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Defining Moments of the NBA Season: Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid Duke It Out

Towns and Embiid started the melee in October, but Ben Simmons finished it

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

If you listened to the local Philadelphia broadcast of the Sixers-Timberwolves game on October 30, you knew something had changed in the third quarter. Suddenly, Marc Zumoff’s golden voice wasn’t dissecting a breakaway finish by Tobias Harris and Al Horford; his attention was elsewhere. “OH WOWWWWW” he shouted. “Looook at this! Whoaaaaa! Embiid is going at it with Karl-Anthony Towns!”

I immediately started grinning. The day before, when asked about the matchup with the Sixers and Joel Embiid, Towns said, “I know everyone wants to hype it up. That’s what sells papers, but I ain’t in the business of making y’all money. I’m in the business of getting W’s.” I was reminded of Towns’s confident proclamation when the Timberwolves were down 20 points in the third quarter and the Sixers were handing them an early-season, take-’em-behind-the-woodshed ass-whipping. When Zumoff’s voice trailed off, and the cameras panned to the melee on the opposite end of the court, the metaphorical became literal: There was Embiid and Ben Simmons pretty much jumping Towns.

The game was halted and a WWE match ensued at the Wells Fargo Center. Towns shoved Embiid. Embiid shoved back. Towns swung at Embiid, who ducked it like a scene from The Matrix. Embiid jabbed at Towns. Then Simmons put Towns in a choke hold as Embiid and KAT were separated by referees and coaches from both teams. While he was being restrained, Embiid motioned to the Sixers crowd, hyping up the fracas. It was an enchanting moment, a swirl of ecstasy accompanying the enraged antics on the court, and a delightful arrangement of several things Philadelphians crave from their athletics: drama, flair, violence, and victory. In pure Philly fashion, the pugnacity continued even after Towns and Embiid were escorted to their respective locker rooms. Embiid took a victory lap on Instagram after the game, proclaiming that he owned “real estate” in Towns’s head. His teammate Mike Scott jokingly posted a picture on his Instagram of his entrance to the Wells Fargo Center and set the location as “UFC Philly.”

Towns and Embiid were each suspended two games. Simmons escaped punishment after officials said he was merely acting as a “peacemaker” in the scramble. If peacemaking involves making your opponent tap out from a submission move on live television, then Ben Simmons is the new president of the United Nations.

Scott said he thought the night was fun. “Some people don’t like it,” he said after the game. “But, shit, we in Philly.” There was supposed to be a rematch between the teams on March 24, but that has been postponed indefinitely, as I’m sure you know.

Plenty of things can be said about the Sixers’ season before it was put on hold. They’ve performed well, but haven’t lived up to expectations after spending $280 million in free agency to bring in Horford and Harris last offseason. At times, Simmons looks like a modern version of Magic Johnson, but he remains reluctant to shoot jumpers. Brett Brown’s coaching leaves much to be desired, and the front office’s personnel decisions don’t inspire much confidence. In other ways, however, they’ve been a delight. The Sixers have taken over the NBA’s bully pulpit, bringing back a rough-and-tumble style of basketball. The Timberwolves were just the first victim.