💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
The era of Ben Simmons basketball in Philadelphia is ending the same way it began, surrounded by “what ifs.” The blood is bad, and in Philly, there’s little doubt that will manifest in some truly impressive boos.
A recap of the transgressions: Drafted by the Sixers as first overall pick in the 2016 draft, Simmons was a player upon whom championship hopes were partially pinned for a half-decade. Now, as he pushes for a trade, word is Simmons will not report for the opening of training camp next week “and intends to never play another game for the franchise,” according to ESPN.
For many fans, the greatest unanswered question is “What if Simmons had learned to shoot before last season’s playoffs?” 2021 was primed to be the Sixers’ year — the culmination of The Process. But the team came up short, and Simmons was a big part of the problem. He shot just over 34% from the free throw line, one of the worst percentages in NBA Playoff history. His dismal performance from the stripe seemed to put him in a paralysis, causing him to skip seemingly open shots as Philly battled the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It would be hard to represent in text the length and depth of the “booooooooooo” Simmons will endure if/when he returns to Wells Fargo Center to play the Sixers on an opposing team. But the greeting will have plenty of competition. Philadelphia sports fans are nationally known for their proclivity and prowess for letting players know how they feel.
In order of most recent to longest ago, and with help from Billy Penn readers, we present here a sampling of Philly’s finest boos of the past 25 years.
Sean Rodríguez calls fans ‘entitled’ — Citizens Bank Park, 2019
Every few years an athlete will come to Philadelphia and try to critique fans on their behavior. In August of 2019, after hitting a walk-off homerun in extra innings as the brand new Phillies utility player, Sean Rodriguez decided not to celebrate but to take shots at the fans.
“I’m not the one screaming. I’m not the one saying pretty disgusting things at times. That seems pretty entitled. You’re just making yourself look pretty bad as an individual, as a person, as a fan,” Rodriguez said, according to CBS3. He belatedly added, “There’s still a lot of good fans, though, and those are the ones I hear.”
Before these comments, few had an opinion of Rodriguez. After these comments came the boos. Rodriguez continued to struggle, and has not been on an MLB roster since 2019.
The introduction of ‘Gritty’ — Wells Fargo Center, September 2018
Gritty has grown into a beloved symbol of chaos, both locally and nationally. However when first unveiled, Philly wasn’t sure what to make of the orange monster. In the midst of a sparsely attended 2018 Flyers-Bruins preseason game, Gritty tried to engage the crowd — and fans responded with a great wave of boos.
Not long after this incident, the rest of the nation would recoil in horror at the Flyers’ new representative, which of course led Philadelphia to rush to its defense. Now Gritty is mascot royalty.
Roger Goodell on NFL Draft Night — Ben Franklin Parkway, 2017
Half a year before the Ben Franklin Parkway overflowed with Eagles fans for the Super Bowl parade, football fans flocked there for the 2017 NFL Draft, who participated in the annual tradition of booing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
At the event, at least 60,000 people gathered at the pop-up set next to the Art Museum, and gave Goodell a proper Philly welcome, with reasons ranging from the “tuck rule” to downplaying the connection between football and concussions.
Jonathan Papelbon grabs it — Citizens Bank Park, 2014
After notorious hot-head Jonathan Papelbon joined the Phillies, he played well in the 2014 season. But due to his negative comments about the city, fans soured towards the closing pitcher.
After blowing a 4-1 save opportunity against the Marlins, they began to boo — prompting Papelbon to grab his “junk” and gesture towards the stands. It got him ejected, and resulted in a 7 game suspension, but also provided fans plenty of time to scream at Papelbon, who was normally tucked safely away in the bullpen.
The MLB has worked pretty hard to scrub the infamous crotch-grab footage from the internet, but CBS Sports has both a Vine (very 2014) and a photo of the incident.
Snooki at Wing Bowl — Wells Fargo Center, 2010
Even if you don’t consider competitive eating a sport, there’s no doubt Wing Bowl is sports-adjacent. And in 2010, the mere sight of “Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi was enough to inspire roars of disapproval.
“Everytime Snooki’s face came on the Jumbotron, the stadium booed,” recalled Local hip-hop artist FirstNameDane. “Producers caught on. They’d show other people for a second, the crowd would cheer, then go back to Snooki and they’d boo like she was the Celtics.”
J.D. Drew’s money play — Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park, 1998 and 2007
In the 1996 MLB Draft, the Phillies selected J.D. Drew with a high first-round pick. He then demanded an $11 million signing bonus — more than five times as much as the previous year’s first overall pick. It didn’t fly, and he never did sign with the team. So the pick went to waste, and Drew was crowned public enemy number one.
According to SB Nation and a variety of other outlets, Phillies fans infamously threw batteries at Drew when he came to the Vet as an opposing player on Aug. 11, 1999. Nearly 10 years after the original incident, in 2007, fans were still bursting with bellowing boos as Drew strolled through Philadelphia.
T.O. returns as a Cowboy — Lincoln Financial Field, 2006
Perhaps the best remembered boo by Billy Penn readers was Terrell Owens’ 2006 return to Philadelphia as a Dallas Cowboy.
In just 24 games as an Eagles player, T.O. proved to be one of the best receivers to ever wear green. Unfortunately, he feuded publicly with quarterback Donovan McNabb publicly, got into a fist fight with defensive end Hugh Douglas, and hosted more than one press conference from his driveway. After the 2005 season, when he was suspended, the Birds let him walk to free agency.
In typical Owens fashion, the Hall of Fame wideout decided to sign with the team that would anger Philly most — the Cowboys. When Dallas played the Birds at home the following year, he emerged from the tunnel draped in blue, and the boos rained down like few times before.
Kobe Bryant as All-Star MVP — Wachovia Center, 2002
Between 1985 and 2021, the Philadelphia 76ers have been to the NBA finals one time, against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001.
At the time, the Lakers were building a dynasty team, and the Sixers were a scrappy underdog led by an undersized Allen Iverson and his crew of misfit role players. Leading up to the finals, Bryant, who was originally from the region, said he was “coming to Philly to cut their hearts out.”
He wasn’t wrong. The Sixers were nearly swept, which left a sour taste in Philly’s mouth.
Fast forward to 2002. The Sixers host the NBA All-Star game, and guess who’s back? The hometown kid, Kobe Bryant of Lower Merion High School. As Commissioner David Stern awards Kobe the MVP award, the crowd erupts in a raucous response of boos.
Donovan McNabb at the draft — Madison Square Garden, 1999
A crowd shot of people in green jerseys and face paint forever captured the fact that Eagles fans booed future franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb at the 1999 NFL Draft. On that April evening, many had made the trip to NYC with the hopes that the team would draft running back Ricky Williams — so the selection of McNabb was a disappointment.
McNabb, whose time with the Eagles stretched from 1999 to 2009, would mention several times that these boos stuck with him throughout his career. Of note, he was fired from ESPN in 2018 under sexual harassment allegations.
Joe Carter returns — Veterans Stadium, 1996
Despite being in the World Series just three years earlier, the 1996 Phillies were horrible. Losing that championship was a turning point, and fans attributed it to Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays, who hit a walkoff home run in Game 6 to beat Philadelphia.
Around the 15-minute mark of the below video, you can hear Veterans Stadium building up to boo Carter at the All-Star Game. Joe just smiles back.