Ben Simmons anticipated a hostile environment on Tuesday night when he took the court in South Philly for the first time since the 2021 NBA Playoff run.
Although Simmons got a taste of what was to come in his return to the Wells Fargo Center last season when he sat on the bench during Brooklyn’s victory over Philadelphia, Simmons knew that all of the pent-up aggression toward him after last season’s drama hadn’t blown over ahead of his first game against his former team on Tuesday night.
Hours before tip-off on Tuesday, Simmons revealed he felt good and locked in being back in Philly. While he knew he wouldn’t receive a warm reception, Simmons was ready for what was to come.
Plenty of boos rained in when Simmons was introduced as a member of the Nets’ starting five before the game. Every time the three-time All-Star touched the ball, the crowd let him hear it then as well. And when Simmons was whistled to gain a trip to the free throw line, Philly fans celebrated as they embraced the opportunity to distract rather than encourage him when shooting foul shots.
Tuesday’s game was certainly a significant hurdle Simmons had to overcome. After he wrapped the night up, the three-time All-Star remained in good spirits despite dealing with the hostile environment.
“I feel like I'm in a good place, you know, for me to come in here and just play basketball,” Simmons said after the game. “I’m happy. I'm doing what I love, so to be out there and have that experience was amazing. Obviously, it wasn't the result we wanted, especially to lose a game like that. But you know, I think it's a good step forward.”
With Simmons finally playing in Philadelphia for the first time since the trade last season, the awkward part of his first visit back is officially in the rearview. While he’s glad to get it out of the way, he doesn’t believe the reaction towards him in South Philly will change anytime soon.
“I think it’s gonna be like this forever,” Simmons continued. “I don't really see it changing. But yeah, I think it's, you know, every opportunity to go, you know, especially an experience like this to play in Philadelphia, I haven’t played here yet. So, obviously, it's one step in the right direction for me as a player, and I think it was a good experience.”
Simmons finished the night with 11 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, and three blocks in 32 minutes. While the hostile environment didn’t get to his head, Simmons and the Nets struggled to overcome the shorthanded Sixers, who had several notable absences on Tuesday night. As a result, the Sixers spoiled the return of Ben by winning 115-106.