Boston Celtics

Dec 4, 2019; Boston, MA: Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown greets fans after defeating the Miami Heat at TD Garden.

The relationship between fans and athletes at sporting events has been in the spotlight over the past few days. As arenas have reopened at near capacity, incidents like a spectator dumping popcorn on Russell Westbrook in Philadelphia, and somebody spitting on Trae Young in New York, have pushed the discussion.

That conversation has been prevalent in Boston as well, following Kyrie Irving’s comments about making his return to Boston for Game 3 of the Celtics-Nets series. “Hopefully we can just keep it strictly basketball,” Irving replied when asked about the reception he was expecting from Boston fans. “No belligerence or subtle racism and people yelling [expletive] from the crowd. Even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game.”

Following those comments, Celtics players including Marcus Smart and Tristan Thompson shared they have had racist encounters with fans in Boston.

Speaking with the media before Game 3 on Friday night, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown shared his thoughts on the matter, unprompted.

“Actually guys, before your questions, I actually have a perspective to share. Seeing things floating around with Boston and the topic of racism. People around me urged that I should share my perspective. I have not talked to anyone – Kyrie [Irving], Marcus [Smart] or Danny Ainge – about my thoughts or my perspective, but I do think it’s a good conversation. I think that racism should be addressed, and systemic racism should be addressed in the city of Boston, and also should be addressed in the United States.

However, I do not like the manner it was brought up in – centering around a playoff game. It bothers me if – the construct of racism is used as a crutch or an opportunity to execute a personal gain. I’m not saying that’s the case. But I do think racism right now is bigger than basketball, and I do think racism is bigger than Game 3 of the playoffs. So I want to urge the media to paint that narrative as well. Because when it’s painted in that manner it’s insensitive to people who are dealing with it on a daily basis. The constructs and constraints of systemic racism in our school system, inequality in education, lack of opportunity, lack of housing, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable health care, tokenism, and the list goes on. So I recognize my privilege as an athlete. But once you get to a certain point, nothing that you experience overtakes the experiences people deal with on a daily basis, so I want to emphasize that as well.

I understand the frustration right now. I’ve seen what’s going on in sports and in sporting arenas with the two incidents obviously with Russell Westbrook and Trae Young, and I’m pissed, to be honest. I don’t think we should have to put up with that, and I don’t think that’s O.K., by any means necessary. But when I look in the media and I see those incidents attached to like a frame of racism – yes I think it’s important to address those situations, but if the topic is racism, I think that those incidents don’t compare, or those belligerent comments don’t compare to what systemic racism is currently doing in our community and has done in the past. So it’s important to frame it in that context.

I think that not every Celtics fan—I know that every Celtics fan in our arena is not a racist. We have people of all walks of life, ethnicities, colors, that are die-hard Celtics fans. So I think that painting every Celtics fan as a racist would be unfair. However, Boston, we’ve got a lot of work to do, no question. Incarceration rate is ridiculous, the wealth disparity is embarrassing, the inequality in education specifically in Boston Public Schools needs to be better. There’s a lack of resources there, lack of opportunity. The tokenism here in Boston needs to be addressed as well. But if we’re going to talk about it and that’s what the media is going to bring up, I think – a sporting arena – things might exist – but in the real world things exist to far different extremities. So I definitely wanted to share my perspective. This is my opinion, of course, and people can challenge that. I definitely think, Boston, we’ve got a lot of work to do. But, that’s it, really. I’m not really answering any questions, guys, I just wanted to share my perspective. Thank you.”