Celtics president Danny Ainge said he never heard or witnessed racist behavior from fans in the Garden.
The issue is simmering in Boston as the Eastern Conference playoff series between the Brooklyn Nets and Celtics shifts to Massachusetts on Friday. The Celtics trail the series 2-0.
After a dominant win in Game 2, Nets point guard Kyrie Irving was asked for his expectations returning to Boston, where he played prior to joining the Nets.
He said he hoped for “no belligerence or any racism going on; subtle racism and people yelling s— from the crowd.”
Ainge, who played eight seasons with the Celtics, told 98.5 FM in Boston that Irving’s claims would be news to him. He added that during several conversations about basketball and other topics, Irving had never raised racism from fans as an issue in one-on-one talks.
“Quite honestly, I have never heard any of it,” Ainge said. “I’m not saying the city of Boston, I’m saying the TD Garden. I think our fans are very respectful.
“I think that we take those kinds of things seriously. I never heard any of that from any player in my 26 years in Boston. I never heard that from Kyrie, and I talked to him quite a bit. I don’t know. As far as I’m concerned, we’re just playing basketball. Players can say what they want.”
Ainge said fans are free to behave as they see fit within reason, and he knows what it feels like to enter a building as the enemy.
“Fans will do what they want to do,” Ainge said. “I’ve been booed a million times in my career and I enjoy it. I got a kick out of Trae Young last night. He was getting booed in New York and he was thriving in it, excelling in it and embracing it. I think it’s fun and a part of the game.”
The game between the lines has included some aggressive defensive play that guard Marcus Smart viewed as intentionally rough.
“Eventually you’re going to get tired of it. And you’re going to have to respond,” Smart said Thursday. “If we got to get into some faces, we got to get into some faces. We gotta fight back, nobody’s gonna be able to punk us like that.”
–Field Level Media