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Ben Simmons ‘happy’ to be with Nets after going through ‘dark times’ past six months

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Ben Simmons has had the bright lights shine on him since his days growing up in Australia’s youth basketball programs. Down Under, he was the Chosen One. And it didn’t take long for the 25-year-old Aussie to become one of Australia’s most notable basketball products, and overall No. 1, a three-time All-Star.

As a teenager, he took his talents to the States, joining the prestigious Montverde Academy nor far from Orlando to play his high school basketball. He became the consensus No. 1 recruit in the 2015 recruiting class, and a year later was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Since then, Simmons has notched various NBA accolades — an All-NBA selection two years ago, runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year balloting last year — but during the 2020-21 season, Simmons said he struggled to find himself and dealt with mental health issues.

After a tough second round series between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks last year’s NBA Playoffs, Simmons play was called out by his teammate Joel Embiid and, to a lesser degree, his coach Doc Rivers. Not to mention Philly’s famously fickle fanbase.

A few days later, he made his trade request and refused to play, ultimately citing mental health issues, a decision that cost him more than $19 million in salary. Many in Philly, media and fans alike, questioned that mental health was the issue, suggesting it was just a different way to hold out until a deal got done. On Tuesday, Simmons disputed that.

“The mental health has nothing to do with the trade,” said Simmons talking about his trade request. “It was a bunch of things I was dealing with as a person in my personal life that I don’t want to go into depth with. I’m here now so it’s a blessing to be in an organization like this. I’m just looking forward to getting back on the floor and building something great here.”

2021 NBA Playoffs - Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

When discussing struggles with mental health, it’s always a hard conversation. He avoided making private details public and instead, decided a higher road with a focus on moving on and expressing excitement for his next chapter.

The former Sixers star explained that the comments he received from his then Sixers teammates, coaches, and fanbase didn’t play a role. Simmons noted that the Sixers organization knew about his mental health concerns before the news broke and made it public information.

“For me, it was making sure mentally I was right to get out there and play again. That’s something I’ve been dealing with. It wasn’t about the fans, coaches, or comments made by anybody. It was just a personal thing for me,” Simmons said. “That was earlier than that series or even that season I was dealing with. That organization [Sixers] knew that, so it’s something I continue to deal with and I’m getting there and getting to the right place to get back on the floor.”

During his six-month absence, the criticism intensified as the Sixers first disappointed, then improved. For his part, he had already settled on finding a new home. He also believed that a change of scenery could also help him combat his struggles. Simmons was looking for fewer distractions, more support. The Nets star said he doesn’t know why it progressively got worse in the City of Brotherly Love.

“If I knew, I’d tell you everything,” said Simmons when asked. “Just a lot of things internally that had happened over time and it just got to a place where I don’t think it was good for me mentally. It is what it is. It happened and moving forward.”

Indeed, it got ugly...

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

While reports continued to surface, Simmons remained quiet throughout his lengthy absence. In breaking his silence Tuesday, he said he didn’t harbor any negativity toward fans, media, and others for their often cruel criticism. He added that his family and friends, some of whom are employed by the Sixers organization, assisted him, had his back.

“This is the first time I’m really speaking up. The last six months, I’ve had everyone saying something but not everybody knew so I can’t really say anything negative towards anybody that was saying something because they didn’t know,” Simmons said. “I’m not the type of person that tries to put somebody down for something I don’t know about. That’s just not me as a man.”

“I’ve had some dark times over these last six months and I’m just happy to be in this situation with this team and this organization,” Simmons added. “People are going to say what they want. They’ve said it the last six months. It is what it is. People are going to have their own opinions.”

And not every pundit thought the way Philly fans and media did...

Now in Brooklyn with that new scenery and new faces around him, he said he’s feeling better and the change has benefited him. Simmons, who participated in the Nets’ shootaround Monday morning and sat on the bench during Brooklyn’s win over Sacramento later that night, praised the energy level he’s seen and his teammates who he said had embraced him with open arms.

“I think it has. Just the way everyone’s welcomed me here has been great. It’s been a very positive experience being here so far,” Simmons said. “I’m looking forward to what’s to come.”

When asked whether he believes there should be a change in how media and others cover athletes and mental health, Simmons said he thinks there should be a change.

“For sure. I don’t really look at it as pressure. There are just so many things going on within basketball and life as people, but it is what it is also. I understand the business side. I understand all that. But that’s something that people should be acknowledged and addressed if they do feel like they need some help in some areas. And it’s okay to do that.”