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Kevin Love on Ben Simmons and mental health: ‘In his heart, in his head, he’s a really good person’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Philadelphia 76ers

In an exclusive interview with Anthony Puccio of Front Office Sports, Kevin Love spoke recently about mental health ... and Ben Simmons situation. No, he’s not faking anything and yes, he’s getting better mentally as well as physically.

Love, even before Simmons, drew attention to players’ mental health in a 2018 story he wrote for The Players Tribune, entitled, “Everyone Is Going Through Something.” In it, he spoke about a panic attack he had during a game, calling it “as real as a broken hand or a sprained ankle.” For a star — and NBA champion — to call attention to the issue was a significant moment in mental health advocacy.

Until now, though, Love has not spoken publicly on the Simmons situation. But in response to Pooch’s question about fans’ — particularly those in Philadelphia — contention that Simmons is “faking it,” Love was gentle but clear in his criticism.

Without criticizing the fans (or the 76ers) directly, Love said he believes in Simmons and his ability to recover both mentally and physically.

“It’s hard to argue feelings, first and foremost. I think a lot of people like to throw shade at a safe distance. I learned from the late, great Flip Saunders that everybody has a part to play, everybody gets to contribute a verse. I understand a scorned fan. I understand Philly fans — they’re a blue-collar type of place. You go there, it doesn’t matter who you are — even if you’re on their team and you don’t play well, they’re gonna let you know.”

Still, Love noted, despite the fans and much of the media, there is another side, Simmons side.

“There’s a lot to unpack there with Ben, but knowing him and being a friend, I think, yeah, mentally and with his back physically, he’s getting better, and it’s a work in progress every single day. Look at it in terms of that — time has the ability to heal all.”

Love spoke about his own dealings with spurned and scorned fans, those in Minnesota after he was traded to Cleveland, and how ultimately the relationship got better over time.

“When I went back to Minnesota my first year, I got booed pretty well,” he told Pooch. “They still gave me a nice video. People there are just Minnesota nice, they’re great, but as time went on I’ve kept so many of those relationships. Even seeing the fans this year, being back there, you realize it’s all love. So a lot of those people that felt scorned have said, ‘Let’s celebrate the team we have with Karl Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards.’”

So, he advised Simmons how to play it in Philly when he finally sees game action vs. the 76ers.

“I really hope Ben returns to play and plays well. I know the first several times he goes back to play against Philly, he’ll feel some sort of way, but in his heart, in his head, he’s a really good person. He just got caught in a tough situation that wasn’t the easiest on all sides of it, whether it be Doc, Joel, the organization — I’m hoping everybody had a good landing spot at the end of it.”

Simmons, of course, was not happy with the way either his coach, Doc Rivers, or his All-Star teammate, Joel Embiid, reacted after the 76ers collapse in last year’s playoffs, losing to the Hawks. Neither offered him a vote of confidence and fans blamed him for the loss. So, not long afterwards, Simmons let it be known that he wanted no part of the City of Brotherly Love, citing mental health concerns as he held out until the Nets traded for him in February.

Speaking in general terms with Pooch, Love also seemed to be referring to Simmons’s situation.

“[I]t’s OK to share, it’s OK to not live in the shadows and expose yourself on a different level,” Love said. “I always say you can’t heal what you don’t reveal. So when you say these things, people can’t use it against you — like, yeah I have faults, I’m not a perfect human being, but you can’t use me against me. This is just who I am.”

Simmons mental health, of course, is back in the news after the 25-year-old filed a grievance against the Philadelphia organization, seeking the return of $19 million in salary the 76ers withheld, citing a breach of contract. Simmons reps have cited the mental health provision of the CBA which states a player’s salary cannot be withheld for failing to render services “if such failure has been caused by the player’s mental disability.”

Simmons has said publicly — at his press conference — that he had experienced “dark times” ... which he preferred not to talk about. And Daryl Morey said on a podcast after the trade that he believed Simmons was dealing with debilitating mental health issues.

But the final line, however, won’t be written with the arbitrator’s ruling. It’s going to be how he handles the world and it appears that he’ll have people like Love to help him out.