76ers

Sixers protest racial injustice ahead of their 1st seeding game at Disney World

Sixers protest racial injustice ahead of their 1st seeding game at Disney World

All Sixers players and coaches kneeled Saturday night during the national anthem ahead of the team’s first game at Disney World. Indiana Pacers players and coaches also kneeled, in addition to the game's referees. 

The team decided to protest racial injustice after a tumultuous stretch of over four months since their last game that featured protests around the country after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police. The majority of players from other NBA teams have done the same ahead of their opening seeding games. 

Initially, six Sixers players chose to wear pre-approved social justice messages on their jerseys:

Alec Burks — Enough
Furkan Korkmaz — Equality
Raul Neto — Equality
Kyle O'Quinn — Hear Us
Josh Richardson — Say Their Names
Matisse Thybulle — Vote

Tobias Harris ("Say Her Name") and Al Horford ("Equality") later joined the list above. 

Head coach Brett Brown was asked before the game about the statement the team wanted to make during the national anthem. 

Where do you begin? One of solidarity," he said. “This topic, this attention, this racial injustice issue that we’re living and breathing in such a significant way and how it’s impacted everybody — not just the United States. And to show … that this is a unified message — the coaches supporting the players, the league supporting the players, the Philadelphia 76ers organization … supporting our players. It’s not something that we take lightly. 

“We have been talking about this as a topic for many, many months, with all the flashpoints that have happened along the way. And so I think that tonight, we’re not first in relation to playing a basketball game. That example with New Orleans and the Utah Jazz was placed right from the get-go. So tonight, it encompasses many, many things, but none more important than supporting the desire of our players.

In a YouTube video published Friday, Thybulle showed portions of a team discussion about the protest and the Sixers’ plans to address racial injustice. Harris, who is one of the players that’s used their time with reporters to call for action following the police shooting of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, led the conversation and said “we should start with open dialogue.”

“If anybody is uncomfortable taking a knee, they can express their feelings on it,” he said. “We can just open that up and kind of get a gauge on how guys are feeling.”

Korkmaz shared his perspective.

Where I come from, Turkey, my flag comes first, and then national anthem comes second. … I’m from Turkey, but I live here and I earn my money here," he said. "That’s why I have the same respect to the American flag. But I know this is about human rights. What happens is unacceptable, and I will be with you guys 200 percent. There’s no question. I will also make more impact as a white guy to be (kneeling) with you guys out there. I want to also be part of it. 

"I come from a different country, 85 million population — people are going to watch. Just to think about kneeling, I didn’t feel comfortable to disrespect the flag or government or whatever, and Tobias told me this is not about disrespecting the flag, this is about reaction to what happens. That’s the part which I agree. That’s why if we kneel all together, I will definitely be in. 

Brazil native Raul Neto noted that, if asked about taking a knee, he would explain his protest was about “social injustice going on in this country,” not just support for his teammates. 

The Sixers in the video continued to talk about methods for activism and community service.

“However many points we score in a win, times it by 76 and we donate those funds to somebody’s organization or something they’re passionate about,” Harris said during the discussion. “We could actually do that.”

Brown is on an 11-member committee of NBA head coaches that is focused on racism and police brutality headed by Lloyd Pierce, one of his former assistants and the current Hawks head coach.

He is encouraging his players to be thoughtful and passionate about these issues even as games resume amid a pandemic.

“I think it’s very important we don’t forget about everything that’s going on with the restart of basketball,” Glenn Robinson III said on July 3

Though no Sixers opted out of the restart, some players considered not participating under these circumstances.

"I know there are probably plenty of guys who were thinking about not even coming to this bubble because of everything that’s happening right now, me included," Richardson said Thursday. "We’re here, we love basketball, we’re trying to win a championship, but at the same time, there’s a bigger thing going on that we’re all honestly here for. So I’m happy that it’s happening.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Updated: 8:42 p.m.

Ben Simmons is out for the Sixers’ seeding game Friday against the Orlando Magic with a left patella subluxation and there's not currently a timeline for his return as he considers treatment options. That news is clearly significant in the Sixers’ world, and it raises a range of questions. 

Let’s run through some of the bigger ones: 

What exactly is the injury? 

A simpler way to classify the injury is as a partial dislocation of the kneecap. 

How long will Simmons be out?

This is the largest question and still murky. Brett Brown on Thursday said “stuff is still being evaluated” and that he wasn’t in a position to offer a timeline. Presumably, factors such as the state of the ligaments around the knee could play a key role in determining how long Simmons is out. 

Outside of Simmons’ physical status, the team’s approach will be important. There’s no reason to put Simmons back on the court before he’s healthy. 

Shake Milton is hoping for a speedy return.

“It’s tough for us,” he said Thursday. “Ben is an incredible player, an incredible athlete. I don’t know, he’s like a freaking superhuman, so hopefully he’s able to heal super fast and get back on the court, because we definitely need him.”

How will the starting lineup change?

On March 11, the Sixers’ final pre-hiatus game, the team started Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. That’s one possibility. The Horford-Embiid pairing is still the Sixers’ worst regular duo in terms of net rating despite having a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World.

If Brown wants to prepare for a scenario in which Simmons is available and in the postseason starting five, he could keep Horford as the sixth man. He could instead turn to a wing such as Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz or Glenn Robinson III, all of whom have started games for the Sixers this year. Robinson, who has missed the Sixers' first three seeding games with a left hip pointer, is doubtful for Friday's game. 

What about the rotation?

Robinson’s health is a relevant issue with the rotation, which Brown shrunk to nine players when the Sixers played the Wizards. Raul Neto didn’t play against Washington after seeing time in the first two seeding games.

It’s interesting to note that Neto started in Simmons’ place on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10 when the Australian was out with a shoulder injury. The circumstances were very different, however, as Milton was sidelined by a bone bruise and left knee sprain, leaving Neto and Trey Burke as the two main ball handlers on the roster. Trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks now appears ahead of Neto in the backup point guard pecking order, and Simmons’ injury should increase Burks' value a touch. 

As of Wednesday, Brown said his plan was still to have a nine-player rotation for the playoffs. 

What’s the intangible impact? 

When Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back on Feb. 22, Brown recalled him vomiting because of pain. He’s lauded Simmons often for the diligent rehabilitation he did to recover from that injury and be ready to go when play resumed amid a pandemic.

Injuries aren’t anything new to Brown, but he admitted it hurt some to learn about this one after witnessing the process of Simmons’ back rehabilitation. 

“It’s the life that we've lived since I have been in Philadelphia,” he said. “I’m sure every coach has some level of a similar story. This one stings, for sure. We all felt with the pandemic and are we going to play again, it obviously bought time for Ben — had the season kept going, it’s anybody’s best guess. In relation to being incredibly down about it, I’m not. When I think too long about it, probably I can go there.

“But I feel numb to it. I feel conditioned, that we’ve gone through this type of thing before. There is a level of faith that I have in the rest of the team that we can hold the fort until we hopefully get him back. But snakebitten, woe is me, I don’t go there.”

In addition to dealing with the disappointment of a star going down, the Sixers will have to tinker with ingredients like leadership that aren’t necessarily evident to an outsider.

“It’s going to be kind of everyone has to step up by committee,” Richardson said. “I think we have a few guys that can step up as leaders, who can step up and have big games for us. We don’t really like to put too much pressure on one or a few guys. Everybody’s going to step up in his absence.”

Can the Sixers manage without Simmons? 

Again, the lack of a timeline looms large here. We can say without question that the Sixers are 6-5 this season without Simmons and don’t have direct replacements for his elite defense, transition talents, creative passing and more.

It’s also logical that the Sixers will rely on Embiid defensively and feed him frequently in the post. His 34.4 percent usage rate so far in Florida may very well rise. 

“Offensively, he needs to get as many touches as we can get him,” Brown said. “And I think that one of the areas of most noticeable growth … is what he’s been doing passing out of the post. It’s maybe the single thing that stands out most to me offensively when you look at whether it’s Jo, or just us as a team — I like our post spacing.

“I like Jo’s unselfishness quarterbacking the gym. His ability to read where the double teams are coming from I think has been shown.”

Thybulle, Richardson, and perhaps Robinson when healthy could assume challenging defensive assignments that otherwise would have been Simmons’. Players like Harris and Korkmaz will miss Simmons’ ability to drive and set up three-pointers. 

Initially, the Sixers are coming to terms with the situation and hoping the injury doesn’t dent their playoff hopes.

“There’s a lot of moving parts right now and really we're all coming to grips with the news that we’ve received,” Brown said. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons has subluxation in left patella

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons has subluxation in left patella

Updated: 8:37 p.m.

The injury Ben Simmons sustained in the Sixers' win Wednesday night over the Wizards is a subluxation of the left patella. He's out for the team's game Friday night against the Magic and treatment options are being considered.

Simmons exited Wednesday's game in the third quarter after throwing a pass for Al Horford. He immediately flexed his left knee and headed to the locker room.

Brett Brown was not prepared to give a timeline for how long Simmons will be sidelined.

"Some of the information is fluid, it’s still moving," he said Thursday. "In relation to saying any type of deadline, timeline, playoff, whatever, I’m not in a position to offer anything. Not because we don’t want to, but stuff is still being evaluated. What I do know — it’s boring, but we play Orlando tomorrow and we don’t have him. That’s kind of all I know at this point.”

The 24-year-old Simmons made his second All-Star team this season and has averaged 16.4 points, 8.0 assists and 7.8 rebounds. The Sixers shifted him to power forward in their new starting lineup, and he was open to the change.

"You've just gotta work with different things,” he said on July 14. “You’ve gotta try different things out, see if they work. We’re not at a stage where we can be comfortable yet. I’m still trying to figure it out myself ... what feels comfortable, what’s right for this team and how we’re gonna win. 

“If it’s this way, then I’m all for it. I’ve been having fun in that position — whatever you guys say, the four — whatever it is. But at the end of the day, when you see me I’m on the floor, I’m making plays."

He'd missed the Sixers' final eight games before the NBA's hiatus with a nerve impingement in his lower back but recovered from that injury and said he felt explosive heading into the restart. 

Without Simmons, Brown will have a few options to replace Simmons in the starting lineup, including original starting power forward Al Horford and wings Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz.

Brown said he spoke with Simmons and Sixers medical director Scott Epsley on Wednesday night during a team dinner.

"There is clearly disappointment," Brown said, "because I don’t know if anybody really understood what he did to get ready to play basketball again. He really invested time, he really was diligent during the whole pandemic about recovery and rehab and strength and conditioning. ... And so I feel like there is certainly some disappointment, I think (there’s) the uncertainty of what really is it right now, is obviously there.

"But he’s a great teammate and his teammates care about him, and I think more will unfold, I suspect, in the next 24 hours where we can maybe provide more information.”

In other injury news, Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is questionable for Friday's game and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful. Both participate in the Sixers' practice Thursday after missing the team's first three seeding games. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers