Dillon Schmanek always felt a kinship with Ben Simmons.
The Sixers fan from South Philly and the star forward from Melbourne, Australia, were born four days apart in 1996. They’re both avid video gamers. For years, they both believed “the Process” would carry players and fans alike to glory.
“We’re almost the same person, except I can’t play basketball and I’m not Australian,” said Schmanek, 25.
But the two men share something else — something stranger, something that raises eyebrows for Schmanek as his idol’s status in Philly sinks lower by the day.
It’s tattooed on Schmanek’s right bicep.
Yes, the face of the former prodigal son who is now looking for a one-way ticket out of Philly. The face of the player who requested a trade after his paralyzed playoff performance last season, scolded fans for their criticism, and sulked back to practice after his requested trade deal didn’t come through.
Mike DiGiacomo, owner of Tat215ive in Queen Village and the artist who did the Simmons portrait, said he’s thought about the tattoo often with Simmons dominating the news. The Sixers star himself had commented with a fire emoji on his Instagram post of the portrait last year.
He hadn’t heard from Schmanek — a regular client — in months.
“I don’t know if he’s going to cover it up or leave it for the memory,” DiGiacomo said, “but it’s not looking good right now.”
Philly sports tattoos come in a wild variety, but for portraits of players, the tattoo artist notes that fans usually stick to the untouchables. Think hall-of-famers like Brian Dawkins and Allen Iverson. “They’re proven,” he said.
But the tattoo on Schmanek’s arm shows a different Simmons than the one we see now: a full-color portrait of him letting out his trademark bellow after a dunk.
It’s part of a sleeve of tattoos featuring iconic players and moments in the 21st century of Philly sports. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins leveling Brandin Cooks in Super Bowl LII. Former Phillies pitcher Brad Lidge on his knees after delivering the final out needed to win the 2008 World Series.
Does Simmons deserve to share the same arm as Jenkins or Lidge? It feels like hanging a Thomas Kinkade painting next to a Rembrandt.
For Schmanek, the Simmons tattoo was meant to be part of a Mount Rushmore-esque homage to “The Process,” including a now-finished portrait of Allen Iverson and, coming soon, Joel Embiid.
When he got the portrait in August 2020, “the Process” still bubbled with promise, for at least some fans. Within three weeks, however, the Celtics swept the Sixers out of the playoffs, leading some to once again declare “the Process” a failure. Still, Schmanek had faith.
Fast-forward a year: Schmanek’s friends are asking him what he’s going to do about the face on his arm.
“I’m just gonna leave it,” he said.
Like many tattoos, this one is personal.
When the Sixers drafted Simmons in 2016, Schmanek says he was at his “worst,” struggling with mental health issues. He felt aimless.
The Sixers became his outlet. “I started studying pick swaps, draft classes,” he said. “Anything that could get me through a few hours.”
Soon, he started to climb out.
Schmanek went back to school and finished his associate degree. He now studies business management at Temple University. He’s a semiprofessional video gamer with a live Twitch stream and plans to apply his business skills to the video-game content industry.
Throughout his personal journey, he attended 30-some Sixers games a year at the Wells Fargo Center as a season ticket holder. “Me and the Sixers were both going up,” he said. “Our trajectories kind of lined up.”
He says he’s defended Simmons against some attacks fans level, but he’s also been quick to criticize Simmons for poor performance or self-centered behavior.
“I don’t think he’s a bad player, by any means,” the fan said. “But he only hurts himself. It’s almost like his mission at this point is to make us all hate him.”
Schmanek views some of Simmons’ behavior as a product of immaturity.
“However the situation ends, it doesn’t change how I felt about him for a long time,” Schmanek said.
“I don’t have any regrets,” he said of the tattoo. “Maybe it’s a good reminder of this era and my failure as a fan — that maybe I should pump the brakes a little.”