A fan in a Boston Celtics jersey was arrested Sunday after a bottle nearly struck Nets guard Kyrie Irving in the head following Boston’s Game 4 loss at TD Garden. It was the latest in a string of unruly fan behavior as N.B.A. arenas begin opening to near full capacity for the playoffs.
Last week, before the best-of-seven series shifted to Boston, Irving, a former Celtics player who is Black, had anticipated booing but had asked fans not to be belligerent or racist. For decades, Black athletes in multiple sports, including the Celtics legend Bill Russell, have spoken about the racism they’ve experienced in Boston.
“We claim that we care about each other as human beings, but we just call things out before they happen like I did the other day,” Irving said after Sunday’s game. “I’m telling people, ‘Just keep it basketball.’”
Irving stressed that he expected fans to root for their home teams and that most were eager to watch quality athletes perform. But he said sports were now at a crossroads.
“It’s been that way in history, in terms of entertainment, performers and sports for a long period of time and just underlying racism and just treating people like they’re in a human zoo,” Irving said. “Throwing stuff at them, saying things. There’s a certain point where it just gets to be too much.”
Irving was heading into an arena tunnel after the Nets beat the Celtics, 141-126, when an object that appeared to be a water bottle sailed just past his head. Multiple videos on social media showed a person in a Celtics jersey being led away by the police.
The bottle-throwing followed a run of incidents from last Wednesday night: In Philadelphia, a fan poured popcorn on the head of Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook as he left the game with an injury. In New York, a fan spat on Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young at Madison Square Garden. In Utah, security ejected three fans for obscene behavior toward the family of Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.
“We’ve had times in history when people have reacted and gone in the crowd, then we’re wrong and we need to be civilized and we need to keep our calm and we need to keep our cool and it’s reflected on us,” Irving said. “Just want to keep it upfront and truthful, and it’s just unacceptable for that stuff to be happening, but we move on.”
Following Wednesday’s incidents, the N.B.A. released a statement saying its fan code of conduct would be “vigorously enforced.” The fans involved in those incidents have been barred indefinitely from the arenas.
“Anything could have happened with that water bottle being thrown at me, but my brothers were surrounding me,” Irving said. “I had people in the crowd. So, just trying to get home to my wife and my kids.”