Ben Simmons was traded to the Brooklyn Nets. That’s not news to anybody unless you, a) don’t follow sports or, b) are an average American that basically just watches football when it’s on and have no particular affinity for Brooklyn teams (which is basically the profile of most people who live in Brooklyn).
Basketball, over time, has become a pretty complex sport. It’s not just about throwing a ball in the basket — players used to make so little money playing this game that they had a full-time job and then playing ball was basically a side hustle. Professional basketball started as two fractured leagues. They finally merged in 1949 and became the NBA. The story doesn’t get much better from there. Until the early 1980s, the NBA consisted of money-losing franchises and faced hurdles in attracting new fans. When David Stern was named as Commissioner, things started to turn around.
Under David Stern, the Golden Age of the NBA was born, precipitated by a not-so-unknown, young player named Michael Jordan. Jordan was to basketball what Ali was to boxing — he was unapologetic about how good he was, how he was going to revolutionize the game and how hard he had worked to get to where he was.
Jordan was who he was and made the game what it was because he was committed to the work of basketball. There were no distractions of social media. Sure, there was scrutiny, but that scrutiny came in the form of written, vocalized or televised press.
Jordan won six championships with one team. When Jerry Krause told Jordan’s coach, Phil Jackson, that year six was the last year that he would be head coach of the Bulls, no one forced their way out of the Bulls (ahem, Harden) and no one faked mental health issues (ahem, Simmons). That team buckled down and won a championship.
At some point, the league obviously began to get younger (because us crotchety, 30-somethings got older) and we began to see a whole new wave of players who are unwilling to stay in situations where they are not happy. The turning point example that I remember so clearly is Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi has God-given talent that most of us can only dream of. He was brought into Popp’s system, which is rigid but is a system that is tried and true. If you followed Popp into the oblivion, you were probably going to win a championship. David Robinson bought into that, Tim Duncan bought into that, Manu Ginobli bought into that and Tony Parker bought into that. Kawhi…not so much, at least not when his uncle got involved.
Basketball has changed the same way our world has generally changed. Sure, society is more progressive and understanding, but when you have James Harden who allegedly has a hamstring injury all of a sudden “get healed” when he is traded to the 76ers, that’s not the problem. That’s a symptom of the problem. For decades, our society has not taken mental health seriously. A good portion of society still does not take mental health seriously. Well, why would that segment of society take mental health seriously when Ben Simmons can refuse to play for his team and breach his contract just to force a trade to the Brooklyn Nets?
Ben Simmons is doing Ben Simmons. We can’t really blame the 25-year-old for being a product of his environment. We’ve babied younger Millennials and Gen Z’ers, and this is how they have reacted. You can’t blame a scorpion for stinging the frog, even after he has promised not to sting the frog, so why do we blame Ben Simmons for kicking and screaming his way out of Philadelphia?
While Brooklyn might be a better sight for sore eyes (he’s under the flashing lights of New York City after all, rather than the insignificant hovel that is Philly), it’s not a cure-all for mental health issues.