Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will return to TD Garden for the first time on Friday since leaving the Boston Celtics in free agency during the summer of 2019. Irving understands that his departure may have been emotional for some Celtic fans, but still is holding out hope that his return to Boston can be held to strictly basketball.
“I am just looking forward to competing with my teammates and hopefully, we can just keep it strictly basketball; there’s no belligerence or racism going on — subtle racism, people yelling s*** from the crowd,” Irving said to reporters after Tuesday’s win via ESPN. “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.”
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Marcus Smart Backs Kyrie’s Claim of Racist Celtic Fans
Irving’s response sparked a bigger debate about the culture of sports fans in Boston and how they treat people of color. Celtics guard Marcus Smart was drafted by Boston with the 6th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and has spent his entire 7-year career with the franchise. Despite being a member of the Celtics, it has not excluded him from experiencing racism from the fans.
“I’ve heard a couple of them. It’s kind of sad and sickening,” Smart said on Thursday per Jay King of The Athletic. “Because even though it’s an opposing team, we have guys on your home team that you’re saying these racial slurs and you’re expecting us to go out there and play for you.”
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Smart Recalls Racist Encounter With Celtics Fan
In a 2020 interview with ESPN’s The Undefeated, Smart recalls a time when he experienced racism right outside of TD Garden. He was trying to warn a fan to get out of the way of oncoming traffic and was met with an onslaught of racial slurs.
“I yell out the window ‘Excuse me, ma’am, you better get out of the street before you and your son get hit. Cars are coming. I don’t want you to get hit’,” Smart said to The Undefeated last year. “As soon as I said that she looked at me – as she is wearing a No. 4, green with the white outline Celtics jersey – and told me, ‘F*** you, you f****** n*****.’ People that actually heard her were stunned. They’re like, ‘That’s Marcus Smart. You just got done watching the game, ma’am … with an Isaiah Thomas jersey on.’”
Danny Ainge Refutes Claim That Celtics Fans Are Racist
While players such as Irving and Smart have claims of being subject to racism by Boston fans, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge insists he has never heard any reports of Celtics fans being racist, from Irving or any other player.
“I think that we take those kinds of things seriously,” Ainge said during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “I never heard any of that, from any player that I’ve ever played within my 26 years in Boston. I never heard that before from Kyrie and I talked to him quite a bit.”
Kyrie’s return to Boston for Game 3 will already be emotional, Irving’s latest revelation about Celtic fans will only add fuel to an already lit fire.