Count 76ers managing partner Josh Harris among those pleased that Ben Simmons has returned to Philadelphia.
During a pre-recorded opening keynote conversation as part of the Financial Times’ Business of Sport U.S. Summit, Harris said he is “super happy that Ben is back” and implied that he expects the All-Star point guard to play for the Sixers this season, despite Simmons holding out for nearly two weeks because of a trade demand.
“We’re excited to see him on the court,” Harris said. “I probably shouldn’t mention specific conversations, but everyone — the team, the coaches, the ownership group, myself — is really glad that he’s back in the market, and we’re looking forward to seeing him on opening night.”
Following Thursday’s practice, Sixers coach Doc Rivers did not provide an update on if Simmons would join the team for Friday’s final preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. That is the first day he would be allowed to partake in team activities, assuming he passes the league’s COVID-19 testing protocols.
“Not yet, but we’ll find that out,” Rivers said of Simmons’ status. “You’ll know.”
Harris, whose investment group Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment also owns the New Jersey Devils and English Premier League soccer club Crystal Palace FC, also addressed COVID-19 player vaccination rates in the NBA (about 96%) and NHL (about 99%) as both leagues move closer to the start of their regular seasons.
Harris said the Sixers’ vaccination rate is “very high,” but declined to divulge more specific data. He added he is “glad to stand on the side of science and vaccination and public health,” and that he will continue to facilitate education for players about the safety and effectiveness of the shot.
Harris also said that any discussions about possible future mandates for players in the NBA and NHL will be between public health officials, the players’ unions, and the leagues. The NBA has already instituted mandates for team staff, referees, and others who regularly interact with players in person.
“I take a lot of pride in that these are very high [vaccination] numbers,” Harris said. “Relative to corporate America or any place else that you look, there are many fewer people vaccinated. … We’ll keep pushing. Hopefully we’ll get those numbers to 100%, but everyone is entitled to do what they want to do, and that’s the great thing about sports.
“You have to allow people to be individuals and to state their views, and then you have to try to come together. And that process is right out there for everyone to see. It’s like democracy. It’s a little ugly. It’s a little messy. But it allows for people to ultimately try to build consensus and to lead.”
The wide-ranging conversation with Sara Germano, the Financial Times’ U.S. sports business correspondent, also covered Harris’ foray into purchasing and investing in franchises, how technology innovation has changed the way fans around the world consume sports, and what it’s like to be the Sixers’ steward for passionate supporters in Philadelphia.
When asked if he is eyeing any new sports business ventures, Harris said, “We’re really focused on improving the sports franchises we’re now invested in.”
“I’m an investor by heart, so I’m always looking,” Harris said. “But there’s nothing really that I’m focused on right now other than the franchises that we own.”
Harris, Thybulle, Milton won’t travel to Detroit
Sixers star Tobias Harris (knee soreness) along with key reserves Matisse Thybulle (shoulder soreness) and Shake Milton (sprained ankle) will not travel with the team for Friday’s preseason finale in Detroit, Rivers said. Two-way guard Grant Riller also remains out after tearing his meniscus in the preseason opener in Toronto last week.
Rivers said he hopes Harris, Thybulle, and Milton will all be able to return to practice Sunday. The coach added Harris, who has only played in one preseason game, did some running before Thursday’s practice and “would be playing” Friday if it were a playoff game instead of a preseason contest.
“It’s part of the plan,” Rivers said. " … We just felt like let’s get ahead of it, make sure there’s no lingering problems.”
Second-year guard Tyrese Maxey, who missed Monday’s preseason game against Brooklyn with adductor tightness, has returned to practice and will be available to play Friday.
“I feel great, 100%, flying up and down the court,” Maxey said Thursday.