Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons have a LOT in common.
Both were born in Melbourne, Australia, sons of South Bronx ballers who went Down Under to play professionally. Both returned to the U.S. as children, were coached in high school by the legendary Kevin Boyle. Both were overall No. 1 picks and both were Rookie of the Year and were named to All-Star teams and were selected All-NBA. The two are also New Jersey residents, the only ones on the team, Irving in West Orange, Simmons in Moorestown. Taking it even further, both have been fined more than eight figures for failing to meet their contractual obligations.
And both are the objects of aversion and derision in a major East Coast city, Irving in Boston as proven this weekend and Simmons in Philadelphia where he will be the subject of boos and maybe worse at Wells Fargo Center Thursday night. He may only be on the bench but it’ll be the first time Simmons has been at the arena since last June 20 when the 76ers lost to the Hawks and he took the heat.
Steve Nash confirmed Tuesday that Simmons will be seated near him Thursday night. While Simmons has yet to talk about the return — he will have to eventually, Nash said he’s ready for the reception, what Brian Lewis calls the three realities of sport: “Death, taxes and Philadelphia hate.”
Better to rip off the band-aid now with emotions still raw, says Nash.
“I guess. We can make any number of analogies, I think it’s just something that your first time back in any city after a trade is always a little awkward and obviously there’s some history there so it is what it is,” said Nash. “He’ll be fine. He’s a big boy, he’ll be fine and he’s excited to join our team. He wants to be there on the bench with his teammates.”
After sitting out the season, citing mental health issues — and becoming the object of undying hate in the city of brotherly love, Simmons wound up on the Nets, along with Seth Curry and Andre Drummond. James Harden and Paul Millsap went in the other direction on I-95.
“I mean, it’s probably not going to be pleasant, the same as (it was for me) in Toronto,” said Goran Dragic. “But it is what it is. We are professional athletes. You know, in the end of the day, it’s only boos. So you just go out there and perform and try to do your best. But as long as it’s nothing serious, no throwing things and this or that and just be verbal, no one cares.”
Of course, it can wind up being more than boo’s. Irving had a beer thrown at him by a Celtics fan in last year’s playoff matchup ... and Irving stomped on Lucky the Leprechaun Irving at TD Garden. He said, post-game Sunday that he fully expects to get jeered at TD Garden for the rest of his career and compared Boston fans to a scorned girlfriend.
“I know it’s going to be like that the rest of my career coming in here,” said Irving on being heavily booed in Boston. “It’s like the scorned girlfriend who wants an explanation on why I left but still hoping for a text back. I’m just like, it was fun while it lasted.”
Meanwhile, Kyle Neubeck on Philly Voice reported Tuesday that there will be added security — “playoff level” — Thursday.
What will Simmons have to say following Thursday’s big game? We’ll have to wait to see if the comparisons between Irving and Simmons get further played out, Hopefully for him and Nets fans, it will worth the wait.
As for when he’ll be back on the court, that’s TBD. The Nets next practice after the Philly game will be Saturday. They play the Knicks at home on Sunday.
“It’s to be determined. I think he’s progressing this week, but I don’t know what that means as far as Saturday,” Nash said when asked about weekend practice. “So he’ll see us [Wednesday] in Philly. I don’t think he’s ready for 5-on-5 basketball but he’s improving, working out, and he’ll join us in Philly, and a few good days of rehab.”
- Ben Simmons will face savage Philadelphia boos from the Nets bench - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Ben Simmons to be on Brooklyn Nets bench against 76ers in Philadelphia; playing debut in flux - Nick Friedell - ESPN
- Ben Simmons’ grievance expected to be filed soon, with Sixers-Nets meeting as backdrop - Kyle Neubeck - Philly Voice