BOSTON -- Good or bad, whether the teams are winning or whining, New England sports fans are unapologetic in their support of professional athletes.
Which brings us to Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, whose comments recently about his future have created some uneasiness within Celtics Nation.
After declaring his intent to re-sign with the Celtics prior to the start of the season, Irving on Friday was far from definitive on what his plans are for next season.
And that has a lot of folks in Celtics Nation wondering, what the hell is going on with Irving and the Celtics?
Sunday afternoon’s game pitting the Celtics (33-19) against the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder (33-18) will be Irving’s first game in front of the TD Garden crowd since his comments on Friday prior to Boston’s 113-99 win over the New York Knicks, and Irving’s ensuing comments following the victory.
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Irving has a lot of love for Boston, and certainly a high level of appreciation for its history and, of course, the fan base.
But his comments have opened a Pandora’s box that no matter how much praise and adulation he expresses for this city, folks won’t feel good about his future as a Celtic until he signs on the dotted line sometime in July.
Here’s the thing, though.
Listening to Irving’s words, they seemed to be born more out of his frustration with the seemingly endless speculation that he was hoping to avoid by declaring his allegiance to the Celtics back in the fall.
He could have easily doubled-down on what he said at the Celtics' open practice at the TD Garden back in the fall, but would that have really quieted the noise?
Maybe a little bit, but certainly would not have silenced those who believe Irving’s days as a Boston Celtic are numbered.
While there has been some below-the-radar speculation about his future even after he said he was coming back to Boston in October, the talk about Irving’s future went into overdrive this week after New Orleans star Anthony Davis - a good friend of Irving’s - demanded a trade.
That was soon followed by the New York Knicks trading Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks for a package that would create enough salary cap space for New York to sign a pair of max-salaried players this summer - one of which they hope will be Irving.
Throughout the game Friday, the fans at Madison Square Garden showered Irving with “We want Ky-rie!” chants as he dropped his 13th double-double of the season on them, scoring 23 points to go with 10 rebounds as well as dishing out six assists.
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When asked about the chants, Irving told reporters, “It’s nothing but a distraction at this point. I’m appreciative of the fan support I get in any arena. Of course, coming back home (Irving grew up in West Orange, New Jersey) and what’s going on with that noise and commentary, it’s a bunch of nonsense right now.”
What he said prior to the start of the season, isn’t all that different than a highly regarded high school prospect giving a verbal commitment.
Does that really stop other schools from trying to recruit him?
Of course not.
Irving is spot-on that in the end, he has to do what’s best for him and his family whether that’s playing closer to home with the Knicks, or playing for a franchise closer to winning an NBA title here with the Celtics.
It’s a good problem to have, for sure, one that won’t be worked out anytime soon.
And that’s OK.
He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time, and that’s how it should be.
But in the meantime, the up-in-the-air status of his future in Boston puts fans in a bit of a pickle.
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They are going to be supportive; you can count on that.
But you have to figure on there being a segment of the Celtics fan base, while trying to be supportive, aren’t the least bit pleased with Irving’s desire to now be open to playing elsewhere.
That brings us back to Sunday’s game, a good hors d'oeuvre for the day’s main course of Tom Brady and the Patriots facing the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LXIII.
Irving will have his supporters who will embrace the moment for what it is; a great talent doing some pretty amazing things on a night-in, night-out basis donning a Celtics jersey and helping them win games.
But there will also be some fans not so thrilled with Irving, and like his supporters, they too will be unapologetic in their take on where things are right now.
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