I’m happy here,” Irving said, per ESPN. “Every single day is at an all-time competitive high. What more can you ask for from an organization than taking a chance as far as getting me out of Cleveland? Really taking a chance regardless of whether I signed back or not.
“They had the same attitude. They just wanted to show me what being a Celtic is about, and that I was going to come around, and I absolutely did. I believe in it. I believe in the franchise.”
However, amid a disappointing 2018-19 campaign, Irving changed his tune. He walked back his comments about returning to Boston, opted out of his contract and ultimately defected for the greener pastures of Brooklyn, where he could team up with Kevin Durant.
That wasn’t well-received by the Celtics faithful. They felt like they had been lied to by Irving, and that led to him becoming a modern-day villain for the fan base.
This will be Irving’s first time playing in front of the Boston crowd since he joined the Nets during the 2019 offseason. During the 2019-20 season, Irving missed every game against the Celtics, including the Nets’ two trips to Boston. This year, Brooklyn only traveled there once on Christmas. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, spectators weren’t in attendance as Irving dropped 37 points in Brooklyn win.
The fan base has been waiting a long time to boo Irving and will finally get the chance to do so.
And his comments, however true, will be separate from his reception.