In a wide-ranging interview with former teammate JJ Redick on The Old Man and the Three podcast, Ben Simmons explained why he requested a trade from the Sixers ahead of last season.
Simmons said that after his collapse against the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals, he was in a “dark place” mentally.
“I think it was like, you know, I’m already dealing with a lot mentally, just in life, as a lot of people do,” he said. “But it got to a point where, after that series, I’m getting—it’s like, from the people that you’re supposed to have the support from, or that, you know, that comfort from. And I wasn’t getting that, either. So it was just a lot. It was great on me. And then mentally, I just, it killed me. I was like, f—k. Like, no energy for anything. Like, I was in a dark place.”
He added that it was “tough” for him knowing he “didn’t really have the support from teammates or whatever at that time.”
“For me, I was trying to, for myself, personally, get to a good place,” he said. “Like, to get back on the floor. So it was never even… getting on the floor was my priority. And trying to get myself to a place where I was mentally good to do that. And I was in such a bad place where I was like, f—k, I’m trying to get here and you guys are, like, throwing all these other things at me to where you’re not helping. 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 that are still my friends—but I didn’t feel like I got that , and it was just a tough place for me.”
On the subject of his holdout, which initially cost him upward of $20 million—although he later recouped some of that after reaching a settlement with the team—Simmons said that he prioritized his own mental well-being over his finances.
“People was like, ‘Well, let’s take his money.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t give af—k about the money.’ Like, I don’t care about the money. It’s not about the money for me now. Like, I want peace and happiness. Like, I want to be in a good place. And if that costs me whatever it’s going to cost, that’s what it costs. Like, my peace is more valuable than you know money.”
Simmons also addressed why he returned to the team after his training camp holdout and what caused him to get thrown out of practice.
“I was trying to do the right thing at least,” he said when Redick asked why he returned. “Like, do right by, you know, whatever the f—k, the team, my teammates, whatever. Whoever it is. But trying to do the right thing. And I just wasn’t in that place to play. Like, I wasn’t. I just couldn’t do it. And I, you know, getting kicked out of that practice that day, I actually spoke to Doc before practice. I’m like, ‘Doc, I’m not ready. Mentally, I’m not ready. Please just understand that.’ You know, I tried to let him know prior. And he was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna put you in anyway.’ I’m like, ‘All right.’ Told me to get in, I was like, I looked at him. It was like one minute into practice. ‘Ben, get in.’ And I’m like, first of all, no one’s doing that. You’re doing this on purpose. And that’s how I felt, too. I was like, so you’re—it seems like everyone’s just trying to f—k me now. Like, I’m getting fined for, like, not lifting weights, but physically, I’m like one of the strongest guys on the f—king team. So now they’re fining me for little things, and it was just a build up of—obviously I didn’t handle things the right way, but also, the team didn’t either.”
If that did play out as Simmons described, it isn’t a great look for Rivers and the Sixers. That situation might help pave the way for a positive change for players in the future, though.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are “discussing measures to allow players to cite mental health issues as an ailment similar to physical injury” in their ongoing negotiations over the next collective bargaining agreement. “Similar to when players treat external injuries, this new addition would give players the ability to treat their mental health concerns with the same gravity, allowing for things such as the seeking of second opinions and psychiatrist visits.”
Redick also asked Simmons about his passed-up dunk in Game 7 of the Hawks series.
“In the moment, I just spun and I’m assuming Trae is gonna come over quicker,” Simmons said. “So I’m thinking he’s gonna come over full-blown, and I see Matisse is going—you know, Matisse is athletic, can get up—so I’m thinking, OK, quick pass. He’s got to flush it, not knowing how much space there was. It happened. It happened so quickly that you just make a read. And in the playoffs, you need to make the right decisions the majority of the time. And for that moment, I mean, bro, it happened and I was like, ‘OK, f—k, now we got to go make another play.’ That’s how I’m thinking. Then I didn’t realize how, you know, everyone was posting… and I’m like, it was that big?”
He did admit that it “looks terrible” in retrospect, though.
“When I look at it now, I’m like, ‘Man, I should’ve just punched that shit.’ But it didn’t happen, and I was OK with that. I can live with that. I can live with—everyone’s trying to kill me over one play, like, does everyone want to watch film with me? Like the whole arena? And I can dissect everything if you guys want.”
On a lighter note, Simmons and Redick had a highly entertaining back-and-forth about whether the process was a success:
Simmons: Looking back now, I think the process was…I mean, people look at it like the process of like, the team, Philadelphia winning a championship, whatever it is. But I think for us, s—t, we were going through the Process. Like, building Philly up. There was a moment where no one wanted to play for Philly. It was like 10 and 72 games. And what we were able to do there was great. I feel like we brought a lot of life back into the game of basketball in Philly.
redick: Well, I think the general thesis of the Process is like, we’re gonna build through the draft. We’re gonna try to draft transcendent players. You historically need basically a top-five or two top-10 to -15 guys to win a championship. And, you’re not guaranteed to win a championship. So if you draft a couple of those guys—and let’s be honest, they missed on a lot of picks. They missed on a lot of picks. And if you do end up drafting a couple of those guys, and you become a contender, and you become a place where free agents want to go, where guys get traded and they want to re-sign there. And all of the sudden, there’s a culture and an environment where winning is really valued and you feel like you’re in it every year, like, that to me means the process worked. Do you agree with that?
Simmons: Yes, I agree.
redick: Because I think everybody thinks the Process didn’t work because they haven’t won yet.
Simmons: Yeah, it’s not, like, you’re not guaranteed to win a championship.
redick: You just don’t want to be in the middle. You just don’t want to be in the middle. You don’t want to be what the Pacers did for the past 20 years.
The whole episode is well worth listening to. Kudos to Simmons for opening up like he did.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PPBStats, cleaning the glass or BasketballReference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM.