BOSTON — Celtics guard Marcus Smart said he hopes fans will be “respectful” Friday night when former Celtic Kyrie Irving makes his first return appearance at TD Garden with fans in the building for Game 3 of Boston’s first-round playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets.
“We want our fan base and our crowd to be very respectful of all players,” Smart said Thursday. “We’re out here to perform and entertain for the crowd. We just wanted to be respectful on both ends. We were kind of seen around the league now with a couple other incidents with fans in the crowd. We don’t want our crowd to be like that. We want everybody to be respectful on and off the court.”
Smart wrote in The Players’ Tribune in October about a racist incident he’d gone through personally in Boston, and said he’s heard of other such incidents in the past.
“Yeah, I’ve heard a couple of them. It’s kind of sad and sickening,” Smart said. “Even though it’s an opposing team, we’ve had guys on your home team that you’re saying these racial slurs and you expect us to go out here and play for you. It’s tough. Like I said, we just want everyone to be respectful, on and off the court. We want that same respect that we give to fans and the crowd to come out here and put on a good show and not to interfere in that type of manner with them. We expect the same in return from us.”
“In the course of this investigation, we were able to conclude that the fan had been verbally abusive toward the Golden State bench, but none of the interviewed parties were able to verify the use of racially offensive language, and video evidence proved inconclusive,” the Celtics said in a statement at the time about the fan, who was a minor.
“Based on our investigation the fan was issued a two-year ban.”
Current Nets star Kevin Durant was on that Warriors team, while Irving was at the time still a member of the Celtics.
Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, said in a radio interview earlier Thursday that he’d never heard any player say they’d dealt with racism as a member of the Celtics in the past.
“I think that we take those kind of things seriously,” Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “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.”
Fan behavior has received plenty of attention in recent days, from Irving’s comments after Game 2 Tuesday night that “hopefully, we can just keep it strictly basketball; there’s no belligerence or racism going on — subtle racism,” to Russell Westbrook getting popcorn dumped on his head in Philadelphia and Trae Young getting spit on in New York.
Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who will play Friday after being poked in the eye in the second half of Tuesday’s blowout loss, said that, like Smart, he hopes the fans are respectful toward Irving as he makes his return.
“I love our fans and I think it’s just a certain way fans should act while still enjoying the game and cheering for their respective teams,” Tatum said. “I think that’s what I feel like he was alluding to. Obviously, there are going to be chants against him, but I guess he was just talking about keeping it basketball, which I think most people should understand.”
For his part, Nets coach Steve Nash said that whatever happens, he expects Irving will have no issues handling it.
“I haven’t talked to Ky about it,” Nash said. “He’s an all-world basketball player. I think he’s quite comfortable in hostile environments. I’m sure that he’ll relish the opportunity. There is a line, but crossed or not, Ky can handle that, no question. We hope it’s all within the sportsmanship guidelines, so to speak, but Ky can handle it and has done so his whole career.”