It’s been more than two years since former Philadelphia 76er Ben Simmons resembled his All-NBA, All-Defensive First Team self. For numerous reasons, he didn’t suit up during the 2021-22 season. When he did play this past year, he looked like a shell of himself as he struggled through serious back issues before undergoing season-ending surgery, which limited him to 42 games.
This summer, Simmons has been working toward a return to the court and recently with Marc Spears of Andscape. Among other things, he touched on his time with the Sixers, the severity of his back injury, and what he’s learned throughout the last few years of his career. Most notably, Simmons said he’d welcome a return to Philadelphia if he was traded again and spoke glowingly about his tenure in the City of Brotherly Love.
“I had a lot of fun there. It was time for me to go. When I did leave, it was good timing. Obviously, the injury and everything that was going on didn’t help. But I think it gave me a chance to really appreciate it. I’ll always have love for Philly. People always ask me like, ‘If you were to get traded again where you want it to be?’ I always say, ‘Just Philly. Philly is a second home to me.’ And in time, you learn and grow as people. I don’t really have anything bad to say about Philly. It was a crazy situation at the end, but it is what it is.”
Simmons was also asked whether he ever reflects on Game 7 of the second round between the Sixers and Atlanta Hawks. He doesn’t seem to stew on his decision to pass to Matisse Thybulle rather than attempt a contested layup over Trae Young, which drew fiery criticism throughout the NBA world.
“I don’t even remember that game anymore. To me, I made a play. I gave it to somebody who’s probably going to shoot better from the free throw at that moment of the game. It didn’t work, but I made a play. People make hundreds of plays throughout the year. They’re not always going to be the right play at the right time, but it was a play. But that wasn’t the factor of the game. You can go back and look at different things within the game where it could’ve been better. For me, shooting the free throws was one of them, but it didn’t happen. So, that’s just something you just keep working [on].”
Spears followed up by wondering if Simmons has elected to forget about that moment and game.
“No, not forget, because it’s a part of the journey. This would be no fun, what I’m doing now, if it was just all easy. This is a part of the journey for me. We’re in Brooklyn now. I have a chance to come back and turn people’s heads, or people take back what they said before. And that’s what sports is. That’s the beautiful thing about sports. You could play one great game and everyone loves you, then you play one bad game and people hate you. The last memory people have is what they’re going to say. So, for me, I just want to go back and prove people wrong and come out a different player.”
Spears and Simmons discussed the extent to which the Brooklyn Nets guard was limited last season. Simmons said daily activities such as sitting down and standing up caused back tightness and that he had nerve damage in his leg, but he noted “I feel I’m at 100% now.” As for when the back pain began, he pinpointed Feb. 22, 2020, a game he and the Sixers played against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I went up, twisted and I think that’s when I really irritated it right before ‘The Bubble’ when they stopped playing, they canceled the games. So, I got lucky in that situation because they stopped playing and I was able to rehab. And I got it to a great place. And then I had an incident, or an episode, right before I got traded [to Brooklyn]. I went up the stairs, my back just kind of gave out, and that was when it really got a lot worse. And then I tried to rehab. Now I’m about to get ready to play in Game 4 with the Nets in Boston [on April 25, 2022], and we were playing 5-on-5, and I told them I want to play one more 5-on-5 to see how I felt. I was playing, pushed it a little bit too hard. The next day, I woke up on the floor. I couldn’t even move. I had to make that call and say I can’t go. People don’t know that, but that was just a part of it.”
Spears’ interview with Simmons contains much more insight than solely what I’ve included and I don’t want to spoil it all, so I highly recommend reading the entire piece here. The two talk about how his rehab is progressing, what he envisions his role as with the retooled Nets, where he’s at mentally and much more.