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Report: Some 76ers suspected Ben Simmons faked potential coronavirus exposure to dodge Game 7 vs. Hawks

Ben Simmons in 2021 NBA Playoffs - Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers Game 7

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 20: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers handles the ball against the Atlanta Hawks during Round 2, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs on June 20, 2021 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

The lasting image of Ben Simmons’ 76ers tenure: Passing up an open dunk late in Philadelphia’s Game 7 loss to the Hawks last season.

The moment resonates so much for two reasons: 1. Joel Embiid spotlighted it as the game’s turning point. 2. It didn’t feel like an aberration.

Even for someone hesitant to shoot (especially 3-pointers), Simmons’ confidence looked especially shaken as that second-round series progressed. He stopped shooting in fourth quarters entirely. He made just 33% of his free throws.

But did Simmons hit a previously unknown rock bottom before Game 7?

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

Simmons was being held out of the team’s shootaround, he told them, due to a possible exposure to a team masseuse, who’d returned an inconclusive COVID-19 test.

Several players were questioned about whether they’d seen her that morning, but only Simmons said that he had.

“He answered the question honestly, without thinking of the implications,” says one source close to Simmons.

But according to multiple sources, many within the team 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.

Later in the day, the staffer and Simmons’ test results came back negative, according to sources, and he was cleared to play in the game. But he wasn’t in a good place, and neither were the Sixers.

“He was thrown,” the source says.

The NBA’s coronavirus protocols have major holes if players could just say they didn’t see the masseuse. Depending where she worked, maybe there was no reasonable alternative. Players deserve some privacy, not every interaction monitored. But that’s an easy system to break.

That other 76ers even questioned whether Simmons was lying is very telling. Whether it formed because Simmons has a history of deceit or because those other members of the team are overly suspicious, that mistrust alone is toxic.

It’s ambiguous whether Simmons knew other members of the team didn’t believe him. If he did, that’d be one thing. But if he were thrown merely by not being certain in the morning he could play, that only furthers the notion he’s too fragile.

This anecdote exposes the ugliness of the situation.

It’s just unclear whom to blame.