The Boston Celtics have had many more longstanding rivalries than the Brooklyn Nets. The Los Angeles Lakers, of course, come to the front of mind while Boston’s matchups with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons and Julius Irving’s Philadelphia 76ers each offered hostility before the more recent “Big Three” matchups against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and James’ Miami Heat.
However, no recent head-to-head matchup has featured the level of sheer hate and nastiness like the Celtics’ rivalry with the Nets. Playing a sizable role in that distaste was none other than the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Kyrie Irving. Few in Boston sports history have ever been hated as much as the villainous point guard.
And it’s fair to think it all stems from one promise the former Celtic was uncapable of keeping. Or perhaps unwilling to keep.
If you guys will have be back, I plan on re-signing here next year.”Kyrie Irving to Celtics fans in Oct. 2018
“I’ve shared it with some of my teammates as well as the organization as well as everyone else in Boston. If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next year,” Irving said while standing at center court of TD Garden, the message prompting a rousing applause from season-ticket holders at an event in Oct. 2018.
It marked arguably the highest point of Irving’s tenure in Boston. Fans were thrilled Danny Ainge landed the former No. 1 overall pick in a trade with the Cavaliers, especially given that Irving was entering his age-25 campaign and his prime in front of him. However, it went downhill over the next two seasons. Irving was hindered a bit by injuries and the Celtics were hindered by his poor attitude and selfishness.
With Irving on the floor, the Celtics won one playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in April 2019 before being served up a gentleman’s sweep against the Milwaukee Bucks in the next round. They advanced to the Eastern Conference finals a year before with Irving injured. Irving played 136 games for the Celtics over two seasons, including both regular season and postseason.
He had enough. Irving departed the Celtics, despite supposedly wanting to have his jersey in the TD Garden rafters, and conspired to start his own super team with fellow All-NBA talent Kevin Durant in Brooklyn.
Irving’s decision to leave Boston for Brooklyn irked Green Teamers to no end. It single-handily reignited the Celtics-Nets rivalry, which had most recently existed when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett played in Brooklyn after being traded by Boston. Even then, however, the reception was nothing like Irving’s.
Celtics fans started “(Expletive) You, Kyrie!” and “Kyrie Sucks!” chants at TD Garden the following season despite Irving not even playing against Boston in any of the three regular-season meetings. Those chants existed throughout his tenure with the Nets, and there’s a good chance they’ll remain in the fold regardless of where Irving is playing.
The chants, however, were only one small outlet for the hatred. One fan threw a plastic bottle at Irving as as he walked off the court following Brooklyn’s Game 4 victory during the 2021 NBA playoffs. Irving posted a double-double of 39 points and 11 rebounds in that contest with the Nets finishing off the Celtics in a gentleman’s sweep two nights later.
Irving, though, held up his end of the pageantry, too. After Brooklyn’s aforementioned Game 4 win in May 2021, Irving deliberately stomped on Boston’s Lucky the Leprechaun logo at midcourt. It prompted a flurry of reaction from ex-Celtics players and fans, the majority of whom tabbed Irving’s display as disrespectful. One year later in the 2022 NBA Playoffs, Irving was fined $50,000 for making “obscene gestures” and using “profane language” at Celtics fans during the Nets’ Game 1 loss in Boston. Irving was seen flipping his middle finger at fans on multiple occasions. When asked about the incident after the game, Irving told reporters he was going to “have the same energy for them.”
During his three-plus seasons in Brooklyn, Irving undoubtedly was Boston’s Enemy No. 1, though he played just seven regular-season games against the Eastern Conference rival. His unvaccinated status limited him to one contest against the Celtics in the 2021-22 regular season, which is when he made his return to TD Garden for the first time with fans in the stands. Unfortunately for Irving and the Nets, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and company swept Brooklyn in the first round months later. He played in all three regular-season games against the Celtics during the 2022-23 campaign before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks before the NBA trade deadline.
Irving’s trade not only gave Green Teamers the opportunity for a “I told you so” moment, but likely concluded a short but nevertheless harsh rivalry between the Celtics and Nets.