Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving called out what he termed the “underlying racism” and “human zoo” environment of some NBA arenas after a Boston fan threw a water bottle at his head as he was leaving TD Garden Sunday night.
After a sub-par performance in Game 3 in Boston, Irving lit up the Celtics for 39 points and 11 rebounds in a 141-126 victory as the Nets took a 3-1 lead in the series ahead of Game 5 Tuesday night in Brooklyn. Irving, who played for the Celtics from 2017-19, then appeared to wipe his feet on the Celtics logo at center court. As he walked through the tunnel, a fan threw a water bottle towards his head. Reports indicated the fan was arrested and banned from the arena for life.
The incident involving Irving came after he said last week he hoped he wouldn’t face any “belligerence or racism” in his return to Boston.
“It’s unfortunate that sports has come to a lot of this kind of crossroads where you’re seeing a lot of old ways come up,” Irving said. “It’s been that way in history in terms of entertainment and performers and sports for a long period of time, and just underlying racism and just treating people like they’re in a human zoo, throwing stuff at people, saying things. There’s a certain point where it gets to be too much, so I called it out.
“I just wanted to keep it strictly basketball and then you just see that people feel very entitled out here. They pay for the tickets, great. I’m grateful that they’re coming in to watch a great performance but we’re not at the theater, we’re not throwing tomatoes and other random stuff at the people that are performing. It’s too much and it’s a reflection on us as a whole, when you have fans acting like that. Hopefully people learn their lessons from being banned, for however many years of being arrested but there’s always going to be an occasion.”
Asked if the bottle hit him or if the fan yelled at him, Irving said: “It doesn’t matter…Anything could’ve happened with that water bottle being thrown at me but my brothers were surrounding me, I had people in the crowd. So just trying to get home to my wife and kids.”
The incident is the latest involving unruly fans at NBA arenas during the playoffs. The Philadelphia 76ers banned a fan and took away his season tickets for dumping popcorn on Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards guard, as he went through the tunnel towards the locker room after sustaining an injury Wednesday night in Game 2 of that series.
The Knicks also banned a fan for spitting at Trae Young, the Atlanta Hawks guard, during Game 2 of that series. And that came after Knicks fans serenaded Young with “F-U” chants in Game 1.
And the Utah Jazz banned three fans for allegedly directing racist and sexually explicit comments at the parents of Memphis Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant. The NBA issued a statement condemning this kind of fan behavior last week.
“I mean, fans gotta grow up at some point,” said Kevin Durant, who scored 39 points in the game. “I know that being in the house for a year now with the pandemic got a lot of people on edge, got a lot of people stressed out, but when you come to these games, you gotta realize these men are human. We’re not animals, we’re not in the circus. You coming to the games is not all about you as a fan.
“So have some respect for the game, have some respect for these human beings and have some respect for yourself. Your mother wouldn’t be proud of you throwing water bottles at basketball players or spitting on players or tossing popcorn, so grow the f**k up and enjoy the game. It’s bigger than you.”
Durant added: “We know how these people are here in Boston…Glad we got the W and hopefully we don’t have to come back here this year.”
Said James Harden, who had 23 points and 18 assists: “It’s really unacceptable. These fans should come in and boo or cheer or do whatever they do, but throwing things and the disrespectful language it’s ridiculous at this point. Somebody has to be made an example.”
Irving said he feels like players are not being treated like human beings.
“We keep saying we’re human, we’re human but we don’t get treated like we have rights when we’re out there sometimes and people feel entitled to go and do things like that,” he said. “We claim that we care about each other as human beings but….you have things that happen at the Garden, things happen in Utah, and there’s a lot of history there of things happening.”
Asked if he felt subtle racism from the crowd in Boston, he said he has felt “underlying racism” from the crowd in Boston and elsewhere during his NBA career.
“I’ve been in hostile environments where a lot of things have been said to me, a lot of things have been done to my teammates, where I’ve experienced some time of subtle racism that I’m referring to where it’s just underlying throughout the game. The things that they’re saying, it’s not necessarily about talent or gifts, it’s more or less about moms or what you look like or they’re calling out your name.
“I joined this sport because I loved it and inevitably you’re going to have opposing fans do things that are going to help their team win, they love being involved. I don’t want to take away that nature, it’s just when you feel disrespected as a person, man or woman, and someone calls you out on your name, it doesn’t make you feel good. And then when you react, and we’ve had times in our history where people have gone into the stands, and they’re wrong. And we need to be civilized. We need to keep our calm and we need to keep our cool and then it’s reflected on us.
“I just want to keep it up front and truthful. It’s unacceptable for that stuff to be happening, but we move on.”