Simmons: Embiid, Rivers didn’t help mental health struggles originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Enigmatic former Sixers star Ben Simmons appeared on JJ Redick’s podcast Thursday and finally spoke candidly about basically every hot-button topic that popped up around him since June 2021.
One of the main points of contention for Sixers fans was the way he dealt with the summer following their series-long meltdown to the Hawks in the 2021 postseason and his apparent disconnect from the team as he demanded a trade and isolated in Los Angeles.
There were reports of mental health issues, there were questions over those reports’ validity, and it was all just a big jumbled mess.
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Simmons opened up on basically all of that during his talk with Redick and co-host Tommy Alter: how he was feeling mentally leading up to the Hawks series and afterwards, why the mental health issues led to him getting kicked out of practice before the 2021-22 season began, and how he felt Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers… didn’t exactly help the situation.
Here are some of his most telling and insightful answers on the matters:
On his struggles with mental health
“SIMMONS: I’m already dealing with a lot mentally in life, as a lot of people do, but it got to a point where after that [Hawks] series I’m getting – it’s from the people you’re supposed to have the support from, that comfort from, and I wasn’t getting that either. So it was a toll on me. And then mentally I just, it killed me. I was like, ‘F***.’ No energy for anything, I was in a dark place. It took me a long time – the first thing for me was to identify, ‘Okay, I’ve gotta really get right. It’s not a physical thing, it’s mentally.’ I think that first thing of acknowledging it was a huge step for me. […] I think that was tough for me, knowing I didn’t really have that support either, from teammates or whatever it was at the time –
“REDICK: No, let’s call it like it is. Let’s call it like it is. You know that I love Joel [Embiid] and you know that I love Doc [Rivers], but they essentially threw you under the bus after Game 7.
“SIMMONS: For sure, for sure.
“REDICK: Like, that’s indisputable.
“ALTER: [points out most people would want a change of scenery after a bad work experience]
“SIMMONS: I think that was part of it, too, people were like, ‘Let’s take his money,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t give a f*** about the money, I don’t care about the money, it’s not about the money for me now. I want peace and happiness. I want to be in a good place. If that costs whatever it’s gonna cost, that’s what it costs.’ My peace is more valuable than money.
On why he got kicked out of practice
“REDICK: I don’t know the inner workings of everything, but why did you come back for two days of practice?
“SIMMONS: Um, because I was trying to do the right thing.
“REDICK: My understanding is, there was a trade request at some point before training camp. You weren’t going to come, then you ended up coming and you went to a couple days of practice and then one day Doc kicked you out, and you were texting probably some girl…
“SIMMONS: No, no, no, no, no. Hold on.
“REDICK: I might’ve made that last part up. [Laughs]
“SIMMONS: People made that up, too. I had my jersey in my pocket, in my sweatpant pocket. They thought it was a phone. I don’t know how they thought it was a phone. That’s what that situation was, to clear that up.
“REDICK: So why did you –
“SIMMONS: Because I was trying to do the right thing, at least. Do right by whatever the f***. The team, my teammates, whatever, whoever it is. Trying to do the right thing. I just was not in that place to play. I wasn’t. I couldn’t do it. Getting kicked out of practice that day, I actually spoke to Doc before practice and I was like, ‘Doc, I’m not ready. Mentally I’m not ready, please just understand that.’ I tried to let him know prior. He was like, ‘I’m gonna put you in anyway.’ I’m like, ‘Alright.’ Told me to get in, I looked at him like – it was one minute into practice and he’s 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 was like, ‘So 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. Now they’re fining me for little things, and it was just a build up of – honestly I didn’t handle things the right way, but also the team didn’t either, and the people who had that power.
“REDICK: What’s the word – irreconcilable differences? When they talk about a divorce and it’s not one thing, it’s just a build up of things. […] Is that sort of what it was?
“SIMMONS: Yes and no. For me I was trying for myself, personally, to get to a good place. To get back on the floor. So it was never even – getting on the floor was 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***, I’m trying to get here and you guys are throwing all these other things at me to where you’re not helping.’ And that’s all I wanted, was help. I didn’t get it from – I didn’t feel like I got it from coaches, teammates. I won’t say all teammates because I had these great guys on the team that did reach out that are still my friends. But I didn’t feel like I got that, and it was just a tough place for me.”
On why he told teammates to not fly out to L.A. to visit
“SIMMONS: So many things happen and people don’t really realize, that’s not the truth. You guys were gonna fly out. Now you’re gonna fly out to the end, when training camp’s about to start? I was in L.A. for months. No one came. No one was there. You could’ve came. Now you want to make it public that you were flying out? That’s bulls**t. No one was getting on that plane. Come on, man. What’s the f***ing truth? There were guys in L.A. that didn’t say anything to me. There were a lot of things that would get put out that shouldn’t have been put out. And those people know who they are.”
That’s a lot to digest! I do think it’s telling that Simmons was able to accept some blame in the situation. He knows he didn’t handle the trade request perfectly, nor did he handle his on-again, off-again holdout perfectly.
Say what you will about him as a player and as a personality, but it does legitimately sound like he was going through some rough mental health struggles. Those are never black and white, and they’re also not something you should dismiss when assessing how someone is behaving.
I can’t imagine Philadelphia sports fans are ever going to be willing to forgive Simmons fully for how his time with the Sixers came to an end, but for me I think Simmons’ willingness here to talk – and not just talk, but talk with emotion and with substance – makes it easier to understand where he was coming from during that turbulent summer.
The Sixers and the Nets face off Nov. 22 in Philadelphia. It will be quite a scene.