Ben Simmons has shrugged off - quite literally - the boos from Philadelphia 76ers fans in his first game for the Brooklyn Nets in his former NBA hometown on Wednesday. Despite a chorus of jeers raining down on him even during the team's warm-up, the much-maligned Aussie has faced up to the franchise he was traded away from just under a year ago.
Fans in Philadelphia have had it out for Simmons ever since the 2021 Eastern Conference semi-finals, in which his disastrous free-throw shooting and eventual reluctance to shoot the ball helped cost the 76ers an long-awaited conference finals appearance.
Simmons subsequently elected to sit out the 2021/2022 NBA season, refusing to report to 76ers training camp and eventually being sent home when he did. The saga ultimately lead to Simmons being fined by the team for his failure to appear, before the matter was eventually settled as he sought assistance for mental health concerns.
The saga stretched on through until the NBA trade deadline, where Simmons was packaged along with Seth Curry in exchange for former MVP James Harden. Simmons has already returned to Philadelphia once with the Nets, but sat on the sidelines in street clothes for that game.
His return to Philadelphia was cushioned somewhat by injuries keeping the 76ers' trio of stars - Harden, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey - off the court for the early season clash between Eastern Conference contenders.
An early trip to the free throw line could potentially have posed a problem - but Simmons knocked down his first two to register Brooklyn's first points of the game and momentarily silence the raucous crowd. In a cheeky response to his newfound confidence at the line, Simmons offered the crowd a mild shrug as he ran back on defence.
Despite the build-up, ESPN commentator and former NBA coach Stan van Gundy quipped he'd seen NBA fans treat players much worse.
“I expected better from Philly, quite honestly. These boos aren’t that loud or prolonged, this is not a good night from the Sixers as far as boos. I’ve heard better,” he said.
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) November 23, 2022
couldn’t have been a better start to this game for Ben Simmons. his teammates came to play for him.
— Chandler Parsons (@ChandlerParsons) November 23, 2022
Well, he looks like Normal Ben Simmons which I certainly didn't think would ever happen again.
— Spike Eskin (@SpikeEskin) November 23, 2022
Ben Simmons finding his feet after lengthy NBA hiatus
After a rocky start to the season with the Nets, Simmons looks like he may have turned something of a corner of late. He has scored in double-digits in each of his past three games, including 22 points on 11-13 shooting against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.
It's a remarkable turnaround from the start of the season, in which he fouled out in his first two games before eventually sitting out another few with a knee complaint. He came off the bench when he returned as questioned remained over his willingness to shoot the ball.
It would appear something has clicked for him of late, while the Nets have responded well after a humiliating 153-121 beatdown at the hands of the Sacramento Kings last week. Simmons logged his first double-digit scoring night of the season with 11 points, followed by 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in a win against Portland.
He also added five assists and eight boards in Brooklyn's victory over Memphis. Appearing to be much more assertive on the court, Simmons' progress has been encouraged by some who have sharply criticised him over the past 12 months.
Simmons said it had been a slow process of getting his body back in sync with his mind.
“My mind is telling me, ‘Go be you,’” Simmons told ESPN. ”But then my body’s trying to catch up. So it feels like I’m just progressing each day, each game. Just building up.
“I‘m still trying to get a rhythm, find my pace. It’s easy to be like ... before the injury, (I) was one of the best defenders (in the league), and now, I’ve got to relearn a lot of things, rebuild. It takes time, but you move through it.”
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