CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving, playing his former team in his first regular-season game with the Boston Celtics, heard hearty boos in pregame introductions and each time he touched the ball early in Tuesday’s opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
Irving was the first player announced during introductions, and boos overwhelmed any cheers. He exchanged a quick dap with LeBron James before the opening tip. Then, after getting booed when he touched the ball on the first possession, he finished a floater over his former teammate for the game’s first points.
The Cavs had been set to show a tribute video for Irving, but following the horrific-looking ankle injury to Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, several members of the Cleveland organization — including owner Dan Gilbert — determined the video would not run during Tuesday night’s game. A Cavs spokesman said an appropriate moment never presented itself.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens had said before Tuesday’s game that he expected Irving to get a mixed reaction throughout the game but hoped that fans would show appreciation for his six years in Cleveland.
“There’s always going to be an emotional reaction, and certainly there will probably be a smattering of boos within that emotional reaction, right?” Stevens said. “But there will also be a lot of people that are cheering. My wife [Tracy] is from Cleveland, she grew up in Cleveland, her whole family is still in Cleveland, and I think they all greatly appreciate, obviously, what he did over the six years but certainly on the biggest stage under the brightest lights a couple years ago [in Game 7 of the NBA Finals]. Who knows? Bottom line, we’ll have to go out and play the next possession, hopefully well.”
Irving and fellow summer All-Star acquisition Hayward arrived to Quicken Loans Arena together about 95 minutes before tipoff. Irving wore a white dress shirt with a black tie and black blazer. Trailed by Celtics security, he walked past a group of arena security who had been greeting and dapping up returning Cavaliers as they passed.
Irving hit the floor for his pregame shooting routine about 45 minutes later and heard a smattering of boos from the arriving crowd. He looked comfortable knocking down jumpers from all spots on the floor. He finished by completing a difficult layup, then turned and sprinted the length of the floor before rushing up the tunnel to the visitors locker room.
At shootaround on Tuesday morning, Irving fielded questions for nearly seven minutes before slipping on a special-edition version of his latest Nike shoe — a black shoe with gold swooshes and green shamrocks on a white toe — and joining teammates on the floor to get up shots.
After downplaying the hype surrounding his return (“I’m just happy to get the season started, regardless of who we play,” Irving said), he defended how he called Boston a “real live sports city” and suggested he wasn’t attempting to create a comparison with Cleveland.
It didn’t take long before Irving was asked what it was about Cleveland that caused him to request a trade away.
“Well, guys, going forward, I kinda wanted to put that to rest, in terms of everyone figuring out or trying to figure out, or dive in and continue to dive into a narrative that they have no idea about,” Irving said. “That probably will never ever be divulged because it’s not important. This was literally just a decision that I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward. I don’t want to pinpoint anything, I will never pinpoint anything because that’s not what real grown-ups do. They continue to move on with their lives and continues to progress and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”