Few players in the NBA draw as visceral – and vocal – a response from fans as Kyrie Irving does in Boston.
The former Celtics guard and current Brooklyn Nets standout was brilliant in Game 1 of the first-round series between the two teams, scoring 39 points. It wasn’t quite enough, as Boston won 115-114 on Jayson Tatum’s buzzer-beating layup.
But the big story coming out of Sunday’s game wasn’t what Irving did on the court, but rather how he responded to heckling fans. He flashed double middle fingers to the crowd while standing along the sideline, and after the game he largely defended his actions.
“It’s nothing new when I come into this building, what it’s going to be like,” Irving said postgame. “But it’s the same energy they have for me, and I’m going to have the same energy for them.
“And it’s not every fan, I don’t want to attack every fan – every Boston fan – but when people start yelling (expletive) and (expletive) and (expletive) you and all this stuff, there’s (only) so much you can take as a competitor. We’re the ones expected to be docile and be humble and take a humble approach. Nah, (expletive) that, it’s the playoffs. This is what it is. I know what to expect in here and it’s the same energy I’m giving back to them.”
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The NBA fined Washington forward Kyle Kuzma $15,000 for giving a fan the middle finger during a game earlier this season. Two seasons ago, the league fined Philadelphia center Joel Embiid for flipping off Atlanta’s Kevin Huerter and using profanity during an interview.
Considering Irving’s on-court obscene gesture and language used in the postgame news conference, he could be looking at a fine of $25,000 or more.
Irving was fined $25,000 earlier this season for directing obscene language at fans during a game in Cleveland, where Irving once played for the Cavaliers.
Despite his on-court reaction, Irving did not seem too concerned and said he was “not really focused” on the fans. He even called the whole thing “fun” in some way and later pushed back on the idea of there being any sort of “hostility” in the exchange.
“Where I’m from, I’ve dealt with so much, so coming in here you relish it as a competitor,” Irving said.
“This isn’t my first time at TD Garden. What you guys saw and what you guys think is entertainment, or the fans think is entertainment – all is fair in competition. If somebody is going to call me out on my name, I’m going to look at them straight in the eye and see if they’re really about it. Most of the time they’re not.”
Irving was drafted first overall by the Cavaliers in 2011. After playing a key role in Cleveland winning the championship in 2016, he was traded by the Cavaliers to the Celtics in 2017. He spent two seasons in Boston – infamously telling fans in October 2018 he’d re-sign there “if you guys will have me back” – before signing with the Nets in free agency in 2019.
Contributing: Jeff Zillgitt