The stars were out Friday night in Queens with countless celebrities attending the US Open in support of Serena Williams, who gave a valiant effort in her final match, losing her third-round matchup to Ajla Tomljanovic in three sets. Williams’ career finale brought Saquon Barkley, Russell Wilson, Ciara, Seal, Pusha T and CC Sabathia to Arthur Ashe Stadium, along with perhaps New York’s most polarizing athlete, Nets All-Star Ben Simmons.
Traded from Philadelphia this past February, Simmons never saw the court in 2021-22, frustrating fans who had expected him to anchor a Brooklyn defense that struggled at times last season, particularly in its opening-round loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That resentment was apparent Friday night with Simmons, upon being shown on the stadium jumbotron, greeted by a chorus of boos.
Simmons should be used to heckling by now, hearing similar jeers from Sixers fans in his return to Wells Fargo Center last March. It’s been over 14 months since Simmons’ last on-court appearance, famously passing up an open dunk in a Game 7 meltdown against the Hawks. Despite his rare combination of length and athleticism, Simmons has never been a confident shooter, a fatal flaw that has impacted his perception throughout the league. He’s also faced criticism for his opulent lifestyle, seemingly prioritizing fame and status over the skill that afforded him those luxuries.
Many of Simmons’ shortcomings can be attributed to the usual growing pains immature athletes encounter in their early careers, overwhelmed by their newfound wealth and the burden of heightened expectations. Being a player Brooklyn can count on would go a long way toward rehabilitating Simmons’ image, though as evidenced by his icy reception Friday night, the 26-year-old Australian still has plenty to prove to his new team and city.