Boston, blow-up dolls and boos: Irving opens up about Celtics fans (2024)

BOSTON — Kyrie Irving still sees and hears it all.

The “Kyrie sucks” chants from Boston Celtics fans that echoed throughout TD Garden several times during the Dallas Mavericks’ 107-89 Game 1 defeat in the NBA Finals. The boos that crescendoed when he touched the ball. The unending questions about his Celtics past posed to him in every news conference over the past week.

Even the fans who brought a blow-up doll in a Boston jersey outside the arena before the series opener, attached a picture of his face to it and then stomped on it while shouting, “F— Kyrie.”

Celtics fans brought a blow up doll with Kyrie Irving’s face on it, chanting “f— Kyrie! f— Kyrie!” and tossing the doll around and beating it up.

— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) June 7, 2024

Irving expected it to be like that, he said at Saturday’s practice, when he wasn’t present. But Irving said it’s been different when he is.

“I don’t expect to be celebrated by everybody. I’m going to still be aware that a lot of people want to see me fail,” said Irving, who had just 12 points on 6-of-19 shooting and two assists in Game 1. “But putting into perspective the blow-up dolls and remarks that are getting said, that’s basketball.

“When I leave out of here and I walk around Boston, I don’t hear a lot of the things that I hear when I’m playing on the court. There’s a lot of mutual respect. There’s a lot of eye-to-eye communication that’s built on just being human, and they appreciate the things I do off the floor, as well.”

Last week, Irving admitted he “wasn’t his best self” during his time with the Celtics. On Saturday, he took accountability for the shortcomings in his career, Boston included, more explicitly than he has before.

“I failed miserably, while also not knowing how to compartmentalize or accept the emotions that come with failure,” Irving said. “And also being on the successful side, (I) didn’t know how to handle that either.”

As the post-Celtics seasons have gone by, Irving has become increasingly open about the Boston chapter that left so many of the team’s fans incensed. In late September 2019, he said the death of his grandfather nearly a year earlier had sent him into depression and played a major part in his struggle to connect with his Celtics teammates at the time.

“Thinking about my time in Boston, I could go down a myriad of things that none of you in here know that I was dealing with, and I don’t think a lot of people would care,” Irving said. “I think a few people would care and want to hear about it, and I would leave that space open in the future if you ever want to hear about it.”

What Irving made clear Saturday was he still respects Boston, a city where his father, Drederick Irving, played college basketball at Boston University and where Irving himself spent two seasons, from 2017 to 2019. He still respects the teammates who remain on the team, the ones he openly called out back then for being too young.

“I think we’ve pretty much put it to bed (this idea) that a lot of my (former) teammates hate me,” Irving said Monday. “I don’t know what was being shared intimately with some of the media personnel that were reporting over the past few years (when) I first left Boston. But I’ve embraced all of those guys.”

Only three Celtics players remain from the Irving days: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford. Tatum has a longstanding relationship with Irving dating to his time at their shared alma mater, Duke, and has continued to support Irving since the Mavs guard departed Boston.

Brown and Irving had public disagreements on how to run the team as the Boston wing was finding his voice as a leader early in his career.

But as time went on and they worked together on the NBPA board on several issues, Brown started to become an ally for Irving when the then-Brooklyn Nets guard was suspended eight games, in part for posting a link to an anti-Semitic documentary.

“It’s life. In life, things happen. People learn, grow and move on,” Brown told The Athletic. “It’s a part of the journey that we’re all on. I’m not perfect and neither are none of these guys and neither are you. We all go through stuff and he was going through stuff while he was here. Now he seems to be in a better place.”

Irving’s exit to the Nets in 2019 cleared the path for Brown to become the face of the franchise, but it also coincided with Horford surprisingly leaving for the Philadelphia 76ers. While Irving’s friction with the team loomed over that season and his bizarre decisions in the Milwaukee Bucks series hastened the turmoil preceding their departures, Horford has long moved past the situation.

“I don’t know if there’s much of a relationship, but there is a mutual respect,” Horford told The Athletic. “Things happen in life and obviously things didn’t work out here how we wanted it. But it’s already been a few years, and in my eyes, I’m already looking past it. We’ve been over it. I feel like he’s over it, I feel like I’m over it and we’re looking to the next chapter.”

But the locals aren’t ready to move on.

Irving’s relationship with Celtics fans has been toxic since the summer of 2019 when he signed with Brooklyn just eight months after publicly announcing he planned on re-signing in Boston. The reunions have been many with Irving’s Nets facing the Celtics twice in the first round of the playoffs — in 2021 (a five-game Brooklyn win that took place without the injured Brown) and in 2022 (a Boston sweep en route to the NBA Finals).


Irving has been at his best and worst in the four playoff games that took place in Boston. He scored 16 points and missed 11 of 17 shots in the series opener in 2021, only to score 39 points in Game 2. A year later, he had 39 points and six assists in Game 1, then just 10 points and one assist in the following game.

There was no shortage of ugliness between him and the Celtics fans along the way.

After the Nets won Game 4 in 2021, Irving famously stomped on the Boston logo at midcourt and had a water bottle thrown at him by a Celtics fan moments later as he walked off the floor (the fan was later arrested). In Game 1 in 2022, he gave the crowd a middle finger after hitting a 3-pointer in the third quarter and then did it again — this time with both hands — later in the game.

“I don’t forget things, either,” Irving said. “Somebody threw something at me while I was here. I’ve heard it all. Nobody asked me how I felt after that and why it could be a little bit of a traumatic response when I’m back in this environment after somebody does something like that.”

As Irving has discussed in recent weeks, he’s in a much better place now.

Last spring, Dallas lifted Irving out of yet another situation when the team traded two starters and a first-round pick for the eight-time All-Star. The point guard who had spent years swathed in controversy saw the noise around him start to fade.

Since joining the Mavericks, Irving has become the team’s undisputed emotional leader and a consistent presence who has been embraced by the franchise. He’s influenced those around him, including his superstar running mate Luka Dončić, in palpable ways on and off the floor.

Until this past week, he had largely declined to speak on his past. Now that his path to a title goes through the place where his career began to fall apart, he has expressed a willingness to take accountability while also seeking to be heard from his perspective.

“This is fun for me, man,” Irving said. “This is healthy. I’m glad that I can be up here on this stage speaking authentically and then also go home and be at peace.”

Required reading

  • Kyrie Irving: ‘Wasn’t my best self’ during Celtics tenure, ‘looking forward’ to NBA Finals in Boston
  • How Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving became ‘connected for the rest of their lives’
  • Boston fans have booed former stars. Kyrie Irving’s return is different

(Photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

Boston, blow-up dolls and boos: Irving opens up about Celtics fans (2024)
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