May 23, 2016
The bandwagon is finally rolling again for the Sixers after three excruciating years, but there’s a pothole up ahead. It has a name: Ben Simmons.
That’s right. The biggest prize after losing 199 games, on purpose, over the past three seasons will be no prize at all. If indeed the Sixers fulfill the predictions of most NBA experts and select the LSU enigma with the first pick in the draft next month, all of our suffering will have been in vain.
Because Ben Simmons is not going to be the next Allen Iverson. In fact, he has a much better chance of becoming the next Shawn Bradley.
How can I – hardly an expert on college basketball – be so sure of this bold forecast? After 40 years in sports media, let’s just say I have learned that disasters have a distinct pattern. Ben Simmons fits the prototype of draft busts, a gifted athlete with overpowering character flaws – far too many character flaws.
For example, when he played on the Australian national basketball team, he acquired a nickname: The Yank. This was not a term of endearment. Aussies see Americans as selfish, obnoxious non-conformists. Simmons didn’t listen to coaches. Because he was so talented, he felt a sense of entitlement.
Then he got to LSU, and the imperfections became even easier to detect. Yes, he averaged 19 points a game and 12 rebounds, but he was known to pad his stats late in blowouts, he resisted instruction and he preferred not to take the biggest shots in games, even though he was the best player on a mediocre team.
By the way, he is also a poor outside shooter, has an aversion to defense and, at 19, has maturity issues reminiscent of two current Sixer head cases, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. If coach Brett Brown thinks a player drowning in Shirley Temples or racing 108 mph over the Ben Franklin Bridge is nuts, wait until he meets Ben Simmons.
Oh, wait. Brown has met Simmons because he coached his father in Australia many years ago. Brown has already offered nothing but platitudes for the kid whose family he knows so well. He even compared Simmons to Magic Johnson last week.
Good luck with that one. Magic Johnson was more than just an exquisite collection of magnificent physical skills. He was a warrior. The bigger the game, the higher he rose. I don’t have to remind anyone of the time he destroyed the Sixers while playing center in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, do I?
Ben Simmons has exhibited none of those leadership qualities. I know what you’re thinking. Give the kid a break; he’s only 19. The problem is, there is no room for sympathy at the top of the draft. Remember, when the Sixers picked Bradley No. 2 in 1993, his 7-6 frame reminded people of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Of course, we know the rest. He was softer than a kitten. In the end, he fell victim to an addiction to fast food and a distaste for working hard. He amounted to nothing.
Scouts can measure height, vertical leap and foot speed, but they have a much harder time with character. At 6-10, Simmons is tall enough, fast enough and smart enough. But is he committed enough? Will pockets filled with money make him more determined to succeed, or even less so?
The answers to those questions should be obvious by now. The Sixers waited three years to get the best young player in America. Ben Simmons is definitely not that player.
Sam Bradford had a chance to cut his losses last week, to use his fan-unfriendly holdout as the springboard to a new relationship with Eagles enthusiasts.
Instead, he made a bad situation worse. He blamed his agent.
Over the course of his disappointing seven-year career in the NFL, Bradford has learned very little about the psychology of fans, especially those in Philadelphia. Somehow, in a blue-collar sports city like ours, he thought it was a good idea to point the finger at super-agent Tom Condon for his two-week absence from the team.
“Obviously, my agent felt at the time of the (Carson Wentz) trade ... (the holdout) was the best option,” the quarterback said. “Then, after those two weeks, we realized this was the best place for me.”
Note the way Bradford phrased that answer. The boycott was Condon’s idea, and then “we” – namely, he – decided to come back. That comment alone puts Bradford in the running for biggest weasel in recent Eagles history, among many other missteps.
Consider the facts: He took $22 million in guaranteed money in March for a two-year contract, then threw a tantrum because the Eagles hedged their bet with Wentz, then walked out on the team, then refused to discuss his actions publicly for a full week after he returned, and then blamed his agent.
This pattern of behavior, rest assured, is not winning him any new fans. In fact, based on calls to my WIP radio show over the past few weeks, it’s hard to imagine he has any supporters left. Of all the negative qualities an athlete here can have, cowardice is one of the worst.
Bradford has earned nothing in his season-plus in Philadelphia – not the starting quarterback job, not the respect of his teammates and certainly not the allegiance of the fans. His decision to blame his agent – a man he hired to represent him – was just the latest indignity in a career filled with them.
If Sam Bradford makes it to the home opener at Lincoln Financial Field – with his injury history, you can never be sure – he can expect a loud, brutal response to his gutless actions.
And if he throws an interception during that first possession of the season, he will understand, in no uncertain terms, just how many enemies he has made in our city.
Although the Phillies are still years away from greatness again – who loses a series to Atlanta these days? – their fans have enjoyed a charmed life when it comes to the broadcast booth. First, they had the iconic duo of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, and now they have Scott Franzke and Larry Anderson.
That’s right. I’m putting the current radio tandem in the same sentence as the most revered announcing team in Phillies history.
Kalas and Ashburn were together, offering their addictive, low-key patter for 26 years. Their chemistry was unrivaled, as was their respect and admiration for one another. There would never be another team like them, or so we thought.
But now, a generation later, there is. Franzke and Anderson are an updated version of Kalas and Ashburn – understated (unless the umpires are having a bad game), often funny, always entertaining, and as comfortable as your favorite pair of shoes. Just like their predecessors.
I asked both of them last week during a memorable hour on my WIP radio show what effect working with Kalas had on them. Franzke said the legend’s willingness to let the game breathe – to invite nothing more than crowd noise sometimes between pitches – was one of the biggest lessons he learned from his time with Kalas.
Anderson is not as analytical as Franzke about such matters, but he is naturally close in style to Ashburn, mixing his curmudgeonly personality with a knack for knowing when to react with anger or joy. Just like Ashburn, he connects with the fans because, underneath the crusty exterior, he is one.
Believe it or not, Franzke and Ashburn are celebrating their 10th year together this season. The truth is, we’re the ones who should be celebrating.
And finally …
• Scott O’Neill is a man without shame. After the Sixers won the first pick in the draft lottery, the CEO staged a celebration at the Art Museum that included unveiling a No. 1 jersey. And all it took for these geniuses to achieve this amazing feat was losing 72 of 82 games this season. Maybe they should hold off on the party until they actually get something right.
• As Ryan Howard’s batting average dwells well below the Mendoza line (.161 right now), the obvious question is how much longer manager Pete Mackanin will stick with the aging slugger. Mackanin has not hidden the fact that he wants to see what Tommy Joseph can do with a regular spot in the lineup. It’s time, Pete. It’s time.
• On the same week that the Eagles rebuilt another playground, they took a major hit from Temple critics who are accusing them of gouging the school on rent for Lincoln Financial Field. The Birds are doubling, from $1 million to $2 million, the annual charge, plus demanding $12 million up front. If the Eagles really want to be good neighbors, they will stop this nonsense now.
• Here’s some advice for Eagles fans who are worried about the Redskins: Don’t be. Last week, ex-Washington coach Mike Shanahan revealed that his former quarterback, Robert Griffin III, informed the staff two seasons ago that he was removing 19 plays from the playbook – at the urging of owner Daniel Snyder. As long as Snyder is around, the Redskins will fail. Bet on it.
• The biggest mystery surrounding the Eagles right now is why Darren Sproles has decided to boycott the OTAs. Initially, rumors suggested that the running back was miffed about trade rumors. Then the word was, he wanted more time with his family. Oh, please. He’s been off for four months. If his family is like mine, at this point they want less time with him.