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Kyrie Irving comment may not lead to racial reckoning in Boston but it’s begun a conversation

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Sacramento Kings v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

As he tends to do, Kyrie Irving got the conversation going.

After Brooklyn’s 130-108 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 2, Kyrie Irving shared his feelings about returning to the TD Garden for Games 3 and 4, his first time playing in front of Boston fans since the 2019 second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Though he was thrilled to get out on the floor and compete with his Brooklyn teammates, he had some reservations about playing in front of a crowd that sometimes exhibited “belligerence” and “racism” toward the opponent.

“It’s not my first time being an opponent in Boston so I’m just looking forward to competing with my teammates and hopefully we can just keep it strictly basketball, there’s not belligerence or racism or anything going on, subtle racism or people yelling s—t from the crowd,” said Kyrie on Tuesday. “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.”

Irving’s comments sparked a multitude of reactions. Some echoed his thoughts in support, sharing their own experiences. Others, like Boston general manager Danny Ainge, shot those remarks down.

“I think that we take those kind of things seriously,” said Danny Ainge this week. “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.”

Since Ainge’s remarks, a couple of current Celtics players have bravely shared their experiences with fans while living and playing in Boston. Boston starting guard Marcus Smart called some of the slurs and phrases he had heard while playing at the TD Garden “sad” and “sickening.”

“I’ve heard a couple of them,” said Smart on Thursday. ”It’s kind of sad and sickening because even though it’s an opposing team, we have guys on your home team that you’re saying these racial slurs and you’re expecting us to go out there and play for you.”

On Friday, Celtics starting center Thompson stated that he had heard some “crazy things” from fans both as a Boston player and as a visiting rival (Thompson spent his previous 9 seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers).

“I’ve definitely heard guys say some crazy stuff, but I think that they’re just trying to do that to try into the player’s head and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Thompson. “At the end of the day, my experience, personally, being a Celtic, nobody has said anything racial to me as a player. As a visitor, it’s a different story. But I mean, if they choose to use those kind of words to get a player’s attention, that comes from their home training and the lack of home training, as my mom would say. ”

Then, just before game time, the injured Jaylen Brown, offered his analysis.

“I know not every Celtics fan is a racist. We have a lot of fans from all walks of life and all colors. Painting every Celtics fan as a racist is unfair, but Boston we have a lot of work to do,” said Brown.

Without mentioning Irving by name, Brown said objected to the time of the complaint.

“I think that systemic racism should be addressed in Boston and the United States. However, I do not like the manner it was brought up, in terms of centering it around a playoff game.”

On Friday morning, Nets guard Bruce Brown, a Boston native who lived in the area until leaving for the University of Miami in 2016, recalled the times that he experienced racism while growing up a Beantown resident.

“When I was younger, I experienced a few things, for sure. I mean, it’s my city,” said Brown “You grow up and you try to get used to it, really not think about it too much. Definitely in my high school days experienced a few things, for sure. But it’s tough. You get through it. I try not to worry about

Brown was asked about some of those high school experiences, to which he responded...

“I mean, high school I was called a few names before, I was called a monkey before just because I was dating the opposite race at the time,” Brown said. “So it was it was tough at the time, but now it’s just like, ‘Whatever.’”

Brown, Thompson, and Smart’s experiences add to the growing list of racially motivated or just outright inhumane behavior we’ve seen from fans this week. Three Jazz fans were ejected from Game 2 of the Utah-Memphis series after hurling racist and sexually explicit comments at Ja Morant’s family, among them that Dillon Brooks, Morant’s friend and Grizzlies team was a “half breed.” A Philadelphia 76ers fan dumped popcorn on Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook as he was hobbling into the locker room with an apparent injury. There was even a New York Knicks fan that spat at Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, leading to a lifetime ban from the MSG arena.

The NBA has committed to an enhanced code of fan conduct for the remainder of the playoffs that will hopefully enforce a more respectful environment for the players and personnel.

Brooklyn plays its next two games of the series against Boston on Friday and Saturday before potentially heading home for a possible Game 5 on Tuesday at the Barclays Center.

For Irving, his celebrity and skill have given him a platform. He knows how to use it.