On Sunday afternoon, a fan in a Boston Celtics jersey was arrested after a bottle nearly struck Nets guard Kyrie Irving in the head.
This was the latest in a slew of unruly fan behavior as NBA arenas begin opening up to higher capacity during the playoffs. This includes the Knicks banning a fan after spitting on Trae Young, the 76ers banning a fan who threw popcorn on Russell Westbrook and the Utah Jazz banning three fans for racist and vulgar remarks directed at Ja Morant‘s family.
The Irving incident came as the star guard was walking off the court after the Nets beat the Boston Celtics 141-126 at the TD Garden. According to the Boston Police Department, the Celtics fan has been identified as Cole Buckley, 21, of Braintree, Massachusetts. Besides the arrest and lifetime ban from the TD Garden, the fan also now faces more severe charges. Buckley has been charged with one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and will be arraigned Tuesday in Boston Municipal Court.
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In a conference call after the game, Irving spoke out about the recent belligerent behavior from NBA fans.
“You can see that people just feel very entitled out here. They paid for their tickets — great, I’m grateful that they’re coming in to watch a great performance. But we’re not at the theater. We’re not throwing tomatoes and other random stuff at the people that are performing. I wanted to keep it strictly basketball.”
This weekend marked the first time Irving has played in TD Garden with fans since he left the Celtics in 2019. Throughout Games 3 and 4 in Boston, Irving has been booed every time he touched the ball and showered with chants ranging from “f*** you Kyrie” and “Kyrie sucks.”
“You’re seeing a lot of old ways come up,” Irving stated. “It has 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. Throwing stuff at people, saying things. There is a certain point where it gets to be too much.”
Several other NBA players spoke out on the recent uptick in incidents between fans and players, including Irving’s all-star teammate Kevin Durant.
“Fans got to grow up at some point,” Durant said after Sunday’s game. “I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic got a lot of people on edge, got a lot of people stressed out, but when you come to these games, you have to realize these men are human.”
“We are not animals; we are not in the circus. You coming to the game is not all about you as a fan. So, have some respect for the game. Have some respect for the human beings, and have some respect for yourself. Your mother wouldn’t be proud of you throwing water bottles at basketball players or spitting on players or tossing popcorn. So, grow the f— up, and enjoy the game. It’s bigger than you.”
The NBA has taken matters into their own hands after releasing a statement on fan behavior at arenas: “The return of more NBA fans to our arenas has brought great excitement and energy to the start of the playoffs, but it is critical that we all show respect for players, officials and our fellow fans. An enhanced fan code of conduct will be vigorously enforced in order to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all involved.”
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