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July 08, 2021

Breaking down Danny Green's critique of Philly sports fans: 'They can't turn on you'

The veteran free agent aired a grievance when asked about Ben Simmons and the Sixers' playoff collapse

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Danny_Green_1_Hornets_Sixers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia 76ers forward Danny Green.

Danny Green's exit from the NBA playoffs with a calf injury against the Atlanta Hawks was an underrated blow to the Sixers as their championship push unraveled in a miserable fashion — yet again.

Most of Philadelphia's ire has been directed at Ben Simmons and Doc Rivers — virtually all teams suffer from injuries and it's part of the game — but it's hard not to imagine how the Hawks series might have gone had Green been on the floor as an offensive outlet and veteran presence.

The three-time NBA champion is a pending free agent, another piece of the offseason puzzle that Daryl Morey and the Sixers brain trust will have to evaluate as they plan for next season.

And for the most part, Green was pretty engaged and honest in his first year as a Sixer. His "Green Room" show was an insightful and interesting look behind the curtain at the mindset of the players and the perspective of a guy who has had a lot of postseason success in the NBA. Green has generally been well-liked and appreciated by the Sixers fan base for his leadership on the court, understanding of the game and timely shooting.

But this week, Green took a bit of a swipe at Philadelphia sports fans for being overzealous to the point of harshness, in his opinion.

Appearing on John Clark's "Takeoff" podcast with NBC Sports Philadelphia, Green expressed some of his frustration with the fans and their reaction to Ben Simmons' playoff face-plant. Here's a transcript from NBC Sports Philadelphia:

CLARK: Do you think the crowd, and Philly, can have an effect on someone like Ben in those moments?

GREEN: For sure. It has an effect on everybody, and I think that's something that needs to change in the city. I love our fans, but when things aren't going well, they can't turn on you. That's the one thing I would disagree with or dislike. Some guys use it as motivation, some guys have a chip on their shoulder, but I think that needs to change. They need to be riding with us, regardless of how things are going.

We're the No. 1 team in the East, still playing well, and in some games they'll boo us - that's part of the culture here, part of their way of showing they love us - but with a guy like Ben, and other guys, I think they need to stick behind them and stick by them as long as they can, until the horn blows. And even then, he's here. He's given so much to the organization and the city, on and off the court, that he deserves that respect and that support.

I hope that thing turns for him and the city of Philly, so where they don't have that mantra as fans of being cold, rough, and one of the worst in the league, because we had a great time this year, we had a great outing. When they came and allowed fans back into the building it was amazing, they had amazing energy, which we needed and I loved. I hope that changes for him, and for the city.  [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

As might be expected, many people already have objected to these comments and the characterization of the fans not supporting Simmons, who got roaring cheers for simply going to the foul line and making one of two.

There are a few things to unpack here.

First, Green is probably barking up the wrong tree and should simply know better than to cover for failure with any kind of reference to the fans. Their contribution to the aura of a team is far from zero, but ultimately, it's the guys on the court who have to perform and rise above the adversity of the game itself. Even President Biden knows Philly fans are obnoxious, but generally very informed

Secondly, the lasting memory of the fans in this year's playoffs will not be the raining boos at the end of another Game 7 loss, but rather the abjectly shocked and depressed faces of people watching from the stands after huge leads have melted away. To understand the majority of fans here, you have to look that pain in the eyes. 

The revolt against Simmons, Rivers and the team collectively that followed is more about the manner in which they lost than anything else.

To Green's point, some segments of the fanbase are just plain crass and cruel. That's not unique to Philadelphia. Green and his soon-to-be bride received death threats from Lakers fans after he missed a key shot in the NBA Finals last season. That's more about the general pressure of being a professional athlete, watched and scrutinized by millions, than it is a reflection of a particular city that has gotten a bad reputation largely because its teams tend to lose in historically aggravating ways. Philly teams are rarely God-awful unless they're blatantly rebuilding, but they've also never really achieved the kind of dynasty status that would quiet the fans' discontent.

In fairness to Green, he could have been more critical than he actually was. Philly fans are going to overreact because their souls are fresh off being crushed and they're sick to death of this conversation. Green tried to balance his criticism out, at least a little bit, while still saying fans should love the team and players unconditionally. That's unrealistic and not reciprocated by players who leave cities that love them because of the business of the game. Everyone understands that, and Green at least tries to acknowledge the fans' point of view. 

"Lot of frustration over the years, I understand it. We had a golden opportunity this year, and there will be plenty for years to come with the guys you have here. But just enjoy it, love them," Green said. "I love our fans, but I try to throw things out there to let them know, 'Protect us, encourage us, stand by us like we stand by you, regardless of wins and losses.' We are humans and people, too. We're not zoo animals where you can throw things or be on our side when it's convenient. I love the city of Philly, and I love the fans. It's been quite an experience for me for the one year I've been here."

The guy is being honest about how he feels, agree or disagree, and it's simply a window into how players tend to view fans. Rooting for teams is not about the convenience of wins and losses. Riding with the team is not even necessarily about execution. It's about a genuine assessment of the team's strategy and the effort of its players to push themselves and develop. 

Green probably feels empowered to say these things because he's got three rings, he's a free agent, and he's become more of a mercenary at this stage in his career than a hype man. Dwight Howard's comments urging fans to support Ben Simmons weren't all that different in their overall intent, but Howard was a hype man for Philly fans all year and he carefully avoided a direct criticism of the fans.

Players think differently about the game than fans do. That's fine — and to be expected — but they also should know their audience and the situation. A spectacular playoff collapse caused by predictable shortcomings that have not been corrected is going to be booed into oblivion because fans care deeply about the team. They invest enough time and money to be legitimately sad and angry when the team comes up short, especially under these pitiful circumstances. 

It's not that Green is wrong to want Philly fans to be supportive, especially of young players. Their humanity and feelings aren't lost on anyone, and the worst aspects of sports fandom should be called out when they're toxic. Most fans try to do this work in message boards and discourage anyone being classless.    

But Green is wrong not to recognize that Philly fans already are supportive — more than most — and the inflated sense of vitriol he perceives is just a byproduct of focusing on the loudly negative segment of the fanbase. To really understand the fans' gripes, Green has to level with that look of dejection in the crowd as a 26-point lead evaporates.

That happened and it's over now. Most fans here are constructive and are already busy trying to project how the team will improve next season.

Whether or not Green chooses to remain here will say a lot about how much he's enjoyed playing for the Sixers organization and the Philadelphia fans. He had a good year, he was missed in the playoffs and the fans appreciated what he brought to the table.