On Ben Simmons, Carson Wentz, and Bryce Harper, Gonzo Pretty Much Nails It

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning. Let’s argue about Philadelphia sports fans and booing!

Actually let’s not.

I do, however, want to share one relevant passage from an excellent John Gonzalez writeup at The Ringer. You know Gonzo. Former Inquirer writer. I’m old enough to remember when he did middays with Vai Sikahema at 97.5 the Fanatic. That was before Tony Bruno and Harry Mayes were paired on that shift.

Anyway, John wrote a story basically wondering why Carson Wentz and Ben Simmons struggled to adapt to Philadelphia, while a guy like Bryce Harper fit in seamlessly. 

Says Gonzo:

Some people might argue that Bryce Harper has been better for his team than either Simmons and Carson Wentz were for theirs. And in fairness, we should also note that Simmons and Wentz probably weren’t properly prepared for Philly’s unique and intense form of brotherly love. Simmons grew up in Australia and parachuted into American sports with a brief crash landing at LSU, while Wentz is from one of the Dakotas (who can keep them straight?) and never got to prove his worth by field-dressing a deer on the city’s behalf. Then again, Joel Embiid is from Cameroon and spent one quick year in Kansas—hardly a feeder system to Philly—and he’s cracked the fan code about as well as anyone ever has or will.

That last part is important. Unlike Embiid and Harper, Simmons and Wentz failed to shield themselves from potential heat by eschewing cursory community outreach. And it wouldn’t have even taken that much. Harper managed it quickly enough by donning a Phillie Phanatic headband, a Jawn beanie, and a Clearwooder shirt—all regional favorites. And, importantly, he never failed to issue the obligatory but necessary sound bite as needed: “That’s why I came here,” Harper said about a month ago. “That’s why I wanted to be a Phillie, because of this fan base.” In total, that’s 18 words. If he never utters another, he’ll never have to buy a drink in Philly again.

Pretty much. Philadelphia fans (and media members) are simple creatures. Bryce Harper said the right words, showed up with Phanatic and Gritty gear, and now he’s loved by the fan base. There’s a small portion of people who think he may be pandering too much, but you’d rather be on that side than whatever side Wentz and Simmons are on.

The thing with Philly sports fans is that the “love” end of the spectrum is just as strong as the “hate” end. What I mean by that is that you don’t have to do jack shit to gain the unconditional support of these fans. Mike Scott was a bench player who had an entire fan group created for him, which was the product of a younger generation of more empathetic and sensitive fans. Other people have Tyrese Maxey Twitter avatars and claim that he is “untouchable” in a trade, even if you get back prime Michael Jordan. And I know a guy who named his kid “Carson” after Wentz’s 2016 rookie season. The default Philadelphia behavior is oftentimes unconditional and sycophantic support, and you don’t get that everywhere.

In truth, Philadelphia is easy. We’re easy. You don’t even have to play well! You just have to play hard. Aaron Rowand was here for two seconds, but people love the guy because he broke his face on a hustle play. T.J. McConnell is an average NBA player, but he always worked his ass off and said the right things, which is why people called sports talk radio and asked why he wasn’t starting over Simmons. There are a million examples of Philly sports fans falling in love with less talented but more passionate and harder working players.

That’s why it’s so hard to fathom that Wentz and Simmons ended up where they currently are. It does not take much to crack the code here. This is not the Da Vinci code. It’s more like Kanye West’s iPhone password, which is 000000. You literally just have to say you love Philly, visit John’s Roast Pork, or go see Dave Matthews Band in Camden, and you’re in. You’re one of us.

It does not take much.

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