Eagles center Jason Kelce has played his entire 11-year career in Philadelphia, home to one of the nation's toughest fan bases. He knows firsthand how difficult it can be to play in the city of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons began his career under scrutiny as the No. 1 overall pick, but after a string of playoff disappointments, he's now seeking a trade.
While the 76ers have yet to deal Simmons, Kelce gave Simmons some blunt advice on how to handle Philadelphia fans until his much-anticipated departure: "Just play better."
"I don't want to crush any other players, but what's going on with the 76ers, Ben Simmons, stuff like that, all of that is because of a lack of accountability, a lack of owning up to mistakes and a lack of correcting things," Kelce said. "If all that got corrected, if you're fixing free throws, if you're getting better as a player, none of this is happening. So everybody can bitch and complain about how tough this city is to play in. Just play better, man. This city will love you."
Kelce, a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, is one of the most beloved sports figures in Philadelphia history. The ultra-athletic center was part of the Eagles team that defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, and he celebrated as hard as the Philadelphia fans in the ensuing championship parade.
Simmons has shriveled in high-leverage situations where Kelce has shined. In Game 7 of last season's Eastern Conference Semifinals, Simmons passed up a wide-open dunk that would've tied the game with four minutes remaining. Simmons' top-seeded 76ers eventually lost to the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in one of the biggest playoff flameouts in recent memory.
After the season, Simmons requested a trade from Philadelphia then held out most of training camp. The three-time All-Star returned to practice last week but purely to avoid further fines, as he was disengaged enough for coach Doc Rivers to call him a "distraction" and kick him out of Tuesday's session.
Simmons missed the 76ers' season-opening win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday while serving a one-game suspension for Tuesday's incident. If he does play for Philadelphia going forward, Kelce says going hard will alleviate the negativity that will undoubtedly surround him in his initial return to Wells Fargo Center.
"There's a lot of people that say it's a hard place to play," Kelce said. "I think it's pretty f---ing easy, to be honest with you. You just go out there and play hard. You want to be loved in this city as a baseball player? Run to first base. They're going to f---ing love you. That's what it comes down to. If you come up here and make a bunch of excuses, you come up here and try to lie to them and act like they don't know what they're talking about -- which sometimes they don't -- when you act that way or you aren't accountable, you're making mistakes or you're not getting better, they're going to crush you.
"Everybody's going to get crushed at some point, everybody is going to go through a downturn and be struggling, and at all times this city is going to keep you accountable for doing your job and performing. But if you stick to it and you fight through it and you get better, they'll respect the hell out of you. Even if you're struggling and you're fighting and you're trying, they're still going to respect you. That's what I think most guys miss. I really don't think this is a hard place to play at all. I think a hard place to play is ... I think it would be miserable to play in a place like Jacksonville, where nobody cares."
The 76ers envisioned a dynastic core of Simmons and Joel Embiid, but the pair has yet to reach an NBA Finals and is now on the brink of separation. Kelce says the situation is a "travesty" from both an on- and off-court perspective.
"These guys were all brought in here, a lot of talent, and it hasn't worked out for them for whatever reason," Kelce said. "But it's a pretty good example of how not to handle the Philly media, at the very least."
Simmons won't make his season debut in Friday's home opener against the Brooklyn Nets because he's not "mentally ready" to play, according to The Athletic. The former No. 1 pick will continue missing games for an undetermined period of time.