If All-Star centers Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns hoped to avoid suspensions in the absence of any punches landing in their skirmish on Wednesday night, they did themselves no favors as the fracas spilled onto social media.
The NBA began its investigation into the incident almost as soon as the Philadelphia 76ers’ 117-95 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves was over, and the Wolves have encouraged the league to incorporate Sixers point guard Ben Simmons into what will almost surely be impending disciplinary measures, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Simmons and Embiid trapped Towns in the backcourt, forcing a third-quarter turnover when Embiid and Towns locked arms. The entanglement turned ugly when Towns took an errant swing at Embiid, who answered with an eye poke, and the two 7-footers found themselves in a full-on wrestling match underneath Minnesota’s basket. Teammates and coaches separated the early MVP candidates, and that is where Simmons may have gotten himself into trouble as well.
While officiating crew chief Mark Ayotte deemed Simmons “a peacemaker” in his postgame pool report, the Wolves beg to differ, telling NBA officials his restraint of Towns was a “dangerous chokehold,” according to Wojnarowski. Snapshots from the fray appear to show Towns actually tapping out while Simmons wraps an arm around his neck.
“I was just making sure my teammate was good,” Simmons told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters in a postgame interview. “I’ve always got my teammate’s back.”
The Sixers have taken issue with Minnesota’s framing of the incident, telling the league office that they believe Towns was the aggressor in the fight and reiterating the determination that Simmons was a peacemaker, per Wojnarowski.
“First and foremost, we obviously don’t condone the altercation that happened last night,” 76ers general manager Elton Brand told Wojnarowski. “As a former player, I have experienced situations like that in the past. I understand how our players reacted in the moment. I have their backs.”
Both Embiid and Towns were ejected following what Ayotte officially described as “a fight.” A bloodied Embiid could be seen shadow boxing and encouraging a raucous Philadelphia crowd as MVP chants rained down upon him on his way into the tunnel. Towns’ parents were reportedly among the Timberwolves contingent who took offense to his actions.
Afterwards, Embiid told reporters, “First of all, I ain’t no bitch,” which became a central theme in a social media back-and-forth that turned uglier than the original exchange. Many NSFW comments have since been deleted, but not before they could be screen-shotted for NBA executive president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe to peruse.
Towns responded with a series of images that included a number of pictures from their in-game wrestling match and a snapshot of a crying Embiid after the Sixers lost their second-round playoff series to the Toronto Raptors last season:
It devolved from there, with Embiid looping Jimmy Butler into the mix. Butler infamously denigrated Towns’ toughness during a contentious Timberwolves practice at the start of last season that ultimately led to the trade that sent Butler to Embiid’s Sixers. Butler has since moved on to the Miami Heat, but that did not stop Embiid from suggesting that Towns is the subject of some NBA gossip to which the public may not be privvy. You may not want to share this with the kids:
This is as aggressive as we have seen any player go after a peer on social media, let alone two of the game’s brightest young stars before and after a game that both of their teams entered undefeated. Given the high-profile nature of the incident and Embiid’s extensive history provoking rivals, the NBA is not expected to take this investigation lightly.
Whether or not Simmons will also face a fine or suspension is a little less clear. Stay tuned for more.
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