PHILADELPHIA—Yup, Ben Simmons got booed.
One of the most reviled former players in Philadelphia’s sports history got the hostile homecoming the Brooklyn Nets guard expected in his first game in the city since his former team acquiesced to his trade demand in February.
Simmons was voraciously booed from the moment he stepped on the Wells Fargo Center court for warmups against the 76ers to the first time he brought up the ball against his former franchise.
“This is a Vince Vaughn earmuffs night,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said to laughter.
Oh yes, Sixers fans cursed, they turned old No. 25 jerseys into art projects and the scorned mostly let the mercurial guard have it for their belief he turned his back on the franchise that made him the No. 1 pick in 2016.
“I can’t worry about everyone’s feelings,” Simmons said before Tuesday’s game.
Simmons played his first game in Philadelphia since a June 20, 2021 Game 7 loss to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He passed up a wide-open tying dunk late in the loss that triggered passive criticisms from coach Rivers and Joel Embiid that unraveled the relationship. Simmons also had back issues and later said mental health woes played a role in his trade demand in the summer of 2021 that led to a contentious few days in training camp. Simmons was sent home for good, filed a grievance after the Sixers said he breached his contract (it was later settled in a confidential agreement) and then shipped to Brooklyn in a trade for All-Star James Harden.
Embiid and Harden sat out with injuries, as did Tyrese Maxey, the genial guard that became in instant fan-favorite as Simmons replacement.
Simmons, who watched from the bench as he recovered from a back injury when the Nets played in Philly in March, told reporters at shootaround he had no hard feelings toward Embiid and other former teammates.
“We had a lot of highlights. We had lot of great times,” Simmons said. “I got a lot of love for Jo, too. Obviously, didn’t work out. That’s life. Not everything works out in your favor.”
Ask if he might seek out Embiid, Simmons cracked, “Yeah, we’re going to do our secret handshake.”
The trio of sidelined Sixers starters made the nationally televised game a bit anticlimactic.
Well, at least on the court. Philadelphia’s starting lineup of Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, De’Anthony Melton and Shake Milton was not what most fans who listed lower-level tickets in the $900 range expected when they listed this one.
Booing Simmons about made it worth any price.
Hey, at least the local duct tape business was booming. Sixers fans needed only a sharpie and the adhesive to salvage their old No. 25 Simmons jerseys. Most fans wrote some kind of profanity on the tape—one hopeful fan waiting in a penned off area before the maincourse opened had his vulgarity ripped off by a security guard — while one went deep in the great Philly insult well and wrote “Crumb Bumb ” over Simmons name.
Nets players laughed in the pregame layup line when Simmons jogged out to boos.
“I had a lot of great moments here. This is where I became a man, I feel like,” Simmons said. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for Philly in that way. I’ve got a lot of love for Philly.”
It wasn’t all loathe and basketball in the City of Brotherly Love.
Sydney Reiver, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, held a sign from the third row that read “ BEN IM UR #1 FAN, PLEASE SIGN MY JERSEY” and caught the guard’s attention after warmups. Simmons walked toward the stands and posed for a photo with the teenager wearing his Brooklyn No. 10 jersey. She had missed out on meeting him when he played in Philadelphia and decided to send him a direct message in Instagram that she would be at the game. The 14-year-old ninth-grade student said she “was upset” when Simmons was traded but thrilled she finally met her favorite player.
“He was like, ‘what’s up,’” she said.
Reiver attended the game with her dad; the family has had season tickets for 41 years.
Simmons had more friendly faces in Brooklyn’s locker room, a point Vaughn has made with the three-time All-Star. Whatever the outcome, Simmons has a home with the Nets.
“What I want to see is his teammates have his back, embrace him, enjoy this moment,” Vaughn said.
Image credits: AP