‘Not the truth’: Ben Simmons opens up on ugly Sixers split, ‘shock’ trade and THAT passed-up dunk
It has been 15 months since Ben Simmons last played an NBA game. But with his Brooklyn Nets debut now on the horizon, the Australian has opened up like never before.
Forget even taking to the court, it has been that long since we have heard Simmons speak publicly, and never at this length or with this much candour.
But ahead of the new season, Simmons sat down with former NBA player and media personality JJ Redick for over an hour on his podcast ‘The Old Man and the Three’.
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Opening up on the trade saga, that passed-up dunk and his basketball philosophy, Simmons painted a far more complex picture of his Sixers exit than can be captured in a few headlines.
It all started with that series against the Atlanta Hawks, although as Simmons went on to explain, it really had been building up long before that 2021 playoffs series.
‘TRYING TO KILL ME OVER ONE PLAY’: SIMMONS OPENS UP ON THAT DUNK
Simmons could sense he was not himself in that series, long before that infamous pass play against the Hawks.
“I think it was a build-up over time,” he said.
“I was kind of like deflecting and pushing it to the side and not addressing my mental health. It’s hard to do that when you don’t really know, like, ‘F***, why do I feel like this? Why am I feeling this way?’
“Once I was able to really address that, I was like, ‘Oh s***, I want to get myself right, I want to get to a good place mentally to be able to do my job and learn to deal with things I’m dealing with in the right ways and not going down a downward spiral.’ Because there’s a lot of people that go through it and never address it.”
Unfortunately for Simmons, he had to address it in a very public forum, opening himself up to even more scrutiny — and his mental health suffered because of it.
What made it even harder for Simmons to move forward though was the constant obsession with looking back at that play, that one moment that everyone points to in the Hawks series.
Even Simmons himself with hindsight admits it “looks terrible”, when he passed a wide-open dunk to instead give the ball to Sixers teammate and fellow Australian Matisse Thybulle.
But he has his reasons for making that decision and to his day, maintains he can “live” with it.
“In the moment I just spun and I’m assuming Trae’s going to come over quicker, so I’m thinking he’s going to come full-on,” Simmons said.
“I see Matisse, you know Matisse is athletic and can get up, so I’m thinking quick pass and he’s going to flush it, not knowing how much space there was.
“It happened so quick that you just make a read. In the playoffs, you need to make the right decisions the majority of the time.
“For that moment, bro, it happened and I was just like, ‘OK, f***, now we got to go make another play.’ That’s how I’m thinking and I didn’t realise how everyone is posting like it’s that big?”
“When I look at it now, I’m like, ‘I should’ve just f***ing punched that s***’.”
But he didn’t.
“And I was OK with that,” Simmons added.
“I can live with that, I can live with, OK, everyone’s trying to kill me over one play.”
Although, as Simmons went on to point out, anyone can dissect every play in a game and find a mistake that would have been just as costly to the Sixers.
Plus, Simmons is always matched up to defend against the opposition’s best players, so you can easily mount an argument that more than makes up for a missed opportunity like that regularly.
But that level of nuance is often lost and when Joel Embiid mentioned it post-game, that moment would immediately become a defining one in Simmons’ career — fair or unfair.
It was the beginning of the end for the Australian in Philadelphia.
THE ‘DARK DAYS’ AT SIXERS AND ‘TRUTH’ BEHIND UGLY EXIT
As the external noise grew louder after that Atlanta series, normally Simmons would look internally for support. But he did not even find it there.
“I think it was, like, I’m already dealing with a lot mentally just in life as a lot of people do, but it got to a point where after that [Hawks] series, it’s like from the people you’re supposed to have that support from or that comfort from, I wasn’t getting that either,” he said.
“It took a toll on me. Then mentally, it killed me. I was like, f*** , no energy for anything, I was in a dark place. The first thing for me was really identifying that I got to get right.
“It’s not a physical thing, it’s mentally. I think that first thing of acknowledging it is a huge step for me. I need to address this, I need help in these areas.
“Being able to do that, that was the start of getting to where I’m at now. I’m in a great place and I feel comfortable talking about it now.”
Fellow NBA star John Wall also bravely opened up on his mental health struggles on Friday in a Players’ Tribune essay and as Simmons went on to explain, being in the public eye makes doing that even harder.
“Those were some dark days for me and especially, f***, everything’s public. That’s the crazier part,” he said.
“It’s something that everyone goes through different struggles, some bigger than others, but everyone has their own battles, and I think that was tough for me, just knowing I didn’t really have that support from teammates or whatever it was at that time.”
As soon as it became clear Simmons was prepared to hold out for a trade out of Philadelphia, a report surfaced claiming teammates had planned to fly out to Los Angeles to see him.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported at the time that Simmons turned those teammates away but the Australian said that once again, that was not the total truth.
“So many things happened, and people don’t really realise that’s not the truth,” Simmons said.
“You guys were gonna fly out, and now you’re gonna fly out when training camp is about to start? I was in LA for months. No one came. No one was there. You could’ve came, but now you want to make it public that you were flying out? That’s bulls***.
“No one was getting on that plane. Like, come on, man. That’s the f***ing truth. There were guys in L.A. that didn’t say anything to me. But that’s irrelevant to me. There were a lot of things getting put out that shouldn’t have been put out. Those people know who they are.”
‘YOU’RE DOING THIS ON PURPOSE’: GETTING KICKED OUT OF PRACTICE
The lack of support extended to coach Doc Rivers and ended with Simmons being kicked out of practice before the season opener after “trying to do the right thing” by the team.
“I actually spoke to Doc before practice,” Simmons said.
“I was like, ‘Doc, I’m not ready. Mentally, I’m not ready. Please just understand that’. I tried to let him know prior, and he was like, ‘Well, I’m going to put you in anyway.’ I’m like, ‘All right.’ He told me to get in. I looked at him. It was like one minute into practice, like, ‘Ben, get in.’
“I’m like, first of all, no one’s doing that. You’re doing this on purpose. And that’s how I felt, too. It seems like everyone’s trying to f*** with me now. I’m getting fined for not lifting weights, but physically I’m one of the strongest guys on the f***ing team.
“So now they’re fining me for little things. It was just a build-up. Obviously, I didn’t handle things the right way, but, also, the team didn’t either, and the people who had that power.”
It was never about the money for Simmons though, who said all he cared about in this whole process was “peace and happiness”. But he just was not finding that in Philadelphia.
“I was in such a bad place where I was like, f***, I’m trying to get here and you guys are, like, throwing all these other things at me to where you’re not helping,” he said.
“And that’s all I wanted, was help. I didn’t feel like I got it from coaches, teammates — I won’t say all teammates, because there’s great guys on that team that did reach out and are still my friends — but I didn’t feel like I got that, and it was just a tough place for me.”
Philadelphia is already a tough place to play in when you consider its fanbase, which is seen as one of the most passionate in America — and that can be a good or bad thing.
Simmons said the fans in Philadelphia were “unbelievable”, in a good way, but admitted at times the spotlight became too much, extending to even the smallest of debates.
“People in Philly just want to have something to say about anything, man,” he said.
Everything. Literally everything. I post a picture of a car or a dog, and I got reporters saying, ‘You should be in the gym.’ Like, come on, man.”
It was inevitable that Simmons would be traded and in February this year, the Australian was sent to Brooklyn as part of the blockbuster James Harden deal.
But, as Simmons went on to explain, it had gotten to the point where he “literally did not care who was getting traded for who”.
He just wanted out of Philadelphia. Unfortunately for him, the drama was far from over.
THE ‘SHOCK’ TRADE THAT ENDED IT ALL... AND STARTED NEW DRAMA
“In that moment, I actually broke down,” Simmons said of when the trade to the Nets was made official.
“I had to have a moment by myself, because I was sitting in the office. I had family around and time was going down, and then it happened. It was just a shock, because I spent six years in Philly. I have friends there.
“Now you’re telling me I’m going to New York. My family’s there, too. It was very emotional for me all at once. I had to just sit down and gather myself.”
It was a new beginning for Simmons, a fresh start away from the turmoil in Philadelphia and a chance to be part of a genuine title contender.
Simmons though would never suit up for the Nets last season, telling Redick he injured his back after a workout and was in similar pain to that he experienced in Milwaukee in 2020.
“So, initially I had some soreness in my back when I was working out, then I went to, like, go hop up the stairs, run up the stairs, and my whole right side just dropped,” Simmons said. “And as soon as I went upstairs, I lay down and I could not move.”
Simmons wanted to play but couldn’t and what made that even more “frustrating” was that it gave his critics even more ammunition.
“You have everyone saying whatever,” he added.
“But I try to block that out. If I’m hurt, I’m hurt. I’m not trying to sit out.”
Unfortunately for Simmons there was only so much he could control when it came to public perception and then a report surfaced claiming he had left the Nets group chat after being asked to play in Game 4 against the Celtics.
“That’s what I hate about the Internet,” Simmons said of the report.
“F***ing people just make anything up, and it just gets taken too far. But no, I didn’t leave the group chat. I actually texted Patty [Mills] about that, and I was like, ‘Yo, did I leave a group chat?’
“I was so confused, and he’s like, ‘Bro, no one even said anything in the group chat for like a month’. There was nobody even talking in the group chat when we got to the playoffs.”
Of course, Simmons did not even get a chance to push himself to be fit for the second week of the playoffs, with Brooklyn crashing out in a series sweep against Boston.
Expectations will be high again this season with Simmons, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving finally taking to the court together for the first time and the Australian certainly shares those expectations.
“We just have an unbelievable team,” he said.
“I think just like the talent that we have and the type of players that we have, we’re going to be able to run the floor easily. I feel like it’s Philly on steroids kind of, in terms of what we had when you were there, Marco [Belinelli] and Ersan [Ilyasova].
“It’s exciting knowing I’m going to play with those guys and knowing their games. I don’t have to f***ing guard Kyrie and Kevin.”
Simmons also won’t have to shoot as much with Seth Curry, Joe Harris and Patty Mills spacing the floor, although the 26-year-old actually thinks he “needs” to improve in that regard.
“I need to just go out there and put some up,” he said.
It would be one way of silencing the constant spotlight that has been placed on Simmons’ shooting, something which the Australian admitted “f***ed with me a lot”.
‘IT F***ED WITH ME’: SIMMONS’ FRANK ADMISSION AND HOPE FOR FUTURE
“I think for a while it was just so repetitive, you’re hearing it all the time from everybody,” Simmons said of the shooting criticism.
“You’re like, ‘F***ing hell, get off my case.’ I do other stuff too. I’m guarding the best players. That’s one thing, I don’t think people respect that enough, like what I’m bringing to the court because there’s a lot of s*** I’m bringing to the court.”
Starting with Simmons’ basketball IQ, which the Australian said is one of the more “overlooked” aspects of his game.
“It’s easy to just nitpick things about a player, but when you actually look at it and the amount of points I kind of generate in terms of like different ways, it’s a lot of points,” he said.
“And we did some amazing things in Philly but I think it is overlooked. But that’s OK.”
Plus, as Simmons went on to explain, he knows as an elite defender that it is a far simpler task to guard someone who is solely focused on scoring.
“Guarding somebody that just wants to score, it’s easier for me to focus on that than LeBron, who makes everybody better,” he said.
“For me, I just want to win so people also don’t understand my goal is to purely win. I’m not trying to have this many points, whatever it is, my goal is to win so I’m trying to do whatever I can during a game to make the right plays and right reads to help my team win.
“But that [the focus on shooting] is for sure frustrating. It’s also one of my weaknesses, so what am I going to get mad at people for saying I’m not good at something? I’m going to practice and get better. It is what it is.”
Simmons even said it is a source of pride for him, the fact that people “expect” such a high level of basketball from him, recognising he can be a genuine difference-maker on the court.
But still, the intense focus and debate over his shooting did eventually start to get to Simmons’ head.
“For sure,” he said.
“I didn’t really realise that early on in my career. This started building up and I’m like, ‘They’re saying I can’t, like should I not? I’m confused now. You don’t want me to shoot but you want me to shoot?’. It did f*** with me a lot, but I’ve kind of found peace and a play where I’m just like, ‘F*** it, it’s basketball, I’m great at the game and I need to go out there and show people what I can do and my talent.’
“I feel like all of this stuff that’s happened in the last few years for me has kind of helped me grow and mature in a way I don’t think I would’ve if I didn’t have those experiences.”
And that is the biggest takeaway for Nets fans. Simmons is in a better place, both mentally and physically, not just ready but excited for the new chapter in his career.
“It’s going to be sick, I can’t wait,” he said.
“I’m so excited. I’ve got a new number, a new jersey. I’m just looking forward to it. I think we have a special team and if we get it all together we’re going to be champions. That’s the end goal.”