BOSTON – Kyrie Irving is back in town on Friday. It will bring Kevin Durant, James Harden … and a decades-long debate on racism in a city with a nasty history with him.
In case you missed it (and at this point, how could you?) Irving, the former Celt, made waves Tuesday when suggested he had experienced racism in Boston. Irving declined to cite details, instead imploring TD Garden fans to keep it “strictly basketball, no belligerence and no racism, subtle racism and people yelling shit in the crowd.”
This is not, I repeat, this is not—A column that debates or defends the history of racism in Boston. I grew up in Boston. I know, it’s bad. Bill Russell, the greatest Celtics player of all time, was in the receiving the end of abhorrent racism in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1990, Dee Brown was detained by the police at gunpoint for (supposedly) looking like a robbery suspect. As recently as 2016, Marcus Smart recounted that they called him the n word while driving home after a game.
On Thursday, Smart was asked about his experience with racism in Boston.
“Yes, I have heard a couple of [racist remarks]Smart said. “It’s kind of sad and disgusting. Even though it’s an opposing team, we’ve had guys on your home team who are saying these racial slurs and you expect us to come out here and play for you. It’s hard.”
Arguing Boston’s status as a racist city makes no sense. Defenders on both sides are too entrenched. The evidence is always anecdotal. Kendrick Perkins, a Celtics center for seven and a half seasons, says he did not experience racism in Boston. “I never took care of it” Perkins said on NBC Sports Boston. “I also came back as an opponent for the Celtics. I played there with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers and still never experienced any racism. “Others will point to PK Subban, the Montreal Canadiens player who highlighted racist tweets from Bruins fans, or Adam Jones, the outfielder of the Baltimore Oriole who accused Red Sox fans of hurling racial slurs in his direction.
If you think Boston is racist, no one can change that opinion.
If you think it isn’t, well, the same.
Irving may have experienced racism in Boston. However, it’s worth noting that when asked point-blank about it, he said it never happened. In March 2019, the city was recovering from allegations of DeMarcus Cousins that a fan used racist language towards him. Irving was asked about his experience in Boston. His answer: “I can only speak myself for playing here as an opponent. I’ve never heard of anything like this. “
I admit it, this is personal to me. I understand the history of Boston. But I also believe that racism, like many things, is generational. The prejudices of the 1950s cannot simply be transferred to the millions who live there now. And Irving, after dropping that bomb, declined to cite any examples, adding that “everyone knows.”
It was the kind of vague response that led Perkins to say that, with Irving, it was “always extra.”
Look: Irving absolutely could have experienced racism in Boston. The fans, as highlighted this week, can be horrible. In Philadelphia, a drug addict popped popcorn on Russell Westbrook. In New York, a jerk in a Knicks jersey spat at Trae Young. The father of Grizzlies star Ja Morant a fan in Utah told him, “I’ll put a nickel on your back and watch you dance, boy,” according to ESPN.
Each city has its share of fanatics who feed the fund.
Make no mistake: Irving will face an enraged mob this weekend. To Boston fans, Irving is a liar, a player who (without warning) told them he would re-sign with the team in 2018 only to flee for a division rival less than a year later. To them, Irving is the player who returned to a team that went to an NBA Finals game in ’18 and sabotaged it to the point that it became second-round fodder in ’19. That he fought with his teammates, particularly with the youngsters. Who couldn’t make it work with Brad Stevens.
It won’t be a completely rational answer, but when is it? In 2010, LeBron James was mercilessly booed on his return to Cleveland after making the decision to move to Miami as a free agent. Durant, once a folk hero in Oklahoma City, was vilified upon his return in ’17. The fans don’t cheer on the players, they cheer on the clothes. When you throw a shirt aside, they come for your head.
It will be years, perhaps decades, before Boston can roll back its dark history with racism. Maybe never. Meanwhile, Celtics fans will boo Irving every time he touches the ball on Friday. Not because it’s black. But since it’s good, the Nets are better and when Irving finishes beating the Celtics, the Nets will be among the favorites to win a championship. In Boston, they hate Irving, although they privately wish he was still around, doing it for them.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.