If you though Kyrie Irving’s return to TD Garden with fans actually in attendance would be uneventful, you were mistaken.
With the Brooklyn Nets leading the first-round NBA playoff matchup against the Celtics 2-0 after two wins at home, the series now is headed back to Boston.
The former Celtics point guard has had to face his old team since joining the Nets in free agency ahead of the 2019-20 season, but injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic have saved him from the relentless wrath of fans, who didn’t quite appreciate how he left.
Apparently, the feeling is mutual.
“I mean it’s not my first time being an opponent in Boston,” Irving said on Zoom after game, answering a question from ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “So, you know, I’m just looking forward to competing with my teammates, and hopefully we just keep it strictly basketball. You know there’s no belligerence or any racism going on, subtle racism and people yelling (expletive) from the crowd. But even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game and just gonna focus on what we can control.”
Nichols followed up by asking if Irving personally had experienced any racism in Boston, either playing for the Celtics or against. As a member of the Celtics in 2019, he told reporters he hadn’t, but of course, that doesn’t mean that’s remained true since. Especially considering how tumultuous his departure was and the reputation the city has, with Marcus Smart even opening up about treatment he’s experienced.
“I’m not the only one that could attest to this, but it’s just, you know, it won’t,” Irving started, trailing off before finishing his thought. “It is what it is. The whole world knows.”
Hopefully fans at TD Garden can keep it classy and prove him wrong when Irving and the Nets take on the Celtics for Game 3.
Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday.