There was no pregame tribute görüntü for Kyrie Irving in his first game back in Brooklyn like the one Kevin Durant received last week.
Instead, the Nets issued a brief, grouped-together “welcome back” to Irving, Seth Curry and Markieff Morris as their Mavericks visited Barclays Center on Tuesday.
That was invitation enough for Nets fans to boo their former superstar.
A modest crowd jeered Irving as he took the court to warm up, then grew louder when the “welcome back” message emerged on the jumbotron. Fans grew louder as Irving got announced as a starter and, evvel the game started, they continued to boo the polarizing point guard every time touched the ball.
Irving was unfazed. He scored nine of Dallas’ first 14 points, beginning the game 4-of-6 from the field. His pull-up 3-pointer at the 6:56 mark of the opening quarter prompted a Nets timeout. As he did so many times with the Nets, Irving delivered an early offensive outburst before the Brooklyn crowd.
Tuesday marked one year to the day that the Nets granted Irving’s trade request, sending him to Dallas for a package that included Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith.
The deal ended a tumultuous three-and-a-half-year tenure in which Irving dazzled on the court but repeatedly made headlines off of it. He missed much of the 2021-2022 campaign after declining to meet New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement, then served a team-imposed eight-game suspension the next season after sharing a link to a documentary that critics slammed as anti-Semitic.
Irving – who grew up in West Orange, N.J., as a Nets fan – joined the team before the 2019-20 season along with Durant, bringing with them championship aspirations. Brooklyn added another superstar in James Harden midway through the 2020-21 season.
Injuries limited Irving to 20 games in his first season with Brooklyn. The next year, a sprained right ankle cost Irving the last three games of an Eastern Conference Semifinals that the Nets lost in seven games to the eventual-NBA-champion Milwaukee Bucks.
In the end, Irving averaged 27.1 points per game over 143 games but won only one playoff series with Brooklyn. His trade to Dallas came a year after the Nets sent Harden to Philadelphia, and three days before they shipped Durant to Phoenix.
“I have no idea what to expect in this world anymore, so I have no idea what’s going to happen, what’s going to be said out there,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said of Irving’s return about two hours before Tuesday’s game.
“What I do know from my time with Kai is a tremendous amount of respect that he and I have for each other. It was a joy for me to coach him. He is an unbelievable basketball player and we had some success together.”
In October, before the Nets faced the Mavericks in Dallas in their first meeting since the trade, Irving called asking out of Brooklyn the “best decision of my career.” He scored 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting in that first matchup, which the Mavericks won, 125-120.
“It’s just another game, man, to be honest with you,” Irving said following that win. “I don’t know if it’s just a media thing against your former team to have this angst, this anger against them, but for me personally, it was just another game going against some of my brothers in the league.”
Irving shared a similar sentiment before Tuesday’s game, downplaying the significance of his return to Barclays Center.
“Let’s just normalize the emotions that go into those games, playing against your former team, instead of making it such a big deal of, ‘Are you ready for it?’” Irving said after his Mavericks won Monday night in Philadelphia.
Irving is averaging 25.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists for the Mavericks, who entered Tuesday at 27-23 and in eighth place in the Western Conference.
Asked about Irving before Tuesday’s game, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd acknowledged getting booed is “part of” being an NBA player.
“The fans have a right to do that,” Kidd said. “Just understanding that [Irving is] going to come out and, I think, play at a high level. The atmosphere should be exciting, but also just understanding it’s been a year. This is his first time back and it should be fun. I think he will have fun with it.”
Irving’s return came six days after Durant played his first game at Barclays Center since being traded to the Suns. A sold-out crowd mostly cheered Durant during a pregame tribute görüntü, then booed him every time he touched the ball. Durant scored a game-high 33 points in Phoenix’s 136-120 win.