Why the Kyrie Irving-Celtics feud is great for the NBA Finals

Dallas Mavericks v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Five
Dallas Mavericks v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Five / David Berding/GettyImages

The NBA has gotten some flak over the past few seasons for being “too fraternal,” but there may not be any brotherly love between Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics. Irving’s beef with the Celtics and their fans has somewhat died down since he was traded to the Mavs from the Brooklyn Nets, but the dynamic’s sore wounds could offer the 2024 NBA Finals a healthy touch of spice.

Even if Irving is willing to let bygones be bygones, it’s doubtful that Celtics’ fans will be willing to sing kumbaya. Irving spent two seasons as a member of the Boston Celtics and had a tumultuous relationship with the front office. Even though he expressed a desire to remain in Beantown, he ultimately signed with the Nets in the summer of 2019.

Tempers flared during the 2022 playoffs when the Nets and Celtics met in the first round. Irving infamously “flipped off” Celtics fans and even stepped on “Lucky” the leprechaun at center court. Irving recently expressed regret regarding his temper during that series.

“But I will say last time in Boston, I don’t think that was the best -- not this regular season, but when we played in the playoffs and everyone saw me flip off the birds and kind of lose my s--- a little bit -- that wasn’t a great reflection of who I am and how I like to compete on a high level,” Irving told NBC Sports. “It wasn’t a great reflection on my end towards the next generation on what it means to control your emotions in that type of environment, no matter what people are yelling at you.”

Kyrie Irving's feud with Celtics fans is reminiscent of a different time in NBA history

Celtics fans have not forgotten about his antics. Some were recorded chanting “f–k Kyrie” after Boston swept the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, there are definite lines that fans should not cross when it comes to heckling Irving (or any athlete for that matter), but assuming everything stays within the realm of basketball, the NBA could benefit from the drama.

None of the last few NBA Finals have included a heated rivalry. Irving vs. Boston is reminiscent of Reggie Miller’s playoff battles in New York or LeBron’s bouts against the Celtics. Irving’s past and Kristaps Porzingis’ interesting relationship with Luka Doncic give this year’s championship series a definite edge.

“I see it as a healthy relationship with the fans,” Irving said. “I almost think about ‘Gladiator’ just win the crowd over. It’s good to hear the TD Garden silent. When you’re playing well they still respect great basketball, so regardless of the attention that’s being paid to what it’s going to be like on my end, I have a group to lead that’s going to be looking to me for a voice of peace.”

While we don’t know exactly how these teams will fare against each other, it would not be surprising to see some old-school hostility.