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Sixers' Ben Simmons win NBA's Rookie of the Year award

Sixers' Ben Simmons win NBA's Rookie of the Year award

The debate can finally be put to rest. Ben Simmons is a rookie, and he has the hardware to prove it.

Simmons was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year during the league’s annual awards show on Monday night. Simmons beat out Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Boston’s Jayson Tatum for the award.

“Wow. I’d like to thank my family to start off with. Family, friends, you know I wouldn’t be here without them,” Simmons said. “My teammates, of course, and my great coach. The city of Philadelphia for really embracing me and my family. Thank you.”

Simmons became the third Sixer to ever to receive the honor after Michael Carter-Williams (2013-14) and Allen Iverson (1996-97). He also became the first Australian to win the award in what turned out to be a landslide. Simmons received 90 of 101 first-place votes while Mitchell took the other 11. Simmons added 10 second-place votes and one third-place vote for 481 total points. That was far and beyond Mitchell's 323 total points and Tatum's 101.

Much to the chagrin of Jazz fans everywhere.

After sitting out last season with a broken foot, Simmons took the league by storm in 2017-18. The phenom averaged 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals during the regular season. He also racked up 12 triple-doubles, second only to Oscar Robertson for a player in his rookie season.

“I am proud of the fact that two of the past five Rookies of the Year have come from our program’s development efforts, which are the bloodline of our culture,” Sixers head coach and interim general manager Brett Brown said in a statement. “Ben Simmons is so much an example of this fact. He had been a college four-man and transitioned into the NBA as a point guard; that, in itself, is an amazing story. This positional change and added responsibility only confirms how exciting his future is as a multi-dimensional player. His character and his talents will be a building block of our championship quest for many, many years. I am so proud to share in his award and so proud of his teammates for also helping him achieve this recognition.”

Simmons’ production was never in question throughout the season, but his standing as a rookie was a hot topic of debate. 

Pundits asked whether Simmons should be considered a rookie since he had the benefit of working and learning in the Sixers’ program during his lost 2016-17 season. 

Even Mitchell, who garnered the NBA players’ association Leader of the New School Award for top rookie, got in on the act. He openly said Simmons shouldn’t be considered a rookie and even went so far as wearing a hoodie with the definition of the word written across the chest (the definition actually helped Simmons’ case, stating it referenced someone “playing” in their first season).

Mitchell doubled down on that sentiment with his choice of vehicle for the NBA awards show.

To his credit, Simmons never let the noise get to him. The point guard simply went about his business to help the Sixers post a 24-win increase from a season ago and reach the playoffs for the first time in six season.

“If his argument is that I’m not a rookie, if that’s the only argument he has, I’m in pretty good shape,” Simmons said in April. “There’s a rule in the NBA for a reason. I’m not going to wear a sweatshirt tomorrow though.”

No need. Simmons can just glance at his trophy case now for validation.

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Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

It was a strange night at the Wells Fargo Center. Then again, everything has felt strange since we found out that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash Sunday.

But on Tuesday, it was time for Joel Embiid and the Sixers to play basketball again. The team honored Bryant, the NBA great and Philadelphia native, in a touching pregame tribute.

Embiid did it by returning to the floor after missing nine games and scoring 24 points in a 115-104 win over the Warriors (see observations), drawing upon the way Bryant played his decorated 20-year career.

“It was tough,” Embiid said. “Like I keep saying, Kobe meant something different than anybody else. It was tough, but I know just looking at his career and what he was about, that 'Mamba Mentality.' It was about outworking your opponent, outworking everybody else and I know he would want everybody to go out and compete hard and play the game and try to win. That's what he was about. It was tough but that's how you honor him.”

Beyond his play on the floor, Embiid reached out to another Hall of Famer for help to honor Kobe.

Bobby Jones’ No. 24 was retired by the Sixers in 1986. Known as “The Secretary of Defense,” Jones was a five-time All-Star and an 11-time All-Defensive Team pick. Sixers equipment manager Scotty Rego, who’s been with the team for over 32 years, had a hand in helping arrange everything. A phone call was arranged for Embiid and Jones earlier in the day.

Jones’ only caveat was that Embiid have a strong defensive effort — like Jones and Bryant, a 12-time All-Defensive Team pick himself.

“Bobby, he's a legend,” Embiid said. “He's got his number retired. He's a Hall of Famer. It's always tough to be in that situation, but he was incredible. He was forthcoming. I'm really grateful that he let me have this opportunity to wear that number. It's a tough decision, but he was all for it and I'm really thankful.”

Will he continue to wear it?

“No, I'm not keeping it. It was just for one game. You can't disrespect the greatness of Bobby Jones. He was a great player at his time. His number is retired. Like I said, I'm extremely grateful that he let me have that opportunity to wear that. I'm back to my number.”

Embiid getting the opportunity to play and wear the number wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Embiid was listed as questionable pregame and had to be cleared by a hand surgeon. He'd missed the past two and a half weeks after tearing a ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. 

When he spoke to reporters last week for the first time since his surgery, he mentioned the team’s spot in the standings has fueled him to want to get back in the lineup faster. With their win tonight, the Sixers are a half game ahead of the Pacers for the fifth seed and just 2 ½ games behind the Raptors for No. 2.

They also have a difficult stretch of games upcoming. After traveling to Atlanta to take on the lowly Hawks, they finish the road trip with games against the Celtics, Heat and Bucks — all teams ahead of them in the conference.

Embiid is gearing up for that slate but didn’t look all that rusty Tuesday aside from his five turnovers. Most importantly, he said his finger wasn’t in any pain.

“No, it's not,” Embiid said. “I'm fine. I'm wearning a lot of straps on it. I will probably blame that on the amount of turnovers I had today. So that was the reason, but I'm wearing a lot of straps on it so takes a lot of adjustment, but it's fine.”

With the Sixers beginning to pull away in the fourth, Embiid got the ball in the post on Eric Paschall. It was an obvious mismatch and Embiid went to work. With a double team looming, Embiid turned toward the baseline.

He hit a fadeaway. Wearing No. 24. Earning his 24th point of the game.

“Well, that was cool. I didn't know it was actually 24 points as I shot that fadeaway — that was what [Kobe] was about. I actually yelled ‘Kobe.’ A lot of us, since I started playing basketball, that's how we've always done it. You shoot something in the trash and you just go ‘Kobe,’ so that was cool. And then for it to be the 24th point and me wearing 24 means a lot.”

It was a fitting end to a difficult night.

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Zhaire Smith changes number to honor Kobe Bryant, has keepsake for his future 'man cave'

Zhaire Smith changes number to honor Kobe Bryant, has keepsake for his future 'man cave'

Zhaire Smith scored the first NBA basket of his second professional season Tuesday night, driving in for a dunk early in the second quarter of the Sixers’ 115-104 win over the Warriors at Wells Fargo Center.

His teammates enjoyed that moment, but the 20-year-old had earned their respect before he’d done anything on the court. Smith, who’d previously worn No. 8, had on a No. 7 jersey Tuesday night. He’s decided to wear No. 5 moving forward, a number that he says has no real significance to him. (No. 5 wasn’t available Tuesday and No. 7 was a temporary replacement.)

Smith made that decision to honor the life of Kobe Bryant. On Sunday, Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were two of nine people who died in a helicopter crash. 

“When I decided, they respected me and gave me dap,” Smith said of his teammates. 

Bryant is the reason Smith had gone with No. 8. The Sixers have retired No. 2 in honor of Moses Malone, which would have been his first choice.

“Pre-draft, I really wanted 2 to come out of [Texas] Tech, but that’s retired,” he said. “And then I found out 8 was available and I said, ‘Oh, that’s Kobe.’ So, I did that for him.”

Smith isn’t usually one for extended, elaborate answers, but he added a little humor to a largely somber night with a tale about how he once tried to emulate Bryant. 

“I think I heard one of his stories where he was in the gym since 6 a.m., went home, came back,” he said. “I tried to do that for one day but my body was dead, so I never did that again.” 

Tuesday’s game was just the eighth of Smith’s NBA career. After being acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade, he’s broken his foot, suffered a severe allergic reaction, had feeding tubes in his stomach, lost and regained over 35 pounds and played 30 G-League games. Oh, and he sprained his left ankle Saturday night vs. the Lakers in his first NBA action of the season.

With the Delaware Blue Coats, Smith has been “hunting threes” and working on refining his guard skills after playing power forward in his lone year at Texas Tech. Still, his trademark quality is his athleticism. 

While Smith isn’t a scorer in Bryant’s mold and has been taught to avoid most two-point shots outside of the paint, he admired the five-time NBA champion’s game and referred to him as his “idol” growing up. 

“His fadeaway,” Smith said. “Even though that’s kind of a bad shot in the league right now, that was unguardable.”

Surrounded by a scrum of reporters likely larger than any he’s seen since becoming a Sixer, there was one question of the flurry fired his way that especially made Smith light up.

He was asked what he planned to do with the warmup jersey hanging in his locker with “PHILA” on the front, Bryant’s name and the number 8 on the back. 

“I’m going to hang it in my man cave when I get a crib,” he said. “In about 10 years, it’ll be in my man cave.”

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