Celtics president Danny Ainge – who played eight seasons in Boston in the 80s and is now in his 18th season as an executive there – on 98.5 The Sports Hub (hat tip: Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston):
I think that we take those kind of things seriously. I never heard any of that, from any player that I’ve ever played with in my 26 years in Boston. I never heard that before from Kyrie, and I talked to him quite a bit. So, 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.
In March 2019, Irving said he hadn’t heard racist comments in Boston.
Maybe Irving felt uncomfortable discussing an incident while still playing for the Celtics. Maybe Irving experienced racism in Boston since then. He played there in December with Brooklyn, though without fans in the arena.
Or maybe Irving didn’t actually say he experienced racism in Boston. He said he hoped there’d be neither “racism going on, subtle racism” nor “people yelling s*** from the crowd” at Game 3 Friday. The follow-up question was whether he experienced “it” in Boston. It’s unclear whether Irving interpreted “it” to mean “racism going on, subtle racism” or “people yelling s*** from the crowd.”
Regardless, Irving wouldn’t be the first Celtics player to raise the issue of racism in Boston while Ainge has been there.
But the incident that has stuck with me the most, and that’s had the biggest impact on me, occurred a few years back after a victory at the Garden.
I was pulling out of the arena parking lot when I saw a white woman with her five- or six-year-old son crossing against the light right as the cars were starting to come at them. I had my windows down and realized something bad was about to happen, so I yelled to her, politely, that she needed to hurry and get out of the street so the two of them wouldn’t get hurt.
The woman was wearing an Isaiah Thomas number 4 Celts jersey. And there were all these other Celtics fans around who were at the game. I figured she’d be cool.
She swung her head around and it was….
“F*** you, you f***ing n-word!!!!”
Avery Bradley also publicly shared a secondhand story.
Avery Bradley, who played for the Celtics from 2010-2017, said one of his brothers had a racist incident at a Boston Bruins game.
“My family and friends experienced a lot of racism in Boston,” Bradley said. “If they weren’t with me, they experienced all types of stuff. At a hockey game, my brother almost got in a fight with some people because they were acting crazy. I never experienced it, but every other person I knew that was there experienced it.”
Bradley echoes a common refrain from Celtics: They didn’t directly experience racism in Boston, but they believe their celebrity status shielded them.
The issue of racism in Boston obviously extends well beyond Black athletes who play there. This discussion generally shouldn’t narrowly focus on them.
But even if briefly focusing on only the experience of Celtics players, Smart’s account shows Ainge hasn’t been listening closely enough.