Kyrie Irving wary of ‘subtle racism’ before return to Boston

Kyrie Irving has said he is cautious of “subtle racism” as he prepares to return to Boston to face his former team, the Celtics, with the Brooklyn Nets.

The upcoming playoff game will be Irving’s first time playing in front of fans in Boston since leaving as a free agent in 2019 following two seasons with the Celtics. Asked what he expected, he noted that it’s not his first time playing in Boston as an opponent.

“So I’m just looking forward to competing with my teammates and hopefully we can just keep it strictly basketball, there’s no belligerence or any racism going on, subtle racism and people yelling shit from the crowd,” Irving said. “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 if he had experienced that before, Irving said: “I’m not the only one that could attest to this, but it is what it is.”

That was presumably a reference to the feeling among many black athletes that racist abuse from fans is particularly virulent in Boston. In 2017, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy apologized after Boston fans taunted Orioles center fielder Adam Jones with racist slurs. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia later said that black major leaguers expected racial taunts in road games in Boston. “We know,” Sabathia said. “There’s 62 of us. We all know. When you go to Boston, expect it.”

During Tuesday’s press conference, Irving said “it is what it is” in reference to abuse in Boston. When someone in the background said “the whole world knows it”, Irving repeated “the whole world knows it”.

The Nets lead the best-of-seven playoff series against the Celtics 2-0 after Joe Harris tied a franchise playoff record with seven three-pointers as Brooklyn routed Boston 130-108 on Tuesday night.

Elsewhere in Tuesday’s playoff games, Luka Doncic blew past Los Angeles defenders for 39 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, leading the visiting Mavericks to a 127-121 victory over the Clippers and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference first-round playoff series.

Meanwhile, Anthony Davis amassed 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as Los Angeles held off host Phoenix to even the first-round Western Conference playoff series at one game each.

LeBron James contributed 23 points and nine assists for the Lakers, who turned back a late Suns rally to rebound from a 99-90 defeat in Game 1. Devin Booker scored 31 points for the Suns, and Deandre Ayton had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Both players made their playoff debut in Game 1.