In Jordan’s last ever game in the NBA, he fired a pass to Simmons. Yet, he nervously delivered the ball back to the Bulls legend, and arguably the greatest player in league history subsequently rang up the final shot attempt of his career. Although he missed the layup, Simmons says he’ll never forget that moment.
“I would’ve taken the shot (any other time), but I was still a fan (of Jordan),” Simmons said. “I wouldn’t change it (my decision) for anything in the world.”
After his 10-year NBA career came to a close in May 2012, Simmons finally makes his return to Allstate Arena’s hardwood on Saturday. During halftime of DePaul's affair with Seton Hall, he, along with seven other former Blue Demon athletes, will be introduced as the newest members of the Athletic department’s Hall of Fame.
However, his road to this feat means just as much to him as the honor itself.
Prior to his collegiate days, Simmons paired up with Quentin Richardson and Lance Williams, two fellow Chicagoans, in the city’s American Athletic Union (AAU) basketball circuit. On top of that, the three competed against each other while attending Simeon, Whitney Young and Julian High School, respectively.
Once Williams committed to DePaul in October 1997, the soon-to-be Simeon Career Academy graduate followed suit shortly after because of their familiarity with one another. Subsequently, Richardson joined the duo in their attempt to reestablish the Blue Demons’ program, which strung together a mere 7-23 record (3-13 Big East) in coach Pat Kennedy’s first season with the school (1997-98).
“The bond that we had as kids became even stronger once we got to college,” Simmons said. “We all knew each other’s character, so we loved to challenge each other (on the court) when it was time to get down and dirty and win games.”
One of those occurrences took place in their sophomore season, as then-ranked No. 22 DePaul trailed No. 17 Duke 84-83 with 14.3 seconds left in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Following Blue Devils forward Nick Horvath’s three-pointer to take the lead, the Blue Demons possessed one final opportunity in the contest to defeat coach Mike Krzyzewski’s powerhouse.
“I could remember that (game) like it was yesterday,” he said. “I told, Q(uentin), ‘I’m coming to you. If you miss this shot, I’m gonna get the board.’ We always knew where each other liked the ball.”
Despite Richardson’s jumper falling short, the trio’s confidence continued to soar throughout the 1999-2000 campaign, helping the team collect wins over quality programs, like St. John’s, Florida and St. Louis. Boasting a 21-11 overall mark after the Conference USA tournament ended, the Blue Demons stamped a ticket to March Madness.
Prior to Selection Sunday, when the NCAA tournament committee reveals the bracket, DePaul hadn’t earned a bid into the Big Dance in nine seasons. Therefore, Simmons says he and his teammates’ were overwhelmed with emotions as the school’s name appeared on the television screen.
“It’s just like (NBA) draft day,” he said, “When your name is called, it’s just another accolade that you can put on your belt.”
In the first round of the tournament, the Blue Demons matched up with Kansas. Simmons says he was elated to just compete on such an enormous stage, and he flourished in the matchup, collecting 14 points and 15 rebounds. Nevertheless, he still feels a bundle of disappointment while recalling the 81-77 final score labeled on the sizable jumbotron at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Following the 2000-01 campaign, Simmons elected to forgo his senior season and declare for the NBA draft. Still, he promised his family that he would return to school once his professional basketball career wrapped up.
Even though he was selected by the Seattle Supersonics with the No. 41 overall pick, the Wizards made a draft night deal, trading for the youngster in exchange for big man Predrag Drobnjak. He would also go on to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs.
Once Simmons completed his second stint with the Clippers in 2012, he went back to DePaul to finish his degree. Two years later, Simmons became the first member of his family to graduate college.
“It’s very rare for kids from my neighborhood to go to college and graduate,” he said. “For my kids to see their dad finally break the curse, it’s now the expectation for them.”
On Saturday night, Simmons will stand on a similar stage in McGrath-Phillips Arena, entering DePaul basketball immortality.