Ben Simmons heard the boos even in street clothes on the bench. He returned to Philadelphia last season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets after forcing his way out of Philly in a trade, and the Philly fans let him hear it.
Tuesday night it will reach an entirely new level — Ben Simmons will pull a Nets jersey over his head and take the court for another team for the first time in Philly. He knows Sixers fans have not moved on, as reported by Tim Bontemps at ESPN.
“In Philly?” Simmons said, drawing more laughs. “I know what’s coming. That’s part of the game. Philly fans, one thing about Philly fans is they are incredible. They are die-hard Philly and they are everything Philly, whatever it is. I respect that about the city. It’s a sports town. I was talking to I think Yuta [Watanabe] before the game about what it’s like to play in Philly, and it’s an incredible opportunity to put on whatever jersey it is.
“That’s Philly, and it’s a unique experience.”
Well played with the positive spin.
But you can be sure 76ers fans — not only still unhappy with Simmons’ play for their team (then forcing his way out in a trade) but also with the Sixers’ slow 8-8 start in a season they were expected to be pushing the teams at the top — will vent their frustrations at Simmons. It will be ugly.
The story of Sixers’ fans’ frustration with Simmons — and Simmons’ frustration with the Sixers’ front office — is a long one. It goes back to Simmons’ name coming up in trade talk for Harden at the deadline in 2021, in missed free throws in the ensuing playoffs, and the much-discussed passed-on dunk against the Hawks. However, the biggest thing was Simmons holding out to force a trade, not playing at all for Philly for a season and essentially wasting a season of Embiid’s prime.
Simmons comes in playing his best basketball as a Net, including his 22-point night Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies. He has found a comfort level, he had been coming off the bench but is back in the starting five and working more off the ball. He’s finding his role.
Simmons will get off easy on the court Tuesday not having to go against any of Philadelphia’s big three — Joel Embiid (sprained foot), James Harden (right foot tendon sprain) and Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) are all out. Simmons has been playing some 4/5 role for the Nets and likely would have matched up at points against Embiid.
But he will go against the 76ers fans, and that will not be easy.