It’s no secret that Kyrie Irving did not leave the Boston Celtics on the best of terms. After boldly proclaiming that he’d return to the team in 2018, issues with his teammates arose as he tried to insert himself as the clubhouse leader following his first year on the team getting lost to injury, and after an unceremonious second round exit to the Bucks, he bolted to Brooklyn.
When presented with his first opportunity to return to TD Garden, Irving decided that it’d be best to purify to atmosphere of the arena by burning sage as he walked around the court before the game.
While this appears to be a conspicuous shot at his former franchise, this isn’t Irving following the path of certain Instagram users trying to feign spirituality with a culturally appropriative trend. The Nets point guard’s mother traces her roots back to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, and Irving was even honored with a traditional Lakota naming ceremony in 2018.
Following the game, a 113-89 victory for Irving and the Nets, Kyrie explained the thought process behind burning the sage and why it is something he plans on continuing throughout the season.
“It just comes from a lot of native tribes,” Irving said after the game. “Being able to sage, just cleanse the energy, make sure that we’re all balanced. When we come into this job, we come into this place, it’s not anything that I don’t do at home that I did today. I saged last game, and I plan to sage almost every game if the opposing team will allow me to.
“But, literally, it’s more or less for us to stay connected and for us to feel great about going to work and feeling safe and provided for from our ancestors. I’m not going to bring too much of the spirituality into basketball, but yeah, it’s part of my native culture where I’m from.”
Burning sage, or “smudging,” is a Lakota ritual which is done prior to most ceremonies with the intent of using what is considered to be the “cleanest” herb to chase away the “dirt” of impure thoughts, actions and other related issues. In other words, it’s a purification ritual.
The question now becomes what exactly was Irving purifying in TD Garden. Was it the court where Celtics fans booed him, despite him not traveling with the Nets to last season’s game at the arena? Was it the space where his former teammates with whom he clashed heads with during his Boston tenure? Is it the coaches chair where he and Brad Stevens would have disagreements on game strategies?
Whatever it was, Irving’s ritual has surely cleansed those impurities and he’s likely more comfortable playing basketball in that arena now.