By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Kyrie Irving will not be receiving a warm welcome when he plays in front of Boston fans for the first time since he left for Brooklyn. There really is no debate on that front.
But maybe he shouldn't receive any welcome at all?
Perhaps only A-Rod was more despised among the Boston faithful during his time with the Yankees, but Kyrie is climbing the Power Rankings of abhorrence around these parts. And rightfully so. Once a potential savior of the franchise, he checked out and quit on the team when he and Kevin Durant planned their team-up in Brooklyn during the 2019 season. In that campaign, he pouted, called out Boston's young franchise cornerstones, and berated Gordon Hayward when he didn't pass to him in a last-second situation, instead deferring to Jayson Tatum.
It was quite the 180 from just ahead of the season, when Irving told Celtics season ticket holders packed into TD Garden that he intended to sign long-term -- if they would have him. At that moment, it seemed like Kyrie and the Celtics were heading toward a wonderful marriage.
But the engagement soured from that point, and he ended his tenure with the Celtics by sleepwalking through a second-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. He chucked up brick after brick as he shot 35 percent in the series. Boston's season -- and the era of Kyrie in Boston -- ended with a gentleman's sweep by the Bucks.
Now we're here, with Kyrie is set to play in front of Celtics fans for the first time as a member of the Nets in Game 3 of the Brooklyn-Boston first-round series on Friday night. He has already stoked the flames ahead of his return, saying after Tuesday night's blowout Nets win in Brooklyn that he hopes there is no "subtle racism" coming from Boston fans when he plays in front of them at TD Garden on Friday and Sunday. That is sitting about as well as you can imagine with Boston fans, and is setting up some fireworks for Friday night.
Boston's history of racism is well documented. No one is arguing that some fans spew some truly vile words and phrases at athletes. And Kyrie is not out of line to ask fans to keep the trash talk to basketball. He deserves that much from the Boston fanbase and any fanbase.
Everything else is, of course, fair game. Boos will rain when he is introduced and whenever he touches the ball. There will be no tribute video for him. And come Sunday, when the Garden will be packed to near capacity, there will be a chorus of almost 18,000 booing in unison. Some flat earth or "If You'll Have Me" chants would sound particularly good on either night.
But booing seems too easy for this situation, and way too unoriginal. Even a chant turning Irving's words against him would come off as something from a forlorn lover.
So how about complete and total silence? Kyrie is a walking, talking, basketball-playing Twitter account who thrives off being the center of attention and getting a rise out of folks. It's why he went scorched earth to get out Cleveland and it's why he throws out all sorts of nonsense during his press conferences. He's going to feed off those boos and chants, likely fueling him to effortlessly drop 50 points against his former team against his former fans.
Borrow an approach from The Simpsons and just don't look. Give him crickets when he's introduced. Fill the Garden with hushed tranquility whenever he makes an absurd driving layup. Grab a newspaper -- or maybe a science magazine -- when he hits the free throw line. It would drive him bananas.
The silent treatment is extremely unlikely though, because Boston fans have two years worth of pent-up rage toward Kyrie that they're going to want to get out. And now that we're reaching some level or normalcy again, it will feel real good for all of that emotion to be let loose.
But the Celtics aren't going to win the series. Celtics fans aren't going to win in their public display of disdain toward Irving. In giving him no reaction, Kyrie wouldn't win either -- minus the games and the series, of course.
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