Kyrie Irving says he has “nothing but respect” for the Boston Celtics after previously calling out the Boston fans for creating an environment of “underlying racism” and conditions similar to a “human zoo.”
“It’s nothing but respect for the players, the coaching staff over in Boston,” Irving said after going for 25 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists as the Brooklyn Nets eliminated the Celtics, 123-109, in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference series Wednesday night.
Brooklyn will open the Eastern Conference semifinals against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Barclays Center.
Irving is relieved he won’t have to make a return trip to Boston for a Game 6 after a fan threw a water bottle towards his head as he made his way to the locker room following Game 4.
“It’s unfortunate that sports has come to a lot of this kind of crossroads where you’re seeing a lot of old ways come up,” Irving said following Game 4. “It’s been that way in history in terms of entertainment and performers and sports for a long period of time, and just underlying racism and just treating people like they’re in a human zoo, throwing stuff at people, saying things. There’s a certain point where it gets to be too much, so I called it out.”
Boston fans also weren’t happy that Irving wiped his feet on the logo at center court following Game 4. And Irving’s history in Boston wasn’t great, as he initially said he hoped to re-sign there in free agency before bolting to join Kevin Durant with the Nets in the summer of 2019.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the easiest transition to deal with,” Irving said. “There was a lot going on personally when I was there in Boston that a lot of people don’t know about. So to see the kind of emotions that were lingering on for the last year and a half . . . . I’m just glad it’s settled and we can move on and focus on the rest of this long season that we have ahead.”
As far as what was going on “personally” for Irving in Boston, his grandfather passed in October 2018 while he was playing there and that had a deep impact on him.
“Basketball and the joy I had from it was sucked away from me,” Irving said at media day in 2019. “There was a facial expression that I carried around with me throughout the year. Didn’t allow anyone to get close to me in that instance, and it really bothered me. I didn’t take the necessary steps to get counseling or get therapy to deal with somebody that close to me dying. I’ve never dealt with anything like that.”
On the one-year anniversary of his grandfather’s passing, he dropped 50 points in the Nets’ 127-126 season-opening home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The bad blood between Irving and Celtics fans escalated last week when Irving said ahead of his return to Boston he hoped he wouldn’t face any “belligerence or racism.”
None of the Nets wanted any part of a Game 6 return.
“I think it would be nice for him to finish this and get that whole Boston experience, in a sense, behind him,” Nets coach Steve Nash said before Tuesday night’s game.
Said Durant after Game 4: “We know how these people are here in Boston….Glad we got the W and hopefully we don’t have to come back here this year.”
Now they won’t but must look forward to the challenge of Giannis and the Bucks, perhaps the team most equipped to halt the Nets run toward a championship. Milwaukee won two of three games against the Nets this season.
But the Bucks will have to deal with a healthy “Big 3” after the trio played just eight combined games during the regular season due to injuries and Covid protocols. Irving, Durant and James Harden — who had a triple-double in Game 5 — combined for 83 points in Game 5 and averaged 85.2 points in the series, the most by any trio in any playoff series all-time.
“We know this doesn’t happen too often kind of in our culture and our history where three of the best scorers to ever play the game [are] on one team,” Irving said. “We make sure it’s not just about us three and we understand that the expectations are on us to perform and to lead our team. It’s just inevitable.”