BOSTON — No time was wasted. As the lights dimmed and the player introduction video began to roll on the giant screen in TD Garden, the heckling began. The chants were loud, the booing was relentless, and signs denouncing the former Celtics star were abundant.
“Where is Kyrie?” Celtics fans chanted.
“Kyrie sucks!” they screeched nearly every time Jarrett Allen went to the free throw line.
The target of the taunting, Kyrie Irving, was hundreds of miles away. Irving has missed the past seven games because of a right shoulder impingement and did not make the trip with his Brooklyn Nets teammates to face his former team. He did, however, respond after the game in a lengthy social media post.
“It happens all the time and Tonight just shows how Sports/Entertainment will always be ignorant and obtrusive,” Irving said at the start of a lengthy post via an Instagram story. “It’s one big SHOW that means Very VERY little in the real world that most people live in because there are Actually things that matter going on within it.”
Kyrie posted this message after missing the Nets-Celtics game Wednesday night.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 28, 2019
While Irving didn’t receive the jeering in person, the remaining Nets players served as his proxies.
“It was better than I thought,” Allen said. “They could’ve booed us every time we touched the ball. If Kyrie was here, it probably would’ve been 10 times worse.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said he “didn’t give a second thought” to the chants.
In the fall of 2018, Irving told an arena full of Celtics fans that he intended to re-sign with Boston during his 2019 free agency. Instead, he chose the Nets alongside Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan. On media day in Brooklyn, New York, Irving said he meant it when he told fans he would re-sign. But then his grandfather died, basketball became less important to him, and over time, the Celtics’ locker room grew fractured and chilly.
“I failed those guys,” Irving said in September. “In terms of me being a leader in that environment and bringing everyone together, I failed.”
It seems that the Celtics organization has largely forgiven Irving. The franchise has stuck to diplomatic talking points when speaking about his tumultuous Celtics tenure. If the team had retained Irving, Boston would not have signed Kemba Walker, who has quickly become a fan favorite and has presided over the Celtics’ 13-4 start to the season, including Wednesday’s 121-110 victory over the Nets. Walker scored a season-high 39 points on 13-of-24 shooting, including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers.
“I’ve said many times that I really enjoy Kyrie and wish him nothing but the best,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before the game.
That nuance was unimportant Wednesday. Outside the arena, fliers with the word “coward” stamped across Irving’s face were plastered on telephone poles. Another leaflet depicted Irving as the cowardly lion from “The Wizard of Oz.”
In the arena, fans held up signs that said “Kemba > Kyrie.” Another poster had Irving’s face superimposed over a photo of Waldo from “Where’s Waldo?” Other fans had “Kanter” painted over where Irving’s name had been on a No. 11 jersey.
By the fourth quarter, “Kyrie sucks” chants were not reserved for the Nets. It became a rally cry when the Celtics shot free throws and during dead balls as well.
“I had no preconceived notions,” Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie said about the crowd reception in Boston. “Whatever they had to say, he heard it through the TV I am sure, but … he’s not even here.”