It's been 15 months since the drama between Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers began, and even though it came to an end when Simmons was traded to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden in February, we've been missing Simmons' side of the story. But not anymore.
Simmons, who is prepping for the start of the 2022-23 season, went on JJ Redick's podcast "The Old Man and the Three," and the two former Sixers teammates discussed his ugly breakup with the team. For the first time, Simmons discussed how he was feeling when he returned to the team following the tough loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a game in which he passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle in a critical moment instead of taking the wide open layup.
Simmons didn't feel supported
When Simmons talked about how he felt during his mental health struggles in 2021-22, he made it clear the Sixers did not make his situation any easier.
"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. And that's all I wanted, was help," Simmons told former Sixers teammate JJ Redick on the podcast.
"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."
After being out of contact for the entire summer before the 2021-22 season started, Simmons suddenly showed up at the practice facility in mid-October having missed the start of training camp a few weeks earlier. Then a week later, Rivers kicked him out of practice for being a "distraction" and not subbing in during drills. Simmons said he'd spoken with head coach Doc Rivers before that practice and said he wasn't mentally ready to play, but Rivers ignored him.
"I was trying to do the right thing at least. Like, do right by whatever the f***, the team, my teammates, whatever, whoever it is. But trying to do the right thing. And I just was not in that place to play. I wasn't. I just couldn't do it. And getting kicked out of that practice that day, I actually spoke to Doc before practice. 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 buildup. Obviously, I didn't handle things the right way, but, also, the team didn't either, and the people who had that power."
Just a few days later, Simmons reportedly told his teammates and coaches that he wasn't mentally ready to play. The Sixers stopped fining him for missing practices for awhile, but once the season started, they began fining him again when he reportedly refused to see the team's mental health specialist. In Feb. 2022, he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for James Harden.
Reaction after Game 7 put him in 'dark place'
This all started at the end of Game 7 back in June 2021, which caused a schism between Simmons and the rest of the organization. With under four minutes left in the game, Simmons passed the ball to Thybulle instead of making a wide open layup. Thybulle was fouled and made one of his two free throws, and Philly never got back on track.
Both Joel Embiid and Rivers criticized Simmons in their postgame comments, and that one moment was singled out as being why the Sixers ended up losing to the Hawks. Both Redick and Simmons believe Embiid and Rivers threw him under the bus, and Simmons admitted that he wasn't prepared to deal with the blowback.
"I think it was like, you know, I'm already dealing with a lot mentally just in life, as a lot of people do," Simmons said via CBSSports. "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 comfort from. And I wasn't getting that, either. So it was just a lot, it was a toll on me. And then mentally, I just — it killed me. I was like, f***, like no energy for anything. I was in a dark place. And it took me a long time. The first thing for me was really identifying, like, OK, I gotta get right. And it's not a physical thing. It's mentally."
But now he's "in a great place," Simmons said. "And I feel comfortable talking about it now. But those were some dark days for me. And especially, you know, f***, everything's public. That's the crazier part. But yeah. 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, either, from teammates or whatever it was at that time."