Speaking on the relationship between Philadelphia fans and its professional athletes Thursday, Kelce turned the conversation toward Simmons, saying his issues boil down to a lack of accountability.
“I tell guys, you write your own narrative. 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.”
Coach Doc Rivers threw Simmons out of practice Tuesday after he declined several times to sub in for a drill, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The 76ers suspended Simmons for Wednesday’s season-opening, 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans for conduct detrimental to the team.
Wednesday marked the four-month anniversary of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, when Simmons passed up an open dunk that would have tied the game with less than four minutes left. The Sixers lost to the Atlanta Hawks, and their season ended.
A short time later, Simmons asked for a trade, and he then held out the first two weeks of training camp in an attempt to force the 76ers to make a deal. He reported to the 76ers last week, and after going through several days of reentry protocols, Simmons practiced with the team Sunday and Monday before being tossed from Tuesday’s practice.
The 76ers have fined Simmons more than $1.4 million for his absence from four preseason games ($360,000 each) and levied numerous fines for missed practices, on-court workouts and meetings, sources told Wojnarowski.
Kelce said he has nothing personal against Simmons but called the situation “a travesty any way you put it.”
“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.”
Kelce, 33, is one of the most beloved modern sports figures in Philadelphia. An 11-year veteran, he endeared himself to the fan base by helping deliver the first Super Bowl championship in the city’s history — a feat he capped at the title parade by giving an impassioned speech while wearing a Mummers costume on top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
He noted that being a good player helps, but the key to being accepted in Philadelphia is largely about being accountable and invested.
“There’s a lot of people that say it’s a hard place to play. I think it’s pretty f—ing easy, to be honest with you,” Kelce said. “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.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.