Evanson: Ben Simmons has to work to get better
Let's get this immediately out of the way: Mental health is a real thing and should be taken seriously. So anyone stretching in anticipation of safely pouncing on me for insensitivity, ignorance or antiquated thinking can put down their dukes.
Having said that, this is the real world where people are asked—and expected—to, on a daily basis, play through a certain level of pain, opposed to the mythical planet Ben Simmons has been inhabiting since he failed on the NBA's biggest stage roughly a year ago.
Simmons could never shoot. Since entering the league in 2016 after a season at LSU, the 6-foot-11 "can't miss" (no pun intended) superstar has been repeatedly maligned for his perimeter ineptitude and that criticism boiled-over during Philadelphia's second round playoff loss to Atlanta last year.
The 2016 first overall pick made just 15-of-45 foul shots in the series versus the Hawks and for the entirety of the postseason shot just 34.2% from the line.
He was particularly unreliable in late portions of games, failing to attempt a single shot in the fourth quarter in five of the series' seven games and, in a critical juncture late in game 7, appeared to pass-up an open layup for fear of the repercussions stemming from a potential miss.
Simmons took criticism from both his teammates and coach in the wake of that series defeat and, as a result, refused to play for the Sixers this season, demanding a trade Sept. 1.
After missing training camp, a couple of preseason games and a handful of pretty sizable checks, the disgruntled point guard begrudgingly showed up for and was swiftly booted from a Philadelphia practice, then through his agent cited "mental disability" as the deciding factor in his lack of participation.
He never played another game for the Sixers, was traded to the Nets this past February, and recently watched his new team's season come to an end having never played a minute for reasons ranging from fatigue, to back soreness, and you guessed it—mental health.
I don't doubt the man is going through something. In fact, it'd be crazy to suggest it's been business as usual for the 25-year-old hooper since he self-combusted on the court nearly a year ago. But if he hasn't been able to get right off the court over the last 12 months, maybe he needs to get back on it to slay the demons ruling his world.
The mental health issue is complicated and has taken center stage over the past year due in large part to tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles' highly criticized stances, and ultimate refusals to compete at the Olympics and on the court. Both cited mental health and wellness issues as obstacles and both faced significant backlash from skeptics of a mostly misunderstood phenomena.
You can see a broken bone in an x-ray. There's typically a limp as the result of hamstring pull or ankle sprain. But—like it or not—the war fought between one's ears leaves outsiders without the evidence of the battle waging within.
So, while empathetic to anyone facing such struggles, where's the line between incapable and simply fearful? Disabled and disinterested? And/or everyday life struggles versus crippling ones? Because if the idea is to help, the manner by which you do that is dictated by the extent of the problem.
Anxiety is the most common of mental disorders, however per the CDC "occasional anxiety is OK," but "anxiety disorders are different." If you read through the list of disorders many would quite obviously be of concern, but others are things that I—and I'd be willing to guess most people—have experienced a number of times in their lives.
Who hasn't felt they were incapable of speaking in front of the class leading up to and moments before doing so, to the point of nearly paralyzing fear?
Who hasn't experienced duress prior to a doctor or dentist appointment?
Who hasn't wanted to walk away rather than into a job interview or testing environment after countless nervous days leading up to the event?
My hand's up, but in every—or at the least nearly every—instance I got through it, and after-the-fact was empowered by what I'd overcome despite the mental and emotional hurdles before me. So, despite anxiety along with the symptoms that go along with it, I defeated it not by running from it, but rather by running toward it in an effort to put it down.
On May 4, it was reported that Ben Simmons would undergo a microdiscectomy, which per the USC Spine Center is the most common surgery performed by spine surgeons. It's a procedure that consists of removing a portion of a herniated disc that is irritated or inflamed.
OK, so there's a legitimate injury, but not one that existed two, six or eight months ago, and not one that was the primary concern a week ago when Simmons' agent met with Nets brass to address what were said to be mental hurdles.
I have no rooting interest in Ben Simmons. Good or bad. But if he's struggling mentally then who as a rational human being wouldn't want that to end? My issue is not with the man, but more so with his disinterest in getting better.
The Philadelphia 76ers offered him an opportunity to play prior to the season—he chose not to. They offered him help with his internal struggles—he refused. The Nets then offered him a fresh start and he hemmed and hawed until then his back became the problem, all the while still asking for the money he feels he deserves despite not doing for one minute what he's contractually obligated to do—play basketball.
If Ben Simmons' back is a problem, I hope he rectifies it. If he's unhappy on or off the court I hope he finds that happiness some way, somehow. And if he's suffering mentally, I hope he gets the help he needs to work his way back to the court. But he has to want it in every regard—that's how it works in the real world.
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