“This is a Vince Vaughn earmuff night,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said with a laugh.
Oh yes, Sixers fans cursed, they turned old No. 25 jerseys into art projects and the scorned mostly left it to the mercurial guard as they believed he was turning his back on the franchise that made him the No. 1 pick in 2016.
“I can’t care about everyone’s feelings,” Simmons said before Tuesday’s game.
Simmons played his first game in Philadelphia since a Game 7 loss on June 20, 2021 to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He passed a wide-open tying dunk late in the loss that drew passive criticism from coach Rivers and Joel Embiid unraveling the relationship. Simmons also had back problems and later said mental health issues played a role in his trade demand in the summer of 2021, leading to a few contentious days in training camp. Simmons was sent home for good, filed a complaint after the Sixers said he violated 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 were out with injuries, as was Tyrese Maxey, the genius guard who became an instant fan favorite as a replacement for Simmons.
Simmons, who watched from the bench as he recovered from a back injury when the Nets played in Philly in March, told reporters during shootaround that he held no grudges toward Embiid and other former teammates.
“We had a lot of highs. We had a lot of great times,” Simmons said. “I have a lot of love for Jo, too.
Asked to find Embiid, Simmons burst out, “Yeah, we’re going to give our secret handshake.”
The trio of Sixers starters on the sidelines made the nationally televised game a little anticlimactic.
At least on the field. Philadelphia’s starting lineup of Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, De’Anthony Melton, and Shake Milton wasn’t what most fans who had listed lower-tier tickets in the $900 range expected when they hit the market brought.
Booing Simmons made it worth every price.
Hey, at least the the local duct tape business was booming. Sixers fans only needed a sharp object and the glue to save their old No. 25 Simmons jerseys. Most of the fans wrote some sort of profanity on the tape — one hopeful fan who waited in a locked room before the main course opened had his vulgarity ripped off by a security guard — while one of them went deep into the great Philly insult pit and wrote : “Crumb Bumb” about Simmon’s name.
Nets players laughed in the pregame layup line as Simmons jogged out to boo.
“I’ve had a lot of great moments here. This is where I became a man, I feel like it,” Simmons said. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for Philly in that way. I have a lot of love for Philly.”
It wasn’t just disgust 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 SWEATER” and caught the attention of the guard after the warm-up. Simmons walked to the bleachers and posed for a photo with the teen wearing his Brooklyn No. 10 jersey. She hadn’t met him when he played in Philadelphia and decided to send him a direct message on Instagram that she would be at the game. The 14-year-old ninth-grade student said she was “upset” when Simmons was traded, but was thrilled to finally meet her favorite player.
“He was like ‘how are you,'” she said.
Reiver attended the game with her father; the family has had subscriptions for 41 years.
Simmons had friendlier faces in the Brooklyn 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 behind him, hugging him and enjoying this moment,” said Vaughn.
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