Nets guard Bruce Brown was born and bred in Boston, grew up cheering for the Celtics, a native son in every way. He still loves Beantown and calls it his city.
Yet as Brown returns home for Friday’s first-round Game 3 at TD Garden – with his Nets enjoying a 2-0 series lead – he admitted he had been subjected to the kind of racism growing up in Boston that teammate Kyrie Irving had alluded to this week.
“When I was younger, I experienced a few things, for sure. I mean, it’s my city. You grow up and you try to get used to it, really not think about it too much,” Brown said Friday morning. “I definitely in my high school days experienced a few things, for sure. But it’s tough. You get through it. I try not to worry about it too much.”
The 24-year-old Brown grew up in Dorchester, just five miles from TD Garden, where Irving is expected to play in front of Celtics fans for the first time since bolting Boston for Brooklyn in June 2019.
Irving – who spent two up-and-down years playing in Boston and earned the ire of the locals by saying he wanted to stay before doing an about-face – said Tuesday he hoped the focus could stay on basketball and that TD Garden fans would eschew any “belligerence” and “racism.”
Celtics point guard Marcus Smart has backed up Irving’s assertions, recalling in a piece published by The Players’ Tribune when a female fan – with an Isaiah Thomas No. 4 Celtics jersey on and a child in tow – called him the N-word right outside the arena.
“I’ve heard a couple of them,” Smart said Thursday. “It’s kind of sad and sickening because even though it’s an opposing team, we have guys on your home team that you’re saying these racial slurs and you’re expecting us to go out there and play for you.”
Brown confirmed he got a bitter taste of it growing up in Boston. He was a three-sport star for Wakefield Memorial High School before transferring to Vermont Academy, and recalled racist abuse suffered as a schoolboy.
“I mean, high school I was called a few names before, I was called a monkey before just because I was dating the opposite race at the time,” Brown said. “So it was it was tough at the time, but now it’s just like, ‘Whatever.’”
Still, Brown – who averaged career highs in field-goal percentage (.556) and rebounding (5.4) this season – was clear about how excited he was to be coming home, playing in TD Garden and seeing familiar faces.
“Definitely a lot of excitement, see some of my family and my friends and then obviously playing back home is always big,” Brown said.
“I used to come to a lot of games when I was younger. It was a period of time when they wasn’t really good and tickets were really low. And then the last game I went to was when Kobe [Bryant] played here and he destroyed them. That’s when I was young. I was like in my teenage years. I used to come to a few games, for sure.”
So Brown is acutely aware of how loud and passionate the Celtics fanbase can be under ordinary conditions. Friday night’s Game 3 and Sunday’s Game 4 – with TD Garden expected to be at near-capacity – will be extraordinary.
That crackling energy is bound to give the Celtics a boost. But Brown – who was a team-high combined plus-64 in the last four regular-season games, averaging 14.3 points and 9.3 boards – has a solution to short-circuit it.
“We’ve just got to go out there and play hard, execute our game plan. We know what we need to do,” Brown said. “So, go out there, punch ’em in the mouth early, and that’ll work.
“Just really come out, play our game, stick to our game plan. Be physical with them and really I think we’ll take care of business.”