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A ‘Sixer for life’, Allen Iverson says he’s rooting for Ben Simmons to return to All-Star form

Iverson, a Hall of Famer, said it's going to be a tough road for Simmons but he needs to travel it with the Nets, starting in the offseason.

Allen Iverson remains hugely popular with Sixers fans.
Allen Iverson remains hugely popular with Sixers fans.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

When it comes to the Ben Simmons saga, Allen Iverson is as stumped as the rest of us. They aren’t necessarily friends, but Iverson got to know Simmons a bit before Simmons’ career deteriorated into a series of hard-to-explain DNPs and finally a trade out of Philadelphia.

While much of the rest of the NBA has reacted with anger that Simmons sat out the entire season, Iverson put away the knives and instead extended a figurative hand to the 25-year-old Simmons.

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“I’m a Sixer to the death, so obviously I’m disappointed,” Iverson said Wednesday from Memphis, Tenn., ahead of the annual high school Roundball Classic. “But I don’t know what goes on in someone else’s head, and you always try to give somebody the benefit of the doubt. I would like to think that I had a good relationship with him. And I’m pretty sure that he knew that I was supporting him.”

Iverson hasn’t played in the NBA in 12 years, but he remains a beloved figure for his fearless style that led to 11 All-Star appearances in 14 seasons. He was the No. 1 overall pick by the Sixers in 1996. Twenty years later, so was Simmons, who also was on his way to stardom until this season.

Simmons sat out for the Sixers this season and was traded to Brooklyn in February for James Harden. Simmons didn’t suit up for the Nets, either.

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With Brooklyn down 0-3 in the series, Simmons was going to play in Monday’s Game 4, but he sat out after reporting a back injury. Brooklyn’s season ended in a sweep by Boston, and Simmons again became the center of unwanted attention.

“I’m still rooting for him, you know,” Iverson continued. “Obviously he’s not with [the Sixers] anymore. … But I’m thinking about him as a person. You know what I mean? I hope he comes out well from this whole thing, especially if we’re talking about mental health [concerns]. … We don’t know what’s going on in his mind. And we don’t know about the people that’s surrounding him and feeding him the information that he needs to get past this whole thing that we definitely wish — if you care anything about him — that it passes. You know what I mean?”

The undersized Iverson was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016 and recently was named one of the NBA’s 75 greatest players. He is barely 6-foot tall and the only way his playing weight of 165 pounds was accurate was if he had his wallet in his pocket when he stepped on the scale.

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But the years have been kind to Iverson, who turns 47 in June. He’s lent his name to the sportsbook PointsBet, though he said he doesn’t bet on sports, and he still likes the action of a casino even though he knows the odds always are with the house.

“You’re not supposed to win in there anyway,” he said with a laugh. “If you watch the [1995] movie ‘Casino,’ you’re not supposed to win. But that’s where my competitive nature comes in. That’s probably why I lose more than I win. But that’s where I get my little competitive edge from. I like to compete.”

Some advice

Iverson joked that he wants to find a senior men’s league, but only if he still can dominate. Wealth and killer crossover dribble aside, he’s no different than us: disappointed and dumbfounded that Simmons seems to be letting time slip by.

“You just hope that the foundation that he has around him is positive enough and smart enough to handle this thing the best way that they can,” he said. “But it’s gonna be ugly. I think it’s important for him to stay and mesh with [his Nets teammates] in the offseason and work out with them; get a relationship with those guys and figure out a way to turn this negative thing into a positive. But it’s gonna be [difficult].”

Iverson admitted his own negligence shortened his career by a few years. A better diet, maybe more trips to the weight room and fewer to Atlantic City, that kind of thing. He would love one more chance to juke some poor defender again.