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ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith brings back fake James Harden-Kyrie Irving story; Chick-fil-A trolls Ben Simmons

“We don’t know how much truth there is to that,” Smith said of a fictional story invented by a satirical Twitter account.

ESPN host Stephen A. Smith, seen here at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington during a 2019 live edition of "First Take."
ESPN host Stephen A. Smith, seen here at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington during a 2019 live edition of "First Take."Read moreLeslie Barbaro / For the Inquirer

Nine months later, Stephen A. Smith is still talking about the same fake story invented by a satirical Twitter account.

Last night, the undermanned 76ers handily defeated Ben Simmons and the Brooklyn Nets in the malcontent star’s first game back on the court in Philadelphia since being dealt for James Harden at the trade deadline last season.

Earlier yesterday, Smith was previewing the matchup on First Take, where the former Inquirer reporter and editor brought back a totally made up story involving a fictional altercation between Harden and Nets star Kyrie Irving (who was playing his second game since being suspended for posting a link to an antisemitic film).

“We saw what they did last year,” Smith said to ESPN NBA analyst and former La Salle standout Tim Legler. “There was some chirping about how James Harden and Kyrie Irving got into it in practice, when Kyrie said he was washed up.”

“We don’t know how much truth there is to that,” Smith added.

Actually, we do. There’s zero truth to the story about Harden and Irving fighting during practice because it was totally made up by Ballsack Sports, a satirical account run by a 24-year-old Akron, Ohio resident named Matt.

”Ladies and gents, we are back on ESPN again,” he crowed on Twitter Tuesday.

Again is important because folks at ESPN have gotten duped by Ballsack Sports at an alarming rate, as the website Awful Announcing has chronicled. That includes Smith, who trotted out the same fictional story back in March on NBA Countdown.

The account first garnered wide attention after it was mentioned by Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey during an interview on 97.5 The Fanatic. Morey’s intention was to discredit the site, which made up a story about a trade offer between the Sixers and the Golden State Warriors, but his comments drew a lot of coverage and attention to the satirical account.

“People were treating that like it’s a real thing,” Morey told then-97.5 host Mike Missanelli. “I’m imploring people not to get too attached to Ballsack Sports tweets and treat them seriously.”

Smith spends a lot of time speaking into microphones each day, so it’s not surprising he makes a mistake or two. In addition to hosting First Take for two hours each day, Smith also hosts a podcast for Audacy’s Cadence13 called Know Mercy and is releasing a new book in January titled, Straight Shooter: A Memoir of Second Chances and First Takes. He’s also part of ESPN’s NBA coverage during weekends, and recently launched a Manning style alternate NBA broadcast called The NBA in Stephen A’s World.

But the mistakes keep piling up. Back in September, he apparently forgot that the Eagles traded wide receiver Jalen Reagor to the Minnesota Vikings while previewing their Monday Night Football matchup in Week 2. The prior month, he appeared to forget that Hank Steinbrenner, the former co-owner of the New York Yankees and son of George Steinbrenner, died in 2020.

Charles Barkley got one Ben Simmons joke in

With Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey not taking the court due to injuries, last night’s Sixers-Nets game didn’t have the juice TNT was expecting.

But that didn’t stop former Sixers great Charles Barkley from getting in one joke about the potential reaction Simmons faced when he took the court at the Wells Fargo Center for the first time as a member of the Nets.

“He wearing the big old jacket because he’s got a bulletproof vest under there,” Barkley joked.

While the absence of Embiid in particular drained the game of much of its drama and potential venom, Barkley still thinks Simmons owes something to the Sixers and its fans for sitting out after demanding a trade last season.

“I wish Ben would apologize, personally, to the city of Philadelphia,” Barkley said. “I think he should apologize to Doc Rivers because, as a basketball organization, he got mad when they asked him to become a better basketball player.”

‘Abbott Elementary’ stars ring the bell

While last night’s Sixers game was missing a few stars, there were a couple on the court prior to the game.

Abbott Elementary stars Quinta Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph were on hand last night to ring the bell ahead of the Sixers-Nets game.

Brunson, a Philadelphia native and the show’s creator, is a long way away from her former job fixing people’s iPhones at the Apple Store. Brunson recently won her first Emmy Award for her writing on Abbott Elementary (which got her into a dustup with Jimmy Kimmel) and is slated to be part of 6abc’s broadcast of the annual Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Ralph, who won an Emmy for her role as kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard on Abbott Elementary, also has Philadelphia connections beyond the show. She’s married to state Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Democrat who has represented the Seventh District since 1994.

Quick hits

  1. Simmons missed two straight free throws in the second half, which means fans across the region get a free 5-count Chick-fil-A nuggets. They have to be claimed in the Chick-fil-A app, and WHYY’s Avi Wolfman-Arent noticed the popular fast food chain took the extra step of mocking Simmons for his two bricks.

  1. Peyton and Eli Manning are on a Manningcast hiatus for Thanksgiving, and are scheduled to return to their ESPN2 Monday Night Football alternate broadcast on Dec. 5. for New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During a recent Q&A with USA Today, Peyton said he doesn’t foresee ever doing the show for a full 18-week season. “We thought 10 was a good number. We kind of run out of things to talk about after 10,” Peyton said.

  2. Today is the 33rd anniversary of the Bounty Bowl, an infamous 1989 Thanksgiving Day game between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys that involved allegations that Birds head coach Buddy Ryan had taken out bounties on two players — quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas, who was released by the Eagles three weeks earlier.

  1. The 1-1- tie between the U.S. and Wales on Monday, the first World Cup match for the U.S. men’s team in more than eight years, averaged 8.3 million viewers on Fox and 3.4 million viewers on Telemundo, according to Sports Media Watch. The U.S. faces England on Friday at 2 p.m. and Iran on Tuesday, Nov. 29. Here’s the full World Cup TV schedule.