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Kyrie Irving comment about Boston’s ‘subtle racism’ adds fuel to Nets-Celtics fire

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We all knew Kyrie Irving’s return to Boston — and the ire of Celtics fans’ ire — was going to be wild. Now, it’s going to be even wilder after Irving added fuel to the fire. In comments post-game, he said he knows what to expect Friday night but was hoping for the best.

It will be the first time Irving will face Boston fans since he left for the Nets as part of the Clean Sweep in June 2019.

“It’s not my first time being an opponent in Boston. So, I am just looking forward to competing with my teammates and hopefully, we can just keep it strictly basketball,” Irving said. “There’s no belligerence or racism going on — subtle racism — people yelling s–t from the crowd, but 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.”

Asked whether he had ever had racist comments directed toward him while playing at TD Garden, Irving said that he “was not the only one that can attest to this.”

At that point, Irving was encouraged by a disembodied, off-camera voice who interjected, “The whole world knows it.” And Irving echoed, “The whole world knows it.” According to some who overheard the comment, that voice belonged to Kevin Durant.

You can imagine the reaction in Beantown. Local TV ran the comments.

It was, predictably topic 1 on Boston sports radio but even the staid Boston Globe featured a news story and a column on Irving’s statement. In addition to addressing the racism comments somewhat indirectly, the writers used the moment to rehash Celtics fans complaints.

Gary Washburn, who covers the Celtics, addressed Irving’s comments by noting Irving “became the latest athlete to paint Boston as a city with racism issues” and they “again raise the question about Boston being a comfortable place for a Black athlete.” Washburn wrote.

“Irving’s comments just inflamed an already tender issue for the city of Boston. And what was perhaps more damaging was Durant’s encouragement for Irving to tell his truth.”

Dan Shaughnessy, the Globe columnist, simply wrote, “Wow. We just went from bad to really bad,” noting “the ever-combustible Irving will be back in Boston Friday and inflamed his visit after Game 2.”

However, much of Washburn’s article and some of Shaughnessy’s column was devoted to fans’ complaints about Irving’s two-year stay in Beantown, which Washburn called, with a great deal of restraint, “a checkered stint.”

“His surly attitude annoyed teammates. He was not friendly or cordial with some members of the staff. The organization never knew what Kyrie was going to show up to the arena each night — the reflective one, the standoffish one, the friendly one, the philosophical one?”

Washburn also contended the famous hallway meeting between Irving and Durant at the 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte was part of Irving’s recruitment of KD to Brooklyn.

“Irving was caught on video having an adamant conversation with Durant while both were about to take the floor for the game,” Washburn wrote. “Irving vehemently denied in the days afterward that it was a recruiting meeting but he refused to disclose the subject of the conversation. He eventually admitted the topic was signing with the same team following his commitment to Brooklyn.”

Of course, the veteran Globe writer also had to acknowledge “Irving walks into TD Garden playing for a legitimate title contender, perhaps enjoying Brooklyn’s dominance over his former team in the first two games.”

Shaughnessy took a more conciliatory tone and hoped that things would ultimately be a credit to Boston and Irving.

“Game 3 is Friday night at the Garden. Celtic fans can’t wait to boo Kyrie,” Shaughnessy concluded. “Let’s hope this is not ugly, not polluted by anything other than basketball hard feelings.”

And what about the substance of what Irving had to say? He didn’t cite any examples of personal confrontation with Boston fans, but it’s long been an issue as Washburn noted.

As ESPN’s Malika Andrews wrote Tuesday night...

Black athletes have often recounted stories of being the target of racism while at Boston sites. Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships with the Celtics, once called Boston “a flea market of racism.” More recently, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said in 2017 he was called the N-word several times by Boston Red Sox fans.

In 2019, DeMarcus Cousins said a fan at TD Garden used racially offensive language toward him. The fan was banned for two years by the Celtics. And, according to NBC Sports Boston, former MLB player Torii Hunter had a no-trade clause to Boston in his contract because of alleged racist experiences he had had.

Moreover, Matt Sullivan, whose book on the Nets -- Can’t Knock the Hustle Inside the Season of Protest, Pandemic, and Progress with the Brooklyn Nets’ Superstars of Tomorrow — is out next month, tweeted that one of Irving’s best friends, Matt Carroll, described to him a conversation the two had in the summer of 2018, a year before he joined the Nets. Irving questioned whether he wanted to represent a city with such a racist past, Sullivan said.

“And then he also realized, ‘Wait a minute. I’m trying to champion Boston, but I’m looking at the history of Boston, is this a city I want to champion? In terms of their racial history and stuff like that ... is the Boston the type of place I want to represent,” Sullivan recounted.

Will Irving’s comments be cause for an examination of Boston fandom? Maybe but there is no doubt that TD Garden will be wild. Friday’s attendance will still be limited to 25 percent capacity, but Sunday, it will be nearly a full house.