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For Ben Simmons’s Return, Philadelphia Was Ready But The Sixers Weren’t

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 10: Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets walks on the court during halftime against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on March 10, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 129-100.
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Philadelphia sports fans take things personally. Much of the local media does this, too. This is not always fair, but it is also generally not all that serious. I will forever hold a light grudge against, say, Chris Webber, who came here and seemed like he dogged it. Am I even sure that’s true? Should I even care? Is it a bit hypocritical that I will not say a bad thing about the basketball ability of Allen Iverson, who was definitely dogging it at that time on the Sixers? Instead of asking these questions, I just stay mad forever.

Webber isn’t alone. I have a list of these Sixers in my head who I just didn’t like for whatever reason and will never forgive. Usually it’s a guy who came here with high expectations and didn’t pan out: Webber, Glenn Robinson, Andrew Bynum, et cetera. If I were older I’d probably really hate Roy Hinson and his knees. And now, of course, Ben Simmons is on the list. He had a few good seasons here, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to grasp that there is a basketball player who doesn’t want to shoot, so I’m more puzzled and saddened by how Simmons’s tenure with the Sixers ended than anything else. For lots of other Sixers fans, though, this is one of those times where they’ve really taken it personally. They are serious.

It really only started with Simmons’s performance over the final four games of the Sixers’ loss to the Hawks in last year’s playoffs. It somehow just seemed clear, right then, that the multi-time all-star was gone. It continued when Simmons sat out the season for not-entirely-clear reasons. Finally, he was traded. He still hasn’t played, but would sit on the bench for last night’s game against the Sixers. I knew it might be ugly, and thought the night might be really embarrassing for Philly sports fans. Obviously I had to be there.

I was right, as it turned out, if not entirely in the way I expected. The Nets absolutely slaughtered the Sixers, 129-100, in a game where backups played the fourth quarter. The Sixers never led. They were never in the game. Fans showed up to boo Ben Simmons and ended up booing the Sixers; it was the team’s first loss with James Harden playing. It was almost as if the Nets were trying to prove they were the team to beat in the East this season. Well, it worked on some people. “Tonight the Nets proved that they are the team to beat in the East with their blowout victory over the Sixers!” Magic Johnson wrote.

The day started with Sixers fans haranguing Ben Simmons outside the Four Seasons in Philadelphia (no, not that one). “Ben, why the grievance?” one man yelled, referring to a report from Philly Voice’s Kyle Neubeck that said Simmons would file a grievance to recoup the $20 million the Sixers had fined him this year. “Why spit in the face of Sixers fans?” he continued. See? People are taking this one personally. A lot of people I talked to yesterday were really upset about the idea Simmons might this still hypothetical grievance and get his money. When I told some high school friends on our email chain I didn’t care if Ben Simmons ended up paying his fines or not, I was confronted with a hypothetical: If, say, a contractor stiffed one of them, would I not care about that as well? (After those types of questions, my answer was yes.)

When I turned on WIP in the afternoon, former NFL fullback and one-time Republican state senate candidate Jon Ritchie was singing a parody of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” about Ben Simmons. Here’s how it went:

Yesterday, I believed that you could really play
That you would shoot and try, not hide away
Oh Brooklyn took a gutless babe
Suddenly you claim your IQ’s through the roof—whoopie!

(I was confused about the IQ line from Ritchie’s song, but I think it’s referencing this Kyrie Irving comment about Ben’s basketball IQ, which is a subjective thing rather than a standardized test.)

“Let me give you a little insight on that song… he had most of the song crafted within an hour,” co-host Joe DeCamara said. “It’s really something.” Later, a man called to reference a previous call where he said he’d fight Simmons on the undercard of the next Jake Paul fight. He ended his call with this rap: “Ben Simmons, see me in the Jake Paul card and I’m winnin’/ I get to pinni n’… that’s all I got.” It was really something.

Outside the arena, plenty of fans enjoyed chants of “Fuck Ben Simmons!” In my experience last night people were more vulgar than anything else. New York Times reporter Ken Vogel noted that fans with a bootleg Ben Simmons “dickhead” t-shirt were not allowed in the building, though I did see some that made it in. It’s not like they were making people take off their coats.

Like many Philadelphia fans, I purchased a t-shirt with a pair of giant, hairy cartoon testicles on them to destroy Ben Simmons. I do not know if it worked. (I guess it didn’t.) It is printed on a Hanes undershirt. I also bought a Simmons milk carton shirt, which contains several typos (“Washington Momument” and “practing”) and accuses Simmons of leading the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021. Another anti-Simmons shirt makes the same argument, but misdates the riot.

Simmons was in the building, wearing a Louis Vuitton Intarsia Football T-Shirt ($1,370 retail, but it’s sold out now) which is called that despite being knit and looking like a hockey jersey. It was a decent look, I thought. It reminded me of the scene in Hackers where Acid Burn (Angelina Jolie) wears a New Jersey Devils jersey. Its bumblebee colors also made Simmons incredibly easy to spot, and Simmons was heckled by fans before and throughout the game.

He didn’t play, so it’s hard to say he got the last laugh or proved his point or anything. But Sixers fans certainly didn’t. Philly lost by 30 in their biggest game of the year. The Sixers got fouled a lot and went to the line a lot, but Brooklyn also bullied them around the court. James Harden shot 3-for-17 and Joel Embiid went 5-for-17 from the field. Brooklyn ended the first quarter on a 14-2 run and the game was effectively over. It was never close. The Nets had 15 blocks and 13 steals. Some of the steals were incredibly embarrassing!

Two of the embarrassing Sixers turnovers happened so close together the broadcast was still showing a replay of the previous one when the second one happened.

Every time this happened, you know what this reminded me of? Yeah, you know.

Crap!

By game’s end the arena was pretty empty, and Ben Simmons and the Nets went home winners. The Sixers dropped to third in the East. But there was one moment of pure booing joy, the kind I hoped to have last night with Ben Simmons, and it came during a timeout in the first quarter. The Sixers introduced Air Franklin and Air Franklin Jr. These mascots—basically Zooperstars knockoffs—are not new. They were not well received at a game in January. They have a bit where Air Franklin Jr.’s eyeballs fall off that might have gotten a better response. It’s sad when a performer gets booed. But what else were fans supposed to do?

I will admit that some of these boos were from me. But I went to boo Ben Simmons, and that wasn’t working out. So sorry, Air Franklin and Air Franklin Jr. You got caught in the crossfire. I’d do it again.