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PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons knew exactly the type of reception he was going to get from Sixers fans Tuesday night inside Wells Fargo Center. After going through a contentious divorce with the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, forcing his way out of Philadelphia before the start of last season, he knew fans would loudly show their anger in a variety of ways.
But after nearly racking up a triple-double with 11 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds for the Brooklyn Nets in a 115-106 loss to the Sixers, Simmons said he was just glad he cleared another emotional hurdle in his return.
“I feel like I’m in a good place,” 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. It’s frustrating to lose a game like that, but I think it’s a good step forward.”
As was the case last season, when Simmons sat out the Nets’ win over the Sixers while rehabbing a back injury, fans chanted “F— Ben Simmons!” throughout the night and booed him whenever he brought the ball up the floor.
After it was over Tuesday, Simmons couldn’t help but smile at the reception, saying, “I thought it was going to be louder.”
While Simmons admitted he would probably get the same response in Philadelphia “forever,” given the way he left the team and the city, his Brooklyn teammates and coaches were proud of the way he embraced the moment and cleared the next hurdle in his recovery after offseason back surgery.
“I think it is a mental hurdle that you have to get over,” Nets guard Kyrie Irving said of Simmons. “He played extremely well a game ago and then came in tonight, I think he played well tonight. And we just got to be there for one another and support each other.”
Nets star forward Kevin Durant, who went through a similar return game when he went back to Oklahoma City for the first time in February 2017 after signing with the Golden State Warriors, shared Irving’s sentiment.
“There’s a lot of emotions,” Durant said. “You just want to play well. We know the fans are going to be involved and get excited — not get excited, but just bring their best. But that’s in every arena. Everybody wants to see our team fail. Nobody likes Ben, nobody likes Ky, nobody likes myself, so it might be like that at every road arena.
“So it’s just something we got to deal with. But I thought [Simmons] did a great job of just handling it and playing his game, and we had chances to win, but we just didn’t.”
Asked why he thinks so many people don’t like the Nets, Durant said, “It’s a lot of stuff that probably factor into it. But when NBA fans don’t like you, they really got love for you. It’s just misplaced love, I guess. But we get it. At the end of the day, people enjoy watching us play.”
Durant noted that Philadelphia fans treated Simmons the way they did simply because he decided he wanted to play for another team in another city.
“I think they all just had a lot of great memories with Ben and they don’t like how it ended,” Durant said, adding that Sixers fans “want to voice their frustration.”
“They feel like they’re part of the team, they’re part of the league, so fans want to be heard,” he said. “The last decade in the NBA a lot of fans have been heard with social and just how we highlight the fans nowadays. You got to appreciate both sides. That’s part of the game. I think Ben understands that. We all understand that. The fans really respect us as men, but there’s a part of sports [that includes] heckling, being targeted out there. It’s all a part of it.”