NEW YORK (AP) — Ben Simmons blasted past defenders and caught a crossover pass that he dunked. About a minute later, he crossed a Brooklyn Nets teammate for a three-pointer.
These were games the Philadelphia 76ers had seen many times before.
On Monday, Simmons finally made them for another team.
Simmons played against his former club in his first NBA game since June 2021, making him one of many celebrities to return to basketball.
“I’m just grateful to be able to step on that floor, step on the NBA floor again,” Simmons said. “So I had a lot of fun there.
Kawhi Leonard also returned to the Los Angeles Clippers, as did Jamal Murray to the Denver Nuggets after they both sat out last season recovering from ACL tears.
“539 days later… THIS TIME!!” Murray tweeted.
“Just to be able to put in all the hard work that I put in for whatever, 14, 16 months, just to be able to test it against NBA talent was good,” Leonard said after the Clippers’ victory over Portland. with a score of 102–97. . “Just being there with the guys, talking, I missed that. It was a great experience for me.”
No doubt that’s how their teams felt after they looked to be title contenders last season, but instead those hopes were shattered by injury. Paul George also missed significant time for the Clippers, and Michael Porter Jr. was absent from all but nine games for the Nuggets.
They all played Monday with Damian Lillard, who returned to Portland after missing the final 47 games of last season when the Clippers and Trail Blazers met in the preseason.
“As a fan of the game, the return of Kawhi is great for basketball, the return of Jamal Murray is great for basketball,” Nets’ Kevin Durant said. “All the guys who were injured and can play again, it’s a great feeling just to see them there.”
Simmons was hoping he was close to playing last February after being traded to the Nets in a deal headlined by James Harden. Simmons cited mental health reasons when seeking a trade with the 76ers after a disappointing postseason in which he took the brunt of the criticism after the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference was ousted by Atlanta in the second round.
But a herniated disc prevented him from making his debut at the end of the season and forced him to undergo surgery in the off-season.
Now completely cleared, Simmons was in the starting lineup and finished with six points, five assists and four rebounds in 19 minutes. He came out weak from Philadelphia, with a last flashback of being the No. 1 pick in 2016 after missing a break after losing to the Hawks in Game 7. But he looked confident, pushing the ball in transition or playing from the post – however, he missed his only two free throws.
Simmons said he thought he would be nervous, but he didn’t. Duran recalled feeling anxious when he returned after missing the 2019-20 season due to Achilles tendon surgery.
“You wonder how your lungs will feel playing an organized game because playing pickup and training is different from playing a game,” Durant said. “So you just want to see where your feet are on a jump shot. So after being away for a year, you get a lot of anxiety when you come back. I know what I did.
In Seattle, a host of big names made preseason debuts before a sold-out crowd in the second preseason game between NBA teams in the Emerald City after the departure of the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City.
While there were Clippers and Blazers fans, the main color was predominantly green and gold amid the constant hope that the Sonics would someday return.
Fans who showed up saw Leonard’s first action since his knee injury during the 2021 Western Conference semi-finals, just days before Simmons.
Leonard looked just fine, knocking down his first shot in the 15th second of the game and scoring 11 points in 16 minutes in the first half. John Wall also made his debut for the Clippers after the five-time All-Star did not play last season. Wall scored five points in 11 minutes and George added 12 points in 16 minutes. All three played only the first half.
Lillard played in the second half and scored 16 points in 23 minutes.
Seattle basketball royalty attended, including Lenny Wilkens, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Jamal Crawford, George Carl, Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins, and many others associated with the city’s history. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer grabbed the microphone before the show even started and thanked his hometown for showing up.
“I watched thousands of basketball games in Seattle — CYO, little kids, AAU, pros, college and so on. So if this is basketball city, let’s go get it,” Ballmer yelled right before the start of the performance, drawing a roar of applause from the crowd.
Murray’s absence from Denver has been even longer: in April 2021, he tore his ACL and left him unable to try to repeat the brilliant postseason he had when he led the Nuggets to the 2020 West Finals at Walt Disney World.
Murray scored 10 points in 15 minutes for the Nuggets in their loss to Oklahoma City.
“These long-term injuries are heavy, dark,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Danyo said. “These guys don’t have long windows to play basketball, they can’t play until they’re 50. It’s hard and it takes a lot of effort and work. Progress, especially at the beginning, is almost imperceptible. a lot of time with such injuries. Of course, I am happy for him and wish him all the best in terms of maintaining health. He is a really good player and their team will benefit from his return.”
AP Sports columnists Pat Graham of Denver and Tim Booth of Seattle contributed to this report.