It is not that Celtics star Jaylen Brown does not understand where Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving was coming from when he brought up the issue of racism—‘subtle racism’ as Irving called it—connected to the crowds at TD Garden in Boston. It’s just that he does not see why Irving chose now, just ahead of Game 3 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, to broach the subject, delivering a dig at the city for which he played for two seasons, from 2017-19.
Brown spoke to the media before the game on Friday, delivering a lengthy (about four minutes) statement on the topic in response to Irving and, almost from the beginning, seemed to call into question Irving’s motives in tying the issue of racism to a basketball game:
I think that racism should be addressed, and systemic racism should be addressed in the city of Boston, and also the United States. However, I do not like the manner it was brought up, centering around a playoff game.
The construct of racism, right? It’s used as a crutch or an opportunity to execute a personal gain. I’m not saying that’s the case. But I do think racism is bigger than basketball, and I do think racism is bigger than Game 3 of the playoffs. I want to urge the media to paint that narrative as well. Because when it’s painted in that manner it’s insensitive to people who have to deal with it on a daily basis.
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Kyrie Irving Booed in Boston
Irving, of course, left Boston in free agency after a very disappointing 2018-19 season, despite having publicly promised to re-up with the team months earlier. He signed with the Nets that summer, alongside star forward Kevin Durant, drawing the ire of Celtics fans. Between injuries and the pandemic, though, he had not played in front of a live crowd at the Garden since leaving Boston.
He was booed when he emerged for pregame warmups for Game 3, and again at his introduction. Irving, smiling, egged fans on with a wave of his hand, encouraging the booing.
Irving did seem to have ulterior motives in bringing up the topic of racism among Celtics fans. “So I’m just looking forward to competing with my teammates and hopefully we can just keep it strictly basketball, there’s no belligerence or any racism going on, subtle racism and people yelling sh** from the crowd,” Irving told reporters this week.
By doing so, he took the focus off his own return to Boston and instead turned the focus onto Celtics fans themselves, using the city’s past reputation for racism to take a shot at the team’s boosters.
By the time Irving actually took the floor against the Celtics, much more had been said about Boston fans than about Irving.
Jaylen Brown: ‘Boston, We’ve Got a Lot of Work to Do’
Brown may have been addressing that tactic from Irving as part of his statement. He acknowledged that a recent spate of fan-vs.-player incidents—Russell Westbrook being doused with popcorn in Philadelphia, Trae Young being spat upon in New York—and noted that, “I don’t think we should have to put up with that.”
But he said that isolated flare-ups like those do not compare with the deeper racism Brown said infects our institutions, which is where racism needs the most attention. He also said that applying the racist label to Celtics fans in general is “unfair.”
I think that not every Celtics fan—I know that every Celtics fan in our arena is not a racist. We have people of all walks of life, ethnicities, colors, that are die-hard Celtics fans. So I think painting every Celtics fan as a racist would be unfair.
However, Boston, we’ve got a lot of work to do, no question. Incarceration rate is ridiculous, the wealth disparity is embarrassing, the inequality in education specifically in Boston public schools needs to be better. There’s a lack of resources there, lack of opportunity. The tokenism here in Boston needs to be addressed as well.
But if we’re going to talk about it and that’s what the media is going to bring up, I think a sporting arena, things might exist. But in the real world things exist to far different extremities. So I definitely wanted to share my perspective. This is my opinion, of course, and people can challenge that. I definitely think, Boston, we’ve got a lot of work to do.