Ben Simmons is taking the NBA by storm in his rookie season, snatching the heart of millions of Sixers fans. But Ben’s influence doesn’t end in the City of Brotherly Love. Simmons’ fans from his homeland of Australia are tuning in every night (day?) to watch the rookie phenom. Ben Mallis (@BenMallis) of The Pick and Roll was kind enough to have a chat with me about the impact Ben has had on Aussie hoops fans. After enjoying this Q&A, you should check out Ben’s work over at The Pick and Roll, where he covers everything from Aussies in the NBA to the Australian National Team.
Kevin F. Love: Does Ben Simmons have a sizeable following in Australia?
Ben Mallis: Definitely. Ben Simmons is the most hyped basketball athlete we have ever had. People recognise the talent and are unquestionably excited about what he can achieve over the coming years.
KFL: To build on the previous question, are there a lot of new Sixers fans in Australia?
You may be surprised, but the 76ers have always had a sneaky big following in Australia. That is thanks to Allen Iverson. Simmons’ emergence has rekindled the fandom for many.
Having Brett Brown as Head Coach also helps. Brown played an important role in the growth of Australian basketball. He coached our national team at the start of this decade. Before that, he coached Ben’s dad, Dave Simmons, during the 1990s. How crazy is that! The fact Brown and the Simmons family are now intertwined, in Philadelphia of all places, is incredible. Shameless plug: your readers might like my chat with Brown on his journey and history with Australia.
Simmons performing at such a strong level means people are paying attention to the 76ers on a daily basis. Going forward, new Australian basketball fans will be falling in love with Ben Simmons and the 76ers will garner plenty of notoriety locally.
KFL: Is Ben’s success in the NBA drawing interest from Australians that were previously not interested in the NBA?
BM: 100%. Basketball has historically been a second tier sport in Australia. Kind of like soccer in America. People have always liked and played the sport, but there was never a groundswell of support within mainstream circles. That has slowly been changing over the past couple of decades, and the last five years have seen a seismic shift. The NBA is insanely popular down here. More people watch the NBA more than local Australian basketball leagues. Ben’s emergence is the final piece of the puzzle for a blossoming sport.
KFL: Has Ben always been popular in his homeland or is he just now turning heads? A lot of times, we’re exposed to players when they are as young as 15 or 16. I feel like I’ve known of Michael Porter Jr. for 3 or 4 years, and he’s hardly even played in college. Was there buzz around Ben before he was a top high school recruit as a senior?
BM: People have known about Simmons for years, but he’s only exploded into the mainstream consciousness over the past 18 months. It’s a little different in Australia with elite basketball prospects. The very best, like Simmons and Jonah Bolden (whom the 76ers drafted last year), leave Australia as teenagers and attend high school in the USA. This can make it hard to follow their path prior to the NBA. Basketball die-hards always knew Simmons would be special. The entire country is now paying attention.
KFL: How popular is the sport in general? Not specifically the NBA, but the sport? In other words, are recreation areas filled with pickup games? Are kids being introduced to the sport at a young age?
BM: The sport is booming. It is a great time to be an Australian basketball fan. Thanks to NBA league pass, the game is accessible 24/7, and that is especially helpful given NBA games take place during work hours in Australia.
Kids are playing the game more than even, and importantly, they are choosing to pursue basketball over traditional sports. Simmons is a classic example, as he played Australian Rules Football as a teenager before pursuing a career in basketball.
We are witnessing the golden generation of Australian basketball. The likes of Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Aron Baynes and Matthew Dellavedova (aka T.J. McConnell’s spirit animal!) have all won Championships recently. Simmons leads the youth brigade, along with Dante Exum, Thon Maker, Jonah Bolden and many others.
On a national level, Team USA better watch out! An Australian team led by Simmons will be the next team to defeat Team USA in international basketball. I am willing to guarantee that! And it all starts next year, when Team USA heads to Melbourne and plays our national team in front of 50,000 fans in Melbourne. If any basketball fans fancy a trip to Australia, this will be the basketball experience of a lifetime.
KFL: What do you think Ben’s legacy will be amongst Australians? What could he mean to the country?
BM: Ben has the potential to be Australia’s greatest global sportsperson. He is that good. He will be the G.O.A.T. of Australian basketball. No doubt about that. And if he leads Australia to an Olympic Gold Medal, he will reach Godlike status.
Within an NBA context, he will break the mould. No Australian has ever won an NBA award like Rookie of the Year. No Australian has ever been a legitimate MVP candidate. No Australian has ever led a playoff team in scoring. No Australian has ever been an All-Star. No Australian has ever been the best player on a legitimate Championship contender. Ben will achieve all of this in the next few years. Beyond that, the sky is the limit.
A big thanks to Ben for taking the time to speak with me, I really had fun with this conversation and it’s really cool to know an entire country is throwing their support behind the Sixers. Don’t forget to check out Ben’s work at The Pick and Roll, covering all things Aussie hoops. You can give Ben a follow on Twitter @BenMallis to stay on top of his work. Ben may even be stateside as soon as this September to further his coverage of Ben Simmons.