Ben Simmons said during an interview on former teammate JJ Redick’s podcast that he did not feel supported by the 76ers while dealing with mental health struggles in the aftermath of the team’s 2021 playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks. It all led to his trade request and months-long holdout before being dealt to the Brooklyn Nets in February.
“I was in such a bad place where I was like, [expletive], I’m trying to get here and you guys are, like, throwing all these other things at me to where you’re not helping,” Simmons said on The Old Man & the Three episode posted Thursday. “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.”
These were Simmons’ most extensive comments since all the events that led to the blockbuster deadline trade that also brought perennial All-Star James Harden to Philly. The only other time Simmons has spoken publicly during that period was a press conference in Brooklyn held shortly after joining the Nets. He never played for the Nets last season due to a back injury that eventually required surgery, but he is expected to be ready for opening night next month for a Brooklyn team that still has stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the roster.
Simmons made his trade request in the summer of 2021 and said he would not report to training camp or play for the Sixers again. He eventually returned for two practices just before the 2021-22 opener, but was kicked out of the second session by coach Doc Rivers for being disengaged. Simmons said he was “trying to do the right thing” by joining the team but “I wasn’t into that [mental] place to play.”
“I actually spoke to Doc before [the practice I was kicked out]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 beforehand, 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 just trying to [mess] with me now. I’m getting fined for not lifting weights, but physically I’m one of the strongest guys on the [expletive] 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.”
Simmons also clarified that his practice jersey, not a cellphone, was in his sweatshirt pocket when cameras captured him running drills during his only full practice with the Sixers last season.
And also broke down the much-ridiculed play when he passed up a wide-open dunk in Game 7 of the Sixers’ loss to the Hawks.
“At the moment, I would have spun, and I’m assuming Trae [Young is] going to come over quicker. So I’m thinking he’s gonna come full-blown, and I see Matisse [Thybulle] going. Matisse is athletic and can get up, so I’m thinking, ‘OK, quick pass, he’s gonna flush it,’ not knowing how much space there was.
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“It happened so quickly, that you just read it. 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, [expletive], now we’ve got to go make another play.’ That’s how I’m thinking, and I didn’t realize how everyone’s posting. I’m like, ‘It was that big?’”
Redick, who played for the Sixers from 2017-19, echoed how fast the game moves, but added, “When it slows down, it looks really bad, Ben.”
“It looks terrible,” Simmons said. “When I look at it now, I’m like, ‘Man I should have just [expletive] punched that [expletive].’ But it didn’t happen, and I was OK with that. I can live with that. Everyone’s trying to kill me over one play, like, does everyone want to watch a movie with me? The whole arena? I can dissect everything if you guys want, but it’s not realistic.”
Simmons and Redick have been friends since before they were Sixers teammates. Redick said during the interview that they got connected via text after Reddick played against the Sixers in Philly during his last season with the Clippers in 2016-17, saying Simmons then “basically tampered” in trying to persuade him to sign with the Sixers in free agency the following summer.
Here are additional excerpts of the wide-ranging interview:
“I literally did not care about who was getting traded for who. At that moment, I actually broke down. 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 build-up over time that I was kind of deflecting. I was just pushing it to the side and not addressing my mental health. It’s hard to do that when you don’t really know,[Expletive], why do I feel like this?’ … 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 series… 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 a toll on me, and then, mentally, it killed me. I was like [expletive], no energy for anything. I was in a dark place.
“The first thing for me was really identifying, ‘I got to get right, and it’s not a physical thing. It’s mentally.’ And I think that first thing of acknowledging it is a huge step for me, and I was like, ‘OK, I need to address this. I need help in these areas.’ And being able to do that, that was a start of getting to where I’m at now. I’m in a great place and I feel comfortable talking about it now. But those were some dark days for me, and especially, [expletive], everything’s public? That’s the craziest part. 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 really didn’t have that support, either, from teammates or whatever it was at that time.”
“People were like, ‘Well, let’s take his money,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t give a [expletive] 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, and if that costs me whatever it’s going to cost, that’s what it costs. My peace is more valuable than money.’”
“Now you want to fly out when training camp is about to start? I was in LA for months. No one came. No one was there. You could have come. Now you want to make it public that you were flying out? That’s it [expletive]. No one was getting on that plane. Come on, man. That’s it [expletive] truth. There were guys in LA that didn’t say anything to me. That’s irrelevant to me. There was a lot of things that were just getting put out that shouldn’t have been put out, and those people who know who they are.”
“People in Philly just want to have something to say about [expletive] anything, man. 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. Philly is obviously a sports city. And my experience playing there was incredible. For the most part, it was incredible. I had a great time. The fans were unbelievable. I still have an apartment there, so I do own some real estate in Philadelphia, still. I feel like I’m part of Philly, still. … I value just that time I spent in Philly, because I was able to learn and grow in that city. I got friends for life there. My brother lives there. I got family there. So, yeah, Philly’s great. I think people have a thought that I hate it.”
“There was a moment where no one wanted to play for Philly… 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. You’re not guaranteed to win the championship. … We’ve built something there. People want to play there now. You’ve got Joel [Embiid] there. Tobias [Harris] is there. Jimmy [Butler] came to Philly. We’ve had great players. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
“I was actually going up the stairs. 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. And as soon as I went upstairs, I laid down and I couldn’t move.”
“No, because I wouldn’t be here. I don’t think we could say, ‘Yeah, I wish I went up and dunked the ball, because that was the whole game.’ Like, come on. If I didn’t go through what I’ve gone through the last year-and-a-half, then I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. And I think I needed to go through all of that and have those experiences to be where I’m at now.”
“It’s going to be sick. I can’t wait. I’m so excited. Got a new number, new jersey. I’m just looking forward to it. I think we have a special team. I think if we get it all together, we’re going to be the champions. That’s the end goal.”