There was no video, thankfully. Because if there was, the building would’ve spontaneously combusted and melted into a puddle of scorn.

Ben Simmons, quite frankly, didn’t deserve a tribute, anyway. In the eyes of all the 76ers fans who had one of the hottest tickets ever in the City of Brotherly Love’s storied sports history, the only thing Simmons deserved in his hyped return was the heaviest chorus of boos you’ll ever hear.

Inside Wells Fargo Center Thursday night, the spectacle wasn’t the basketball being played between rivals fighting for seeding in the Eastern Conference. It was all about the conspicuously dressed Simmons, sitting on the Brooklyn bench with zero intentions of suiting up for the first time with his new squad. It was all about seeing if he would squirm when the chants got spicy or react to any of the venom spewed by the notoriously acerbic Philly fans.  

Simmons didn’t. He was civil while Sixers fans were indignant. Philadelphia will probably forever be that way with Simmons whenever he’s in town. We all know why. Now can we please move on with our collective lives?  

Because maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’d prefer if every showdown between the Nets and 76ers moving forward was about the basketball and not about the reality-show-worthy bullshit that’s engulfed the two franchises all season long. Thursday felt like a “Real Housewives” reunion where months of pent-up emotions and bottled-up bad energy were finally unleashed on Simmons.

“How many people go into an arena and get booed by the entire place?” Nets coach Steve Nash said during the team’s shootaround. “I had it done to me and I thought it was a privilege.”

The only difference was Nash was playing in those games—he wasn’t trying to handle the hatred of nearly 20,000 people while simultaneously dealing with mental health issues, unable to shut up the crowd with his own actions. But Simmons, still working his way back from a prolonged absence related to mental health and most recently an injury—but most especially a deep desire to get the hell outta Philly forever—took the jeers like a champ while his new teammates played like juggernauts.

If you care about the game itself, then let’s take a moment to acknowledge the 129-100 spanking the Nets handed the Sixers. Kevin Durant led the way for Brooklyn with 25 while former Sixer Seth Curry had 24 and Kyrie Irving had 22. Joel Embiid put up 27, but the rest of the Sixers were afterthoughts as Brooklyn picked up a big win in their attempt to keep climbing up the standings of the East. 

But understandably, all the intrigue was about Simmons and the reaction the offensively challenged point guard would receive from fans still smarting over his spectacular flame-out in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. That, of course, was soon followed by an offseason trade request, an acrimonious holdout, and too many sources to count who claimed to know everything and anything about Simmons and his desire to never play for the 76ers again.

Simmons knew, and his new team knew, the crowd would be brutal. Sixers fans—at least one fan was ejected—showed up in full force to serenade the former franchise cornerstone with sonnets of hate. Like the “Fuck Ben Simmons” chorus that broke out at 10:27 mark of the first quarter. It wasn’t the first, nor was it the last.

 

“It’s hard to chant at Ben Simmons when you’re losing by that much.” — Kevin Durant

 

Ask any Sixers fan or Philadelphia native their thoughts on Simmons, and the drama he fostered with his former team and you knew no Kyrie sage burning session would be strong enough to cleanse the arena of the bad vibes and vitriol waiting to be unleashed on him. 

Simmons entered the arena a few minutes shy of 5:30 p.m. ET without any teammates or coaches flanking him. Standing out in a loud Louis Vuitton black and yellow sweater (retail price: $1,370), Lightning 4s, and a big pink carry-all, comically scowling right back at the cameras outside the Visitor’s locker room stationed there specifically to capture his arrival. Less than 20 seconds later, Kevin Durant and Andre Drummond strolled through the same corridor. Nobody cared. Photos and videos of Simmons making his inauspicious return were all that mattered.

The atmosphere was charged, and the stars certainly showed up for the highly anticipated matchup, including Allen Iverson, Julius Irving, Meek Mill, Lil Baby, and Travis Scott. Around the concourse a little more than an hour before tip, no clowns showed up wearing a Simmons Sixers jerseys—it was, as expected, a sea of Philly red, white, and blue Embiid, Charles Barkley, Dr. J, and AI jerseys. No derogatory Simmons chants broke out. Meanwhile, one level below the concourse, Public Enemy No. 1 paced outside the Nets’ locker room in Brooklyn practice gear, talking to somebody about something on speakerphone, occasionally peeking out to catch a glimpse of the arena that was beginning to fill-up.

Then, with 55 minutes to go before the game’s scheduled start, Simmons took the floor and the boos rained down on him like a tropical storm. Hard boos. Loud boos. The kind that will make your head hurt. Almost every seat within shouting distance of the court prominently featured an “NBA Code of Conduct” flyer outlining forbidden behaviors. Many ignored the instructions.

Every time Simmons—the former No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft who made three All-Star squads, two All-Defensive teams, and was named to an All-NBA team during his days with the Sixers—touched the ball during warmups, as he helped Patty Mills work up a pre-game lather, Philly fans jeered. A few yelled “Shoot it” whenever Simmons stood solo at the top of the arc, mocking his offensive deficiency. Soon after, a long, loud boo coursed through the arena while Simmons traipsed around the 3-point line, palming a basketball. If you looked closely enough, you could see him flash a sly smile.

“He looked happy to be here,” Nash said after the game. “I think he was happy to get it out of the way.”

More boos came during halftime when Simmons dapped up some of the Sixers’ personnel—including coach Doc Rivers who said he thought Simmons deserved a tribute video. But the “Fuck Ben Simmons” chants never returned in the second half. The Nets were too busy hammering the Sixers, opening up a 32-point lead at the end of the third quarter, for Sixers fans to keep mouthing off.

Durant and Irving acknowledged post-game that the Nets were absolutely playing for Simmons since he couldn’t go out there to quiet the crowd himself. “Ben was on our heart,” Irving said. The Nets wanted to pick up their brother in the most hostile of environments and they did it by lighting up Philly’s defense and keeping James Harden at bay. Brooklyn came out firing from the start and didn’t let up. By the fourth quarter, Brooklyn’s bench was laughing. They made things a helluva lot breezier for Ben.

“It’s hard to chant at Ben Simmons when you’re losing by that much” Durant said.