Ben Simmons is on his way, the good kind. After pundits, fans, and assorted jeers declared he was done, his body and mind just not up to the challenge of being an NBA star, he began to turn things around last week. After nine games without a double-digit scoring night and five games due to a sore knee, Ben Simmons is back, who has earned All-NBA honors, three All-Star berths, and two All-Defensive Team trophies. It didn’t come as a surprise to his teammates and one of them took to the podium after the game on Wednesday to say, I told you so.
Asked what’s different about the old and now new Ben Simmons, Markiff Morris replied with one word, “healthy,” then defended the 26-year-old.
“Finally got his legs under him. He’s been out for two years. You won’t give him a chance, you want to criticize him after every fu***** game…” Morris told the media. “But when a guy hasn’t played for two years — because obviously you wouldn’t know because none of you have played in the NBA, he’s had to get his body right. He calls every night, he plays 30+ minutes, it takes time.”
It was a trip for a while, of course. Nobody who follows basketball doesn’t know the saga, but there’s always more to the story as Simmons and Konrad Marshall, writing for The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this month, find plenty of it. Simmons has a history of opening up about writers, but Marshall’s interview takes it all to a new level.
He reminds the reader of the stress that led to his stronghold in Philadelphia, and how, when he was recruited, he was compared to the greats by the greats.
“Ben Simmons is the best all-round player I’ve seen since LeBron James walked out of high school straight into the NBA!” said Magic Johnson. LeBron James himself told Simmons, “You have a chance to be better than me. But you can’t skip steps. You have to do the work.”
The LSU tryout was the first time he had been subjected to controversy. Was he going to class? Does it matter?
“The segregation was not useless,” Simmons told Marshall, “but for me it was not necessary.” And the school was making money from me. I don’t put my feet up often, but I did. I was tired. I was constantly training, and I had all these pictures that they wanted me to do.”
After missing his first year with an injury, he became a presence for Philly. He loved the NBA experience.
“Running on the hardwood yards, warming up, reporting, all these different towns—it’s rare to be on that field,” Marshall recalled in one of the many references to Simmons’ love of the game. “You hear your name called out when you walk into the ring. You sink into someone you grew up watching. It’s unbelievable.”
But he also understood that “this is a business, it’s a business, it’s a livelihood, and you have to do what you do well. It gets serious.”
At that time, in 2020, things started to go south. Shooting him became problematic, at least for fans.
“I was already going into therapy,” Simmons said. “I’ve entered a really dark place in my life. ‘Why do I feel like this? What’s happening to me?'” It was a buildup of it all — all this stress, multiple things going on with my family. I’m not sure if I was aware of that?”
At the same time (as we reported in April) his family in Australia was in crisis. His sister has accused their half-brother (and Simmons’ manager) of sexually harassing her since she was three and that their mother had covered it up to protect Ben. His half-brother sued his sister for defamation and won a judgment of A$50,000. It wasn’t pretty and it was happening in the spring of 2021 with the 76ers pressing hard to win it all. He couldn’t go home due to the Sixers schedule…and COVID restrictions.
“These things started piling up and piling up, and basketball was supposed to be my happy place, where I could be free and express myself, and suddenly I couldn’t do it,” he recalls and recalled once asking another sibling, “Did I ever wake up sad?” ?
Then came the Hawks series and Game 7 when he skipped an emphatic dunk to pass to Matisse Thybulle who hit one of two free throws. The narrative quickly became that Ben Simmons was afraid to go to the line, cowardly to make a split-second decision, as Marshall describes things. In the post-game press conference, Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid blame Simmons, which Simmons denies and in speaking with Marshall, is certainly not diplomatic about Rivers and Embiid’s comments.
“If I can come back up, I’ll go up hard, get to the line,” Simmons told Marshall. “But there was a lot of focus on that moment. I made a bad play, but a lot of guys made bad plays. I’m not the reason we didn’t win.”
“Your teammates are supposed to have your back. Coaches are supposed to have your back. And I didn’t have that at all,” Simmons said.
It also describes in detail what happened the day he decided he was not willing to participate in a defensive drill, for which he was fined. Simmons again suggests that Rivers didn’t have his back, didn’t understand.
“I’m still not ready in my head. I wasn’t in a place to get on the field and play. I went to the coach and said, ‘I’m not ready yet to get back on the field, I need some time.'” Simmons said, shaking his head, “Okay, I’ll put you out regardless.” “Well, now you’re just trying… with me.”
Simmons went into his shell. High school classmate Tahg Malone, Marshall writes, had been living with Simmons and had seen the toll it took. He was eating less, sleeping longer. “I saw him kind of get into a shell, kind of shut down. It was tough and ugly, but he wasn’t going to play the victim.”
Since then, it has gotten uglier and uglier in Philly. Philadelphia Inquirer winning writer Keith Pompey tried to explain to Marshall how Philly fans felt. “It’s not like the team paid him, it’s like, ‘We paid him, so he owes us,'” Pompey said. “The only thing missing is a TV crew waiting outside his house. I haven’t seen that happen to another athlete.”
How ugly? Marshall reveals that Simmons is traveling with a personal security detail.
“There’s a perception that if you enjoy all the good things, you have to be prepared for the bad, but that level of relentless hatred was completely disproportionate,” Ben’s mother, Julie Simmons, told Marshall. “I got to a point where I got really angry, because I felt like what they were doing was dangerous, uninformed, and completely wrong. It almost became a sport—to pile on it and make a joke about it, make a joke about it, but he’s a person. He’s my son.”
Finally, at the deadline, an unhappy Simmons (along with Seth Curry and Andre Drummond plus two draft picks) was traded to Brooklyn for an unhappy James Harden (and Paul Millsap). .
“He literally broke down on the phone — ‘Mom, I’m going to Brooklyn’ — and I could hear it in his voice,” she said. “I could hear him take a breath. I could tell he was having a moment. I said, ‘Ben, put it all behind you, honey,’ but, of course, nothing gives you up.”
In fact, it was the back injury, which Simmons again talks about in more detail than other writers.
Marshall wrote that he went for a run upstairs one day and felt two of the lowest vertebrae in his spine—L4 and L5—fail. The pain was immediate. “The whole right side was down. I lay on the bed and couldn’t move. Nerve pain down my calf legs. My foot was dead, my right dragging, and it was numb.”
More controversy ensued with reports that he might play in Game 4 of the Celtics’ series.
“I was supposed to play,” he assured Marshall. “And the day before the game, we were playing 5-on-5 and 4-on-4, and I’m like, ‘Let me play another game,’ because it wasn’t right. I wasn’t moving the way I move. I felt something in my back, it got locked in.” Quick. I woke up the next day—that tells you how it really feels—and I couldn’t move. There was no way.”
It’s time to accumulate. He was faking it again to avoid the moment. As Marshall recounts, Reggie Miller told him to “#ManUp,” and Shaq agreed: “In the hood, we called it a punk move.” Description Stephen A. Smith called Simmons the most selfish player in the league: “No one is worse than Ben Simmons! Ben Simmons may also be the weakest and most pathetic excuse for a professional athlete we have ever seen not only in American history but in the history of sports.”
“Maybe people don’t know me because I don’t show them my life?” Marshall said in an interview. “There will be haters anyway—I won’t try to prove anything to them. If you don’t believe me, you don’t believe me—that’s on you. It shouldn’t be up to me to convince you otherwise.”
On May 9, he went under the knife in Los Angeles and the relief was immediate.
no pain. I can feel my feet again. I could feel my muscles trying to activate.”
But despite all that, there were other issues, all of which Simmons spoke about. He even showed Marshall his texting history to prove that, no, he didn’t give up on a group text.
Perhaps nothing goes as far as Simmons being hated, yeah, especially in certain parts of Philadelphia. Marshall tells one story that sums up that hatred.
Simmons’ older sister, Melissa, runs his community and social impact business (the Ben Simmons Family Foundation), which includes everything from youth leadership programs to partnerships with organizations like Operation Warm (giving winter coats to children who need them). Last year, he was forced to continue the last act anonymously. “We were a little concerned that people in Philly might not wear the coat if they knew it was from Ben Simmons,” Melissa admits, noting that a few kids even dropped technology scholarships because his name was attached. “It was heart wrenching.”
There’s a lot more in the article including Patty Mills’ crucial role, his desire to play for the Australian national team in the 2024 Olympics, and his growing role as a fashion icon (which is a lot easier to do in New York than in Philadelphia). Also, the snake.
In the end, Simmons realizes he needs to win, and the Nets have to win.
“It’s all about winning. Everything changes once you start winning, and then all of a sudden these people who have things to say have nothing left to say. It’s that easy and that hard.”