“He’s still our brother.”
This is how Sixers leader Joel Embiid chose to cap off his address to the crowd before tip-off of the season opener at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Friday night.
There was no way to misconstrue Embiid’s message. He was referring to the elephant in the room that every sports personality from Philly to Fresno cannot stop talking about, the ongoing question mark surrounding Ben Simmons’ future as a member of the 76ers.
Embiid choosing to ask the Sixers faithful to continue to support not only the team but Simmons as well right now is a positive step in the right direction. Just a few days ago, Embiid was telling reporters that he didn’t care about him anymore and Simmons was getting kicked out of practice. The new outlook is likely a result of the meeting between Simmons, Embiid, head coach Doc Rivers, and the rest of the team on early Friday morning.
“That’s a first step. It’s a start. It was good to hear from him. We are better with him. I wouldn’t mind playing with him,” Embiid told NBC Sports Philadelphia reporter John Clark during Friday night’s postgame press conference.
Within the organization, things appear to be on the upswing. But out in the Wells Fargo Center parking lot ahead of Friday night’s matchup with the Brooklyn Nets, there were still fans not as ready to welcome back Simmons with open arms just yet. Bootleg T-shirt vendors scattered around the stadium’s perimeter were slanging shirts with a “Missing” poster for Simmons on the front taking jabs at his jumper, something fans have been begging him to improve since his rookie season in 2017. On the back, Simmons’ face was superimposed on the Mister Softee logo. One vendor simply said Simmons was “out of pocket,” but that he cheered for him until he started “doing all the dumbass shit.”
“At this point, just let him go,” he said regarding the Simmons situation. “It’s just gonna be hard to get a 6’10” guard with handles.”
Other fans tailgating had chosen to tweak their old jerseys and T-shirts, crossing out “Simmons” to read things like “Clown” or “Frosty Maker” (a clever nod to Simmons’ poor free throw percentage and the fan-favorite Frosty Freeze-Out promotion with Wendy’s that occurs every Sixers home game).
“If he can put his ego aside a little bit with Embiid and just know he’s our second player, we can make serious noise in the Finals,” says Eric Berman, proudly rocking a throwback Allen Iverson jersey. “He’s just got to get a jump shot. We’re not asking him to shoot threes and be Stephen Curry. Just hit some free throws. Don’t be scared to go for dunks. I don’t hate him or anything. I just think he’s being weird right now.”