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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Why Kyrie Irving is the perfect villain for Boston fans

Kyrie+Irving+of+the+Boston+Celtics+throwing+the+middle+finger%2C+censored+by+the+Twitter+logo.
Bianca Oppedisano
Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics throwing the middle finger, censored by the Twitter logo. Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff

On Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022, the Boston Celtics won the opening game of their first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets in a 115–114 thriller, with Jayson Tatum making a last-second layup to beat the buzzer. Yet, much of the story after the game focused on the interactions between the raucous TD Garden crowd and the Nets’ star point guard Kyrie Irving. All game on Sunday, the 18,000 strong on Causeway Street targeted Irving with many chants and taunts in colorful language that cannot be repeated in these pages; Irving, in turn, replied with a certain one-finger salute and was promptly fined $50,000 by the NBA. And Kyrie turned in what may go down in history as one of the greatest villain performances Boston has ever seen, scoring 39 points on just 29 combined field-goal and free-throw attempts, and draining six 3-pointers from beyond the arc. Still, the Celtics got the last laugh, as Tatum spun around Irving for the game-winner as time in regulation expired. Despite his amazing effort, Irving still found himself on the losing end. Boston fans used the entire Marathon weekend to prod Irving, as multiple derogatory chants against Irving were heard at Fenway Park during Red Sox games and vendors selling shirts were mocking him near the Marathon route. What did Kyrie do to inspire this level of vitriol against him? Well, it’s a long story.
Irving was traded to the Celtics following an acrimonious departure from Cleveland in the summer of 2017. Boston viewed Kyrie as their missing link to a championship following an Eastern Conference Finals berth the season prior. And, for a while, it looked like that might come to pass. The Celtics were 40–19 at the All-Star break and second in the Eastern Conference. Irving was playing like the star the Celtics hoped they were acquiring, averaging over 24 points per game, and aiding in the development of young stalwarts like Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics’ future seemed to be one of the brightest in the league. But then, Irving suffered a knee injury that ended his season. Despite this loss, the Celtics, led by Tatum and Brown, made a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals but lost to the Cavaliers in seven games.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Celtics seemed like the clear-cut favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. But their regular season was decent, if not spectacular, going 49–33 and losing to Milwaukee in five games in the second round. The season was marred by controversy, as there were rumors of problems between Irving and some of his younger teammates. It didn’t help that Irving told a gathering of Celtics season-ticket holders that he would re-sign at the end of the season when his contract expired but ended up spurning Boston to join up with fellow superstar Kevin Durant on the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2019.
In Irving’s first game back In Boston, he made headlines when he “saged” TD Garden before tip-off. Before the Nets played the Celtics in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs, Irving said that he hoped he didn’t hear any racist comments from Celtics fans, reviving a long-dormant sore subject for the city of Boston. Irving further drew Celtics’ fans ire when he appeared to stomp on the Celtics’ logo at mid-court. The feud between Irving and the fans reached a dangerous point when a fan threw a water bottle at Irving; the bottle missed him, and the offending fan was banned from the Garden. With all this bad blood between Irving and Celtics fans, it certainly will make for a thrilling and must-watch series in Round One of the playoffs.

About the Contributors
Jack Sherman, Sports Writer
Bianca Oppedisano, Illustrator