The NBA pre-season will begin with an exhibition game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Melbourne United, two teams from opposite sides of the globe intrinsically entwined in multiple ways.
The 76ers host United on Friday (Saturday 9am AEST) at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Centre.
It will be mate against mate.
The 76ers feature two Australians: reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, and promising rookie Jonah Bolden.
The 76ers are also coached by U.S.-born Brett Brown. He was backpacking around the South Pacific in the 1980s, met his wife Anna on the Great Barrier Reef and then out-of-the-blue dropped in to the Melbourne Tigers and impressed the team’s legendary coach Lindsay Gaze so much he was offered an assistant’s job.
United were born out of the Melbourne Tigers, who Brown coached in the NBL for 14 years and was part of three Olympic campaigns.
“It is kind of an unusual circumstance to have this type of opportunity,” Brown, thinking about how entwined the 76ers and United are, told reporters on Thursday.
The bonds continue with the Simmons family.
The star U.S. import on the Tigers when Brown was a fledgling coach was Dave Simmons, a brutish big man from the Bronx, New York.
Simmons’ son is Ben, Brown’s freakish 208cm tall Melbourne-born point-forward.
A young guard back on Brown’s Tigers squad was Dean Vickerman, who is United’s coach.
Vickerman has fond memories of Simmons Sr, but now has to formulate a plan to stop Simmons Jr from running riot on Friday.
“His strength was ridiculous,” Vickerman, recalling Simmons Sr’s 205cm frame, said.
“I think Ben is really starting to build his strength as well.
“Dave was a guy who when you fouled him he could lift you off the ground he was so strong.”
Bolden’s father is Bruce Bolden, another U.S. import and 17-season NBL veteran who regularly battled Brown’s teams in Australia.
Brown did not lobby for the 76ers to play United for the pre-season game, but his eyes light up whenever he talks about Australia.
“It is a country of tremendous people, it’s a culture I fell in love with and it’s beautiful,” Brown said.
“It was a huge part of my life for a very long time.”
The 76ers’ coaching staff are shouting Vickerman and his assistants dinner in Philadelphia on Thursday.
“We’re going to have some nice Italian food in the city,” Brown said.
“I look forward to the night.”