▶ Watch Video: 21-year-old accused of throwing water bottle at Kyrie Irving

A fan wearing a Boston Celtics jersey was arrested and charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after allegedly throwing a water bottle at Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving on Sunday night. Many basketball fans online questioned whether throwing the plastic bottle actually constitutes assault, but law experts say the charges are common and a conviction would come down to proving the suspect’s intent to cause bodily harm.

The Boston Police Department has identified the fan as Cole Buckley, 21, of Braintree, Massachusetts. Buckley has been banned indefinitely from attending events at the Celtics arena, TD Garden. Cole pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday and was released after posting a $500 bond.

As Irving left the court following the Nets’ 141-126 victory over the Celtics, he was nearly hit by the water bottle. Later, witnesses told police the bottle grazed the 29-year-old superstar’s head. After the game, Irving said the incident was an example of “underlying racism,” and Rachael Rollins, the Suffolk County district attorney, seemed to agree Wednesday: “It is not lost on me that he chose to do this in a sport that is overwhelmingly Black men. We are not going to allow this trend to continue.”

But the incident led fans to question, was it really assault and is a water bottle a deadly weapon? 

Massachusetts defines a dangerous weapon as “any instrument or instrumentality so constructed or so used as to be likely to produce death or great bodily harm.” Mary D. Fan, a law professor at the University of Washington, said Massachusetts is just one of many places with similar laws. 

“If you are throwing something that’s heavy, that’s full, that is basically like throwing a rock or brick at someone’s head. That could be a deadly weapon in that context,” Fan said.

“They’re not specific to the type of projectile that’s thrown at someone,” she added. “It’s just an instrument that is likely to produce bodily injury, great bodily harm, or death. That could be a range of projectiles, depending on the circumstance. It’s not like a water bottle specific situation, what you’re having here is these open textured definitions of what can count as a dangerous or deadly weapon.”

A man who allegedly threw a water bottle toward Kyrie Irving is escorted out by security on May 30, 2021.

Elise Amendola / AP

David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said he understands why people feel surprised by the charge and that it may seem like an “act of utter stupidity” but it’s more about sending an overall message to other fans. “The next person who decides to do something like that could be holding something else,” Harris said. “You don’t get to do this. This is not part of buying a ticket.” 

Buckley, a student at the University of Rhode Island, will be back in court for a pre-trial hearing on August 5.

Matthew J. Kidd, a Boston-area lawyer, says there are three elements to prove Buckely is guilty of the charges. “The first is the defendant had to touch the person or touch them with an object in this case,” Kidd said. “The second is the person intended to touch them and the third element is the touching was done with a dangerous weapon — in this case, a plastic bottle.” 

Kyrie Irving, right, and his teammates react after a water bottle was thrown at him Sunday on May 30, 2021.

Elise Amendola / AP

Last year, when protests against police violence and racial inequality swept the country, several people were arrested for allegedly throwing water bottles at police. In Pittsburgh, two women were accused of throwing bottles at cops. And in Iowa, two men were accused of throwing water bottles at random people after leaving events in Iowa City.

The main difference between the incident with the fan and the protests? The person on the receiving end. “If the target is a police officer, sometimes state statutes have specific aggravating circumstances of using a weapon or assaulting a police officer,” Harris said. “Kyrie Irving, no matter what he is, is not a cop. So, before anybody runs off saying this is the criminalization of water bottles —nobody’s saying that — it’s the use of this particular object as a weapon.”