Celtics

Tristan Thompson said he experienced racism from Boston fans ‘as a visitor’

"My experience, personally, being a Celtic, nobody has said anything racial to me as a player. As a visitor, it’s a different story."

Tristan Thompson Celtics
Tristan Thompson during a Celtics-Cavaliers game in May, 2021. Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

As fans continue to return to live sporting events following the ongoing easing of COVID-19 restrictions, it has been a sign of some form of returning normalcy for teams that have missed the energy of live crowds.

Yet multiple incidents have marred the moment in the last week. Philadelphia banned a fan for dumping popcorn on Washington guard Russell Westbrook as he left the floor with an injury. New York banned another fan for spitting on Atlanta guard Trae Young.

In addition, the Utah Jazz announced on Thursday that three fans had been banned for comments directed at the family of Memphis guard Ja Morant.

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This comes in the same week in which Kyrie Irving, asked about returning to Boston for Game 3 of the Nets-Celtics series, discussed expectations for his reception from the TD Garden crowd.

Irving, 29, played for Boston from 2017-2019 before leaving to sign with the Nets as a free agent.

“I am just looking forward to competing with my teammates and hopefully, we can just keep it strictly basketball; there’s no belligerence or racism going on — subtle racism,” Irving said. “People yelling sh** from the crowd, but even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game and we’re just going to focus on what we can control.”

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Irving added that he’s “not the only one that could attest to this,” and that “the whole world knows it.”

Black players have been the target of racism in Boston for decades. Bill Russell, who helped the Celtics win 11 championships, once referred to Boston as a “flea market of racism.” Robert Parish, who played in Boston for 14 seasons and won three titles, has also spoken about being racially taunted. And more recently, current Celtic Marcus Smart wrote a Players’ Tribune piece in 2020 which included an experience of being called the n-word as he was leaving TD Garden following a game.

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On Friday, Celtics center Tristan Thompson — who played for Cleveland from 2011 through 2020 — was asked by Boston Globe reporter Gary Washburn if he “had heard anything racial during your time coming in as a Cavalier?”

“Yeah, of course, definitely,” said Thompson. “I mean, I think that’s what makes Boston fans special, not the racism part, but the part that they’re very into the game and they want to be the sixth man on the court with how they can get under our skin and taunt us and try to do that. I’ve definitely heard guys say some crazy stuff, but I think that they’re just trying to do that to get into a player’s head and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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“My experience, personally, being a Celtic, nobody has said anything racial to me as a player. As a visitor, it’s a different story,” Thompson continued. “But I mean, if they choose to use those kind of words to get a player’s attention, that comes from their home training and the lack of home training, as my mom would say. So for us, me being a Celtic now, they’ve been great, they’ve embraced me with open arms and supported me. So hopefully they can be loud tonight and be a huge for us in the crowd tonight.”

Later in the press conference, Thompson was asked a follow-up question about if his experience as a visiting player at TD Garden is an “anomaly in Boston.”

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“There’s certain cities you can expect some racial slurs might be used around the third quarter when someone has enough beers, and they know they’re far enough away from us where they know we can’t do nothing to them,” Thompson explained. “Of course, the fans are very important to us in this league, and we appreciate them and their support every night. But there’s always a fine line of when it becomes too much. When you start using racial slurs or talking about someone’s kids, then you’re going too far past that line.”

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Thompson referenced the response from teams in the last week to ban fans for their inappropriate actions.

“You saw in Philly and Utah, and even New York, the fans crossing that line,” said Thompson. “For that they got their season tickets revoked.

“There should probably also be like a fine, a criminal fine, because if you spit on someone going down the street, don’t you get fined or arrested or some sh** like that?” Thompson added. “If you spit on people in the arena and can’t spit on them in the street, it should be the same protocol. I dare a motherf***** to spit on me. I’ll follow you right to your house.”

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