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The Brooklyn Nets will take their 2-0 series lead into Boston to face the Celtics Friday night in what will be a highly-anticipated matchup, as it will be Kyrie Irving's first time playing at TD Garden with fans since leaving the team in 2019. Ahead of that matchup, Irving said after the Nets' win in Game 2 that he hopes there's no "belligerence or racism going on" in his return in which he'll likely be booed by Celtics fans for spurning them two years ago. 

When asked if he had ever heard racist comments before at TD Garden, Irving said he "was not the only one that can attest to this." As a response to Irving's comments, Celtics president Danny Ainge said he's never heard a Celtics player mention that in his time with the team.

"I think that we take those kind of things seriously," Ainge said during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub. "I never heard any of that, from any player that I've ever played with in my 26 years in Boston. I never heard that before from Kyrie and I talked to him quite a bit."

Regardless if it was ever brought to Ainge's attention, Irving isn't the only player who has spoken about the racism that exists in Boston. Current Celtics player Marcus Smart said in a 2020 Players' Tribune article that he experienced racism while leaving TD Garden after a game.

Via the Players' Tribune:

"But the incident that has stuck with me the most, and that's had the biggest impact on me, occurred a few years back after a victory at the Garden.

I was pulling out of the arena parking lot when I saw a white woman with her five- or six-year-old son crossing against the light right as the cars were starting to come at them. I had my windows down and realized something bad was about to happen, so I yelled to her, politely, that she needed to hurry and get out of the street so the two of them wouldn't get hurt.

The woman was wearing an Isaiah Thomas number 4 Celts jersey. And there were all these other Celtics fans around who were at the game. I figured she'd be cool.


She swung her head around and it was….

"F--- you, you f---ing n-word!!!!"

Irving and Smart aside, there have been a handful of players over several decades who have talked about experiencing racism while either playing for the Celtics, or as a member of the opposing team. Celtics legend Bill Russell wrote in his 1979 memoir Second Wind that Boston had "all varieties" of racism when he was winning championships for the team. While Ainge's stance is that he's never heard from players in the past that they've experienced racism while at TD Garden, that doesn't mean it's not happening.

Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday.