Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving is in Boston for Games 3 and 4 of the first-round playoff series versus the Celtics, and he’s been very unabashed about the potential for things to get very ugly with the hometown locals.
“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,” he said. Now, the Celtics’ own Marcus Smart has chimed in and is actually validating Irving’s reservations.
“I’ve heard a couple of them,” Smart said at a Thursday press conference. “It’s kind of sad and sickening 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.”
Irving already has a difficult relationship with the city of Boston due to his rocky two-year stint in Beantown. Furthermore, his eccentric temperament tends to overshadow his undeniable talent. However, ever since the general public’s slow return to the stands, NBA players have been on the receiving end of some combative interactions.
Recently, Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Trae Young was spat upon by a Knicks fan, and a Philly 76ers fan dumped a bucket of popcorn on Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Memphis Grizzlies high-flyer Ja Morant even saw his family endure racist taunts during a playoff game against the Utah Jazz.
However, Celtics General Manager (and lifetime loyalist) Danny Ainge questions whether racism has ever made it through the turnstiles of TD Garden. “I think that we take those kinds of things seriously,” he said on Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub. “I never heard any of that from any player that I’ve ever played with in my 26 years in Boston.”
Then, Ainge directly cast doubt on Irving’s words. “I never heard that before from Kyrie,” he continued, “and I talk to him quite a bit. I don’t know. As far as I’m concerned it doesn’t matter. We’re just playing basketball. Players can say what they want.”
Twitter wasn’t so sure about Irving’s initial remarks: