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Report: Ben Simmons' Possible COVID Exposure Before Hawks Game 7 Questioned by 76ers

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVOctober 15, 2021

Karwai Tang/WireImage

Some members of the Philadelphia 76ers—most notably Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid—publicly criticized Ben Simmons for his Game 7 performance in the team's second-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks in last year's playoffs.

Privately, some didn't think he wanted to play in the game at all.

ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported Simmons was in danger of missing Game 7 because of close contact with a masseuse who received an inconclusive COVID-19 test. However, some within the organization "questioned whether Simmons had actually seen the masseuse—or was just trying to get out of playing as he battled the basketball version of the yips."

Simmons ultimately did play in Game 7—poorly—leading to widespread backlash from fans and the not-so-subtle frustration from Rivers and Embiid, with the latter calling Simmons' decision to pass up a wide-open dunk late in the contest game's the turning point. 

What's followed has been a months-long odyssey, with the Sixers trying and failing to find a suitable trade for Simmons and the three-time All-Star holding out for the first two weeks of training camp in hope of forcing a deal. Simmons reported to camp Monday, abruptly ending his holdout, but there has been little clarification on when he'll return to the court.

"I'm assuming he's going to play, but who knows? I can't get in anyone's head," Rivers told reporters. "Whether we play him or not, that's going to depend on what we see this week. He's coming from behind, because he hasn't been in camp, obviously. Having said that, do you rush him and put him on the floor? That's a whole other subject. What we see this week is how we determine everything going forward."

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The fact that people within the Sixers theorized that Simmons would go as far as to essentially fake a close contact to avoid playing in a game shows the deep level of distrust between the two parties. 

The strain in the relationship is far from one-sided. The Sixers share as much blame in the matter as Simmons, though the player has handled himself poorly of late given he has four years left on his contract and no leverage.

Both parties appear stuck with each other for the moment, but we'll see how that plays out once Simmons is on the court. 

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