The Nets dismantling of Celtics through two games makes it one of the least interesting NBA first-round playoff series on the court. Brooklyn is up 2-0 heading to Boston for Game 3 Friday, but this series feels over. On the court, the Nets are asking questions the Celtics simply cannot answer.
Off the court, this series is still intense and interesting.
After the Nets win Tuesday night, Irving was asked about being the villain in this return to Boston — a place he played for two seasons, battled injuries, had a poor attitude (according to teammates and staff), and left with nobody happy — and sparked headlines when he said he hoped it would be about basketball and not racism from the crowd. Via Gary Washburn and the Boston Globe.
🔊”Hopefully we can just keep it strictly basketball.”
— Boston Globe Sports (@BGlobeSports) May 26, 2021
“It’s not my first time being an opponent in Boston. I’m 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, and people yelling s*** from the crowd. 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.”
When asked if he had experienced “it” in Boston — suggesting racism, although “it” is not specific — Irving said:
“I’m not the only one who could attest to this . . . but it’s just, it is what it is. The whole world knows it.”
In the Zoom interview (not the clip above), Kevin Durant can be heard encouraging Irving to tell his truth.
There is a long history in Boston of racism toward Black NBA players, going back to Bill Russell, something he talks openly about. There are numerous other examples, and most recently DeMarcus Cousins was called the N-word by a Celtic fan who was then banned for life from the Garden. Here is what Irving said at the time of the Cousins’ incident.
“I don’t ever want that to happen to anyone, whether you’re walking down the street or whether you’re playing an NBA basketball game and in today’s society there’s no room for that. We can’t accept that, and it’s just what it is.”
“I certainly take any comments like that very seriously… I know that the Celtics, I know that the NBA, is very alert to making sure that our fans don’t cross the line. I think that’s really important. People shouldn’t ever feel like they’re being discriminated against. I think everybody is dialed into that. That’s happened maybe once or twice since I’ve been here, and it was dealt with immediately. But maybe it’s happened and guys haven’t talked about it. Certainly Kyrie has never mentioned anything to me about it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and I think those things should always be taken very seriously.”
Irving has been one of the more outspoken players on the social justice front, last season even questioning if the players should go into the bubble to entertain people at a time of protests and a focus on the Black Lives Matter movement around the nation.
Racism in Boston and from Celtics fans is still an issue that cuts deep in the city, a sore spot that Irving has now touched upon. By Game 4 on Sunday there will be 100% capacity for fans in the Garden (25% for Game 3 on Friday), and you can be sure those fans will let Irving know what they think.
Like Irving, everyone hopes this will be about basketball. That also seems unlikely.