Pinned to his chair by an arc of intrusive reporters, Ben Simmons sat in his pants with his left foot jammed in a bucket of ice. This is how it is for the iridescent pin-up of the NBA’s coming generation. Even in semi-distress and with thoughts only of the shower and treatment to his ankle, the Philadelphia 76ers’ all-court fulcrum submitted to the scrutiny.
Interest in Simmons is never less than intense, and that’s before you factor in a dash of Kardashian glamour. Philadelphia is a special place but arguably not Kendall Jenner’s first pick when choosing where to hang at weekends unless, of course, sister Kim is emptying Macy’s or Simmons, her partner, is rocking the Wells Fargo Centre off its hinges, as he did for the second time in three days against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night.
Alongside previous rookie of the year Joel Embiid as well as Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, the 22-year-old Australian son of an American baller is the nascent talisman of a group seeking to pump the Sixers full of lost lustre. In his best American idiom, Sixers coach Brett Brown offered this loving testimonial to Simmons following a victory that extended the best home record in the NBA.
“What I do know is this: There were a few things that happened tonight that were – not being overly dramatic – defining moments. [There was a] back tip and coming up with the steal in transition. The game’s in the balance, but he stalked that down, and his breakaway speed we’ve seen on offense, but you saw it on defense.
“His defensive mindfulness. His willingness to […] let TJ [McConnell] have the ball and make passes out of the elbow and do stuff. Like all of those things stood out. He’s moving in a really clear, positive direction. For me I feel it, I see it as well, but I feel it. He was our bell-ringer tonight.” Ding, dong.
Sport is as fundamental to Philadelphia as the founding fathers who declared America’s independence 242 years ago in the Pennsylvania State House at the corner of 6th and Chestnut. Separate stadiums housing franchises from each of America’s big-four sports, including the reigning Super Bowl champions the Eagles, occupy a southside cluster off Broad Street. On Sunday night, it was the Sixers’ turn to flood the dreamscape with intoxicating possibilities.
On the up
Only three NBA titles, the last in 1983, is a poor return for one of the nation’s historic institutions. Though those stout defenders of the posts, Embiid and Butler – both built like toilet doors – the injured Markelle Fultz and the sylph-like menacer of hoops, Redick, forge a fearsome brotherhood, it is around Simmons, a 6ft 10ins, 100kg, snake-hipped approximation to football’s Neymar, that hope is soaring.
Rakish, sinewy thrusts that open fissures others don’t see allow him to insinuate his way towards the ring like water through limestone. Once he nails with greater frequency the free shots he draws from fouls against, basketball’s MVP riches will surely be his.
“Yeah. I feel like I’ve always been the type of person to want to lead so I don’t think that’s new to me, or being in a situation where I have to be more vocal or tell people my opinion. I think it’s happening more often because I’m in situations where I need to be a better leader and I think that I’m just learning from that,” he said acknowledging his growing influence.
This is year two of the Sixers resurrection after the strategic down years instigated in 2013 by former coach Sam Hinkie to riskily run down performance in order to rebuild through a draft system that aids ailing teams. Hinkie is no longer in place to reap the rewards, but a squad reconstituted by high hanging fruit and smart trades bears testimony to his radical thinking.
Follow us on Facebook: @iPaperSport
“I think we’re just getting better offensively and defensively. We’re getting better chemistry and trusting each other a lot more,” Simmons said, before finally extricating himself from the huddle, and his pants, and making for the shower.
ESPN brings UK fans extensive coverage of the NBA regular season, playoffs and the NBA Finals, including game highlights, breaking news, interviews and in-depth analysis, on ESPN.co.uk and the ESPN app.
The post Meet Ben Simmons: The man bringing NBA glory back to Philadelphia appeared first on inews.co.uk.