clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ben Simmons returns to Philly... shall we reflect on the Process era’s most vexed & volatile chapter?

There will be no Joel Embiid, not even James Harden or Tyrese Maxey. But there will be some extra juice in the arena for the return of the Sixers’ former first overall pick.

Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks - Game Three Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Last May, Jimmy Butler came to town and we had to look back at the post-Process era’s biggest what if....

Now, Ben Simmons is visiting Philadelphia, for the first time as a player who will (presumably) play, since being traded back on Feb. 10, 2022. Fans got to serenade him with boos once, last March, but he was just sitting on the bench, dealing with a back injury that would eventually necessitate surgery. Although many fans assumed he just didn’t want to play at the scene of the Hawks Game 7 crime. Still, it wasn’t the same.

But now he’ll be out there. Granted, it’s a little harder to care this time around. Many fans are understandably bemoaning the current Sixers’ injury woes. James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid all have foot injuries. And while we’re busy wondering how many injured feet one franchise can possibly endure, it’s impossible not to reflect on Ben, who famously missed what would have been his rookie season with a foot fracture.

But with all that’s going on in the world, who really has the energy to passionately boo an injury-prone “point” forward with no hint of a jump shot on some other team anyway? Maybe we won’t even notice he’s coming?

Granted, if Embiid were out there, the game’s juice-o-meter would be off the charts, but still.

Let’s use our imaginations and make this a little more fun than it might be in reality, shall we?

Imagine you were magically granted court side tickets to the Sixers-Nets game tonight by an eccentric billionaire. Some biotech mogul is swooping in to pick you up via chopper, and all your snacks and beverages will be comped for the whole night. The catch is that this person isn’t a basketball fan. And he or she (let’s go with she) asks you in a musical accent you can’t quite seem to place “you need to explain me what they do. And tell me why we have to boo somebody, my girlfriend, she told me they do the boos for tonight, one player?”

So, you have to help her understand somehow everything that’s going on in the arena on this very night.

It’ll be like the famous “all right, explain this to me like I’m a 2-year-old” line Denzel delivers in the classic movie Philadelphia, only silly.

So, where would you even begin?

“So...he used to be on this team, but then he wanted to be traded to another team. He didn’t want to be in Philly anymore. Maybe he didn’t like his teammates or coaches. He said he couldn’t play because he had mental health issues. And he never wants to shoot the ball.”

You pause to see how much of that sunk in, or if there are any questions. It was a mouthful. There’s a long pause.

Finally, she asks “And why he never want shoot the ball?”

“Maybe he...he doesn’t really know how and I think he’s scared to. Some people think maybe he uses the wrong hand.”

You gesture shooting lefty, in a clumsy fashion. She laughs. Connection! You’re encouraged to share more.

“He doesn’t know which hand to shoot with?”

“I think so, yeah, he should try the other hand!”

You both laugh. This is getting fun.

“And one time he’s right under the basket but he didn’t dunk it, so they make fun of him for that.”

“Why he didn’t dunk it? He doesn’t know which hand to use?”

“LOL, maybe. I think he was too scared, because if you foul him, he has to shoot the free throws, and he never makes them.”

She nods, while you wonder if you should explain free throws. But you decide to bring that up when the Sixers send Ben to the line. That’s when things should reallllly get interesting.

“Oh, and you see that guy with the beard and the glasses across the court?”

“Him? With the Chianti?”

“Yeah, he’s injured, his foot hurts, but they traded Ben, the one we boo, for him. So now we all have to boo Ben, and we cheer for him, James.”

“OK. We have to cheer for him? With the beard?”

“Yeah..... but just not tonight.”

She makes a curious face that quickly morphs into a satisfied look. These biotech folks process info very quickly, you gauge. She tells you her girlfriend told her this will be the perfect “Philly sports experience.” And you agree. You’ve come to the right place on the right night, you think to yourself, and munch some popcorn.

So you both start to watch the game and you both boo. You can’t help but smile when you hear her joyous, blissfully unaware of any Hawks Game 7 boos.

And then the game starts and it’s almost a bit anticlimactic because, well, there are no Sixers stars out there. It’s literally like Kevin Durant squaring off against Shake Milton. And that’s when it happens. Your mind wanders.

That image of the lottery party.

The broken feet. Ben Simmons, Rookie of the Year, and good times with Dario Saric. Robert Covington. T.J. McConnell. Raise that...weird feral cat Ben kept as a pet?

Besting LeBron for the three seed, as a rook. Life was so high. There’s gonna be a lot of rings on these fingers.

“Ring that bell, Brother.”

But it wasn’t all rosey. Ben’s one-point game vs. the Boston Celtics. Marco Belinelli’s toe on the line, sad confetti.

Expiring shot clocks. Forced, awkward dribble hand offs, trying to spring JJ Redick for a game-winning jumper because we had nothing else in the bag. A No. 1 pick and all he needed was a middy, a corner three and maybe 75 percent from the stripe and he could legit be a top-10, if not top-five player! Doesn’t he want that? He shares an agent with LeBron! C’Mon! Absorb some of that!

Us fans, collectively fighting against the national TV narrative he and Embiid hate each other on Twitter. Arguing why defense is super underrated, and a DPOY candidate whose pretty good offensively is more valuable than a one way blah blah blah....

His odd, defensive comments of not wanting to work on his jump shot, not needing to. Brett Brown’s public challenge to tell Rich Paul he wants him to shoot threes! Then still not trying to. Reports he was working with his brother and not a team shooting coach. A horrific front office’s terrible decision to not do everything possible to keep Jimmy, and how that related to Ben wanting the ball.

Back injuries, knee injuries, more aloof comments. Living behind “a glass wall.” The pass. The Pass. The Pass. The pass. Arguing if the team should get a cheap stretch big like a Bobby Portis, or if that’s too much to ask to accommodate his unique game. Could he be Giannis light? GTFOH.

For a time, during the good Ben days, Sixers fans fought with each other tooth and nail about how to build around him, yet always banded together to attack outside haters who weren’t Sixers fans. Should they build around him or Embiid? Which coach would better serve them if Brett goes? Mike D’Antoni or Ty Lue?

De’Anthony Melton drains a three and you snap out of your haze.

Stop being dramatic, you tell yourself. This isn’t LeBron returning to Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat, or KD visiting OKC. Ben never was on that level. You almost feel a twinge of guilt for even dignifying this dude with a full arena’s chorus of boos. Shouldn’t we save this type of passion for someone else? Like Wario Shamet, at least he never refused an open look.

You pride yourself on not having Ben Simmons derangement syndrome. Maybe if Joel were out there, I’d FEEL more, you think. You realize you may have neglected your host who begins checking multimillion dollar deals on her phone you figure, then she puts it away again, and smiles at you politely.

Say something you doofus. Fill the silence.

“It sounds like some people are chanting ‘Shoot you coward’ you go with it. She seems to like that. “They calling him a coward?” “Lol, yeah.” She smiles and joins in.

This is awesome, play your cards right and maybe she’ll need you to decode an Eagles playoff game down the road! See their fans chant ‘Skol’ but we chant ‘Foles.’

The rest of the evening is a fog. You decode and decipher more creative anti-Ben chants that break out over the game. You explain why everyone went so crazy when Ben won everybody lots of chicken in the second half, by bricking at the line. You think about but spare her some of the goriest details at the end.

You skip over the the long-forgotten final months before that final bitter divorce.

You skip the Jake Fischer scoops like:

“Mending the dynamic between Rivers and Simmons would appear as crucial a step as any in phasing the All-Star back into Philadelphia.… But by all accounts, the head coach, a former point guard, has never managed to build a strong rapport with Simmons.”

You spare her the:

“In the preseason, even then people were saying to me they wouldn’t be surprised if Daryl moved on from Doc kind of as like a mea culpa with Ben and as a way to show that they’re willing to help make it work and create an environment that would be more welcoming to Ben to come back.”

Whatever, all failed marriages have their warts, right?

“Later, at Paul’s home, Rivers even shouted, “It’s in your f—king contract” to report and play for Philadelphia, sources told B/R.”


Rivers, at one point, shot back, reminding Simmons that he was under contract.

“You’re not hearing what I’m saying. You never hear what I’m saying,” Simmons replied. He remained frustrated that, in his view, Rivers had never apologized for his comments after the Hawks’ loss. “You never listen.”

Man this thing got ugly, didn’t it?

Ultimately, this is a story of great process returning some less-than-ideal results. But even in one of the worst-case scenarios, they were still able to trade Simmons for James Harden. You look back over at that shaggily-groomed superstar and beam with appreciation as he sips his own wine on the sidelines of an NBA game. (We’re still playing imagination, aren’t we?)

You look at your seat mate still booing cheerfully, deep into the fourth, hoping she got the real “Philly Sports” experience, but deep down you feel you came up short. You just couldn’t possibly have explained the complex tenor of how this all played out. Couldn’t describe how hard we had once cheered, and why that eventually morphed from unbridled optimism, to excitement, to disappointment, to disgust, to a whiff of stale apathy.

I used to argue he was better than Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell and Brandon Ingram with a passion. I should probably delete those tweets.

What a weird chapter of The Process that was. But I kinda wish we could go back and do it again anyway... just with a few changes.

She choppers you home, and you log online to play some FIFA against User Name ‘JoHansGOAT21.’

It was a good day and you can’t even remember the Nets probably whipped your Sixers skeleton crew by 15.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Liberty Ballers Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Philadelphia 76ers news from Liberty Ballers