The War at Home: Embracing the Toxicity of Ben Simmons Staying With the Sixers
I used to think there was basically no chance this would happen. I'd still like to think there's no chance it could happen.
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Shouts to former Rights to Ricky Sanchez sponsor The Athletic for their push alert this morning about Shams Charania's report on the ongoing Ben Simmons situation. I don't remember the exact wording of the notification, but it certainly put forth a notion of Simmons' time in Philly coming to an end sooner than later -- and yet, the actual article painted a portrait of total stasis. The Raptors? Interested, casually. The Wolves? Interested, but not giving us anything we want. The Sixers? Waiting on Damian Lillard. Damian Lillard? Waiting on... well, we're not really sure exactly what, but still waiting, anyway. Not a lot of promising developments; not a whole lot of developments, period. Despite the tease, I've never been more convinced that Simmons will start the season still on the Sixers.
I used to think there was basically no chance this would happen. I'd still like to think there's no chance it could happen; the idea of Joel Embiid showing up to the gym for training camp and seeing Ben Simmons practicing his pull-up threes gives me that first-day-of-school feeling times 100. But I have to admit that the urgency doesn't seem to be there at the moment for anything here to actually get done -- there are no longer any benchmarks of the offseason left to talk ourselves into being arbitrary Daryl Morey Decision Time deadlines. At this point, it's just empty calendar space until the offseason isn't the offseason anymore. And with the few reporters that actually might know with they're talking us offering us only the tiniest, stalest of crumbs to work with, it's hard to feel confident that we're leading inexorably towards much of anything at this point.
So given the now-unignorable possibility of Simmons starting the season here, what options do we have left as fans? Probably only one, and that's to do as Kanye West has done with increasing insufferability for the last 14 years: embrace the void.
There's no coming back for Ben Simmons with Sixers fans, we know this. I mean, yes, maybe there's some light years-distant universe in which he shows up Game One of this season now suddenly a shooting, dunking, face-crotch-thrusting Australian Badass, throwing up 25-12-12 and hitting two threes every night -- that guy would probably get over at the WFC before long. But in most universes closer to this one, Ben Simmons will show up and he will be Ben Simmons: brilliant, frustrating, arrogant, impossibly gifted and thoroughly unreliable.
And that guy is gonna get booed. He is going to get booed during player intros. He is going to get booed when he brings the ball up for the first time. He is going to get booed when he shoots, he is going to get booed when he doesn't shoot. He is going to be booed when he shies away from contact and he is going to get booed when he goes to the free throw line and splits a pair. When he checks out, he's going to get booed, and when he checks back in he's going to get booed. The sound of boos is basically going to be Ben Simmons' producer tag, announcing his presence wherever he goes. Even in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Booing, it is going to be some serious shit.
Normally, this is a thing I would fight, or at least bemoan. But in this case, I think the only choice is to welcome it. Sixers fans have spent the entire offseason working themselves into a lather over Simmons, the unceremonious way his season ended and the hopefully expedited way his entire Phillies tenure would be ending shortly after. There's no talking any of us down at this point, and expecting Ben to be the one to change in this relationship is... not a likelihood supported by the evidence previously available. So until we hear differently, we're stuck with each other, and we're stuck with booing. We all might as well get into it.
It might not be so bad. Two-way antagonistic relationships in sports fandom can be fun, or at least objectively funny. The Mets can try to de-spice Javier Baez and his compatriots by forbidding them from giving the thumbs down to their fans, but honestly, getting to boo Baez and hearing it back from him is probably all Mets fans have to look forward to for the rest of this season. Same pretty much when the Phillies Phaithful turned on Sean "Entitled Fans" Rodriguez a couple years back, booing him mercilessly even/especially as he was making game-saving plays for the Fightins on their long season-ending journey to the middle. When cheering a winning team isn't a viable option, getting outraged by a middling one is about as good a substitute as you're getting.
But aren't the Sixers supposed to be a winning team, you ask? Ostensibly -- but as long as Simmons is one of our pillars, experience suggests we can't have much reasonable hope at true playoff title contention, and we've gone about as far as we can go as a feel-good regular-season story. So rather than go to couples therapy and try to save a marriage that isn't really worth saving in the first place, there's no real harm in just getting all the nastiness out in the open. At the very least, it won't allow Morey the luxury of talking himself into there being any kind of long-term future in the relationship.
And for fans watching from home, it should make for fascinating viewing. I've always enjoyed it when generally comforting, feel-good TV shows get into uncomfortably dark stretches. Marissa Cooper turns her back on Ryan and Summer and starts sleeping with Volchok. Matt Saracen begins drinking with Riggins and mouthing off to Coach Taylor at practice. Vinny Chase gets deep into drugs and drinking and ignores the warnings of his entire crew. These dark patches never last particularly long -- particularly not on Entourage, because that was a show by and for cowards -- but they take you to pretty interesting places as a fan while they're happening, telling you something new about the people involved and about yourself. It's character-building, in just about every sense.
So yeah. As longtime Sixers Twitter fixture @SnowmanEmbiid put it, if we can't trade Ben then we go to war with him. It'll be weird, it'll be wild, and hopefully it'll be over before too long. But in the meantime, we'll be the scourge of the thinkpieces and daytime talk shows, we'll make Danny Green wish he signed in China, and we'll probably get an extra three years tacked onto to how long everyone thinks the tanking era of the Process lasted. In the absence of a truly contending team to root for, it sounds like a good enough time.