Frustrated by a 17-point halftime deficit to the rival Knicks, Nets star Kyrie Irving confronted a heckling fan as he stormed to the Madison Square Garden locker room on Wednesday night, only to admit later that he may have had the wrong guy.
‘I think I tapped the wrong person, so I apologize to the random guy that I tapped,’ Irving said following Brooklyn’s 110-98 comeback win over New York.
ESPN cameras caught Irving shooting towards the player tunnel at MSG only to double back and say something to a fan whom, as he explained later, had ‘a surprising look on his face.’
Irving was admittedly upset about Brooklyn’s first-half performance, which nearly cost them a valuable victory and potential home-court advantage in the postseason play-in tournament later this month.
The heckler has not been identified and Irving did not share what was said to him as he walked off the court, but suffice to say, it’s something the 30-year-old New Jersey native has heard before.
‘East coast basketball at its finest,’ Irving said. ‘People just yelling random s*** from the crowd. Wanted a reaction, they got one.’
Frustrated by a 17-point halftime deficit to the rival Knicks, Nets star Kyrie Irving confronted a heckling fan as he stormed to the Madison Square Garden locker room on Wednesday night, only to admit later that he may have had the wrong guy
Although Irving grew up in New Jersey, he was actually born in Melbourne, where his father, Drederick, was playing professionally at the time. He moved to West Orange, New Jersey at a young age, and as he explained Wednesday, faced a lot of prejudice from New Yorkers, who looked down on basketball players from the other side of the Hudson River.
‘And I’ve dealt with just East Coast type of attitude since I was 7-, 8-years-old,’ continued Irving. ‘So I’ve been in the trenches, as they would say, growing up, playing in different boroughs, being a Jersey kid not getting respect from New York basketball until I just stopped giving an eff about what their opinion was.’
Irving struggled in the second half, but his All-Star teammate Kevin Durant said the exchange galvanized the Nets, who held the Knicks to 31 points in the second half.
‘It fires everybody up,’ said Durant, who poured in 29 of his 32 points in the second half. ‘No matter the records, no matter who is on the court, no matter who the coaches are, I feel it’s always going to be one of those games, a tough physical game no matter who what it’s going to play hard. It’s going to be an up and down rivalry.
‘It’s going to build our own little basketball culture here which is going to be fun,’ Durant continued, speaking about the rivalry between the two teams. ‘Knicks and Nets at the end of the day is going to be fun. Knicks and Nets and at the end of the day it’s all New York. So it’s good to have that.’
The unvaccinated Irving was allowed to play at MSG on Wednesday after Mayor Eric Adams’s recent decision to exempt athletes from the city’s private sector vaccine mandate. He initially was held out by the Nets for all games this season because the team did not want to rely on any part-time players while the city’s vaccine mandate was in effect. Brooklyn relented in late December and Irving began playing road games in early January.
He made his home debut on March 27, and will likely be free to play the remainder of Brooklyn’s games this season and in the playoffs.
The one caveat is the potential for the Nets to face the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs. If that does happen, Irving would be prohibited form playing at Scotiabank Arena due to Canada’s restrictions on unvaccinated travelers, who are required to quarantine.
Irving is no stranger to fan interactions.
A Boston Celtics fan was arrested and ordered to stay away from the city’s TD Garden after throwing a water bottle at Irving at a playoff game on June 2. Irving, a former Boston player, had previously accused the city of ‘subtle racism’ and had angered fans by stomping and scraping his foot across the Celtics logo earlier in that series.
But Irving has had a lot of positive crowd interactions as well – even in Boston.
He endeared himself to the Celtics faithful by chatting with fans, signing autographs, giving away his sneakers to spectators after games, and promising to re-sign with the Celtics in February of 2019.
That summer, however, he and Durant decided to team up in Brooklyn, and Boston signed oft-injured All-Star Kemba Walker to fill Irving’s role in the Celtics’ backcourt. Walker has since been traded and ultimately landed with the Knicks in an ill-fated signing.