August 16, 2022

My very first California college basketball game was hilarious. We played at Cleveland State in November 2002 to a nearly empty arena. Due to the fact that there was no one there, every word in the arena could be heard. Among them was a guy who sat right behind our bench and scolded us all night. It wasn’t bad, though, because he was smart as hell.

“What is American Studies and why are eight of you majoring in it?”

We died laughing. Everything he said was true, insulting and entertaining. We won anyway, and my teammate AJ Diggs tied Jason Kidd’s school record for steals in the process. My takeaway is that fans can be unbelievable, scolding, or rude, and that wouldn’t affect us as athletes.

But later in my career, especially once I turned professional, the conversation got worse. I started to realize that at the highest level, people are less creative and more just assholes. People are quicker to just say “you suck!” than anything else. It never affected my performance and I’m sure it hasn’t affected many others throughout history either. But Boston, and a few other cities, have earned a reputation as places where the fans run the show and the athletes perform as circus clowns.

On Wednesday night, Warriors goaltender Klay Thompson acknowledged two things most athletes know about Boston fans. There is no limit to the depths they will go for an insult. And it doesn’t affect performance as much as people think. “We’ve played in front of rude people before, throwing F-bombs with kids into the crowd,” he said. “Really classy. Good job, Boston.

This, of course, attracts the Boston faithful who are tired of being called racist and rude. They’re wrong, but that doesn’t stop people like Anna Horford, Al’s sister, to tweet that “Passion is everywhere. Vulgarity is everywhere. She is wrong too.

Vulgarity is everywhere, that’s for sure. And F-bombs are better than N-bombs, I guess. But player after player has set records over the years saying Boston fans are terrible at best and racist at worst. For a city that’s about a quarter black, it’s crazy that I’ve had so many conversations with black people and athletes about how racist and rude the city is.

And it’s crazier, then, that Chris Mannix wrote this last year in Sports Illustrated after Kyrie Irving said Boston fans were showing “subtle racism”:

“I admit it, it’s personal to me. I understand the history of Boston. But I also believe that racism, like many things, is generational. The prejudices of those in the 1950s cannot simply be transferred to the millions who live there today.

It’s Boston’s blind spot: they spend so much time defending that they don’t listen. White writers write about racism as if they even know what it really is. People have an idea in their minds of what an openly cruel and racist, probably imaginary city is in the Deep South. (The South is much more “subtle” than you might think.) It’s the cities, the big ones, with loud, privileged people, where racism and dehumanization are felt the most.

Maybe Anna Horford should ask Irving about Boston fans. Or maybe PK Subban. I bet she doesn’t know the then-Canadian defender was the subject of a torrent of racial slurs from Boston fans after a game-winning goal in 2014.

A direct debit:

— This stupid n***** doesn’t belong in hockey #whitesonly


— PK Subban = F****** N*****

– F***PK Subban. F******n*****. I would like it to be sold

— subban is the definition of a *****

– Someone needs to smack PK Subban on his fat n***** lips. #junk

— SUBBAN IS AF****** PORCH M*****

– F*** that stupid m***** #subban

– F*** you subban you f****** lucky ass n*****!

— Again, Subban stop being a *****

Even Celtics point guard Marcus Smart admitted he hasn’t forgotten his hometown fans.

“It’s kind of sad and sickening,” Smart said last year when the Celtics were playing the Nets in the playoffs. “Even though it’s an opposing team, we’ve had guys from your home team say these racial slurs to you and you expect us to play here and play for you. It’s tough. “

Boston isn’t the only place with racist or s—tty fans, but they’re certainly pleased with themselves. Earlier this week, a Bostonian was on my Facebook saying the Celtics have the most creative fans when it comes to taunting other teams. Do they? Is “F—K YOU DRAYMOND” so smart?

If you’re under 35, you’ve probably never heard of Damon Wayans’ 1996 movie Celtic Pride. If you’re my age, however, you might remember Wayans playing Lewis Scott, a fictional Utah Jazz shooting guard kidnapped by two Celtics fans (Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern) during the NBA Finals. It’s a fun movie that paints Celtics fans as the most feisty in the league, but also with writing by Judd Apatow and Colin Quinn, the best heckling they could find were “Jazz Music Sucks” and “I hear that Manute Bol is hitting your mother!”

If that was accurate, those fans might have shouted the N-word at Wayans during the game. If true, fans holding children would be screaming F-bombs at the top of their lungs and harassing players in ways that seemed inhumane. In real life, Boston fans collectively aren’t smart enough to come up with head-turning insults. They don’t know that we are all studying American. They just say the most insulting thing they can think of.

But again, this inhumane behavior is a point of pride; the film is not called “Celtic Shame”. In my experience, fans at this level enjoy upsetting an opponent more than disturbing them. There’s nothing a fan can say that would make me a worse basketball player. There are hundreds of things that could make me react as a man, though, and fans are never prepared for that reality.

In “Celtic Pride”, the more they oppose Damon Wayans’ character, the better he plays; it is a reality that the film nails. So why raise the bar with racist and hateful behavior, then? I think it’s because… they can. Where else can they openly release these things? When else can someone just yell “F—K YOU” at a complete stranger with no consequences? Where else can you shout “NIGGER” out loud to a group of successful young black men without any consequences? It’s not about basketball, but rather an act that strangely satiates those who have kept the hate inside. Maybe something went wrong with their day, or maybe they always thought they belonged to the superior race. Either way, basketball games are the acceptable way to let it all hang out. To hell with victories and defeats, they must have their say. They were able to feel a sense of control and superiority over these people that they would certainly never have felt otherwise.

We athletes generally think jokes are useless when they’re not smart. We laugh about it because we have to – we have a lot to lose. Fans know this and exploit it; the only thing that has changed recently is that athletes are starting to let fans know we’re fed up and they’ve gotten worse. Lazy. Odious. Malicious. Racist. And all is fine. Just take another look at the “Celtic Pride” DVD cover. Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern have a hogtied black man sitting in front of them as they celebrate their team. Well, it’s Boston. You get it.

We are the ones under contract; the athletes are the ones who stand to lose something. We’re the ones making the news if we interact with someone who yells “I fucked your wife” in front of my kid, or repeatedly calls you a bitch because they wanted a free Frosty. Fans have been protected for far too long, and Boston fans, for some reason, are the league leaders in subhuman disrespect.

Clay isn’t wrong at all. He is as right as Kyrie, Westbrook and Bill Russell. Boston has a great team full of guys who reject excess bullshit, but it has a fan base with lots of people who reject humanity.