Fine; Let’s Talk About Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

After no contact with the team since August, putting his house up for sale and telling his teammates not to bother coming to visit him, Ben Simmons has returned to the 76ers.

I’ve been reluctant to write about this because I haven’t reconciled my feelings on the situation. But, after a couple of discussions with my friends and some pushing from a few readers, I have relented.

To give you a brief update, Ben Simmons has been holding out on the 76ers. After the 76ers were unceremoniously eliminated from the playoffs by a team, many believed far inferior. Simmons demanded a trade, packed his stuff, skipped the Olympics and headed to California, intending to never play for the 76ers again.

He’s only returned to the team because of a quirk in his contract, which pays him an $8.25 million (USD) lump sum every quarter, which the 76ers have put into an escrow account and won’t release to him until he returns to the team. The 76ers will deduct $1.5 million from the account to pay Simmons’s fines for missing training camp and four preseason games. Then it will be released to him.

Simmons has worn the brunt of the criticism for losing that series. Not just from the media but his coach, the fans and his teammates. I appreciate it would be hard to hear, see and read unkind things said about you 24/7. As fans, journalists, commentators, or whatever case, we must remember that athletes are humans first.

Here’s where I’m conflicted.

On One Hand

I spent the better part of my 20’s in search of a professional Rugby contract. I got plenty of short-term offers, most of which paid me well below a living wage. As a result, I ran pubs, wrote blogs and studied while training and searching for that contract. All I wanted was the security of a long term professional contract. Unfortunately, I never found it.

I was acutely aware that Rugby (like basketball) is a business, and players are the product. By the time I was a good enough player to make the jump to professional footy, I was in my late 20’s, and 19 and 20-year-olds could do 95% of what I could. It was a hard pill to swallow, but I understood.

So, with that in mind, it’s tough for me to feel sorry for someone who’s earning $33 million a year to play a game. In my view, that’s the tradeoff. You get paid to play a game that the rest of us play for fun in our spare time; not only that, you earn an absurd amount of money to do it.

No one should have to deal with all the scrutiny and abuse he did during the offseason. But I will say this. He could have turned off his phone, turned off his TV and got to work on some of the shortcomings in his game. By the sounds of things, he just blocked a few numbers and went and hid in California for a few months.

Honestly, for $33 million a year, you can have someone follow me around and yell abuse in my face. For $33 million, there’s very little I wouldn’t do.

On The Other hand

I’m sure everyone reading this, at some point, has had a job that they hated. It might have been your first job or an internship; it may even be the job you have now. But, everyone has been there.

I’ve had this happen a couple of times. Once I quit before, I had found something else (kind of like Ben). I realised pretty quickly it was a huge mistake. I had a mortgage and a pretty annoyed partner. Serendipitously, that decision did lead me to one of the better jobs I’ve had. But that’s a story for another day.

Usually, when an employee is unhappy, it’s for one of a few reasons. Sometimes people realise that the industry isn’t for them. Or, they discover the work they’re doing isn’t fulfilling. It can even be as simple as not fitting in with your new co-workers. But the highest percentage of people who voluntarily leave their jobs cite their boss as the reason. It was certainly the case in the jobs that I have quit.

I’m not saying that Doc Rivers is a bad boss/coach. I think he’s proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the NBA. However,  pretend for a second that your boss fronted the national media and when asked if you were capable of doing your job, stated, “I don’t know”. Do you think you’d be a bit upset about that? Do you think it would be enough to make you want to quit?

I’m not condoning Simmons actions. In another twist, Simmons was kicked out of practice today and suspended for opening night. So there’s some misconduct on Simmons behalf, which is not conducive to anyone’s success.

But, in basically any other industry, if a staff member is unhappy, they can quit. And, most of the time, they can leave without any restrictions on continuing to work in the industry. Unless they’re a “director” or a “partner” of a business, more on that in a minute.

So the question is. Just because Ben Simmons (and more broadly any athlete) gets paid a lot of money to play a game, is he not entitled to feel valued at his place of employment? And, if he’s unhappy, does he have a right to quit?

Final Thoughts

I know this isn’t my usual spirited take on the matter, but I promise I’m getting to my point.

I understand teams need to protect their investment. And, if I’m comparing basketball to another industry, then I have to consider Simmons a “director” or a “partner” of a business operating in that industry. And, If that’s the case, if he were to quit, usually a restraint of trade would be negotiated, barring him from offering his services in that industry for a determined period.

So if we look at it that way and we consider there are legitimately only 450 people in the world who get to do their job for a living. And even fewer (31) who earn more than $30 million per year to do it. Then he has to be considered one of the best in the world.

Factoring the above, it’s pretty evident that Simmons is in an incredibly privileged position that he doesn’t appreciate.

So Ben, if you are unhappy, you do have the option to quit. But one of (few) drawbacks of being excellent at your job is that the people you work for will do their best to stop you from using your skills to help a competitor.

So I will say again. Ben, you can quit, but don’t expect to be allowed to play NBA basketball for at least the next five seasons. Additionally, don’t expect the 76ers to give you up quickly; they need to protect their investment and get the best return possible. And, finally, I challenge you to get an office job like the rest of us. You didn’t finish college so expect to start at the bottom. You’ll likely be taking coffee orders and picking up dry cleaning. Do that for a few months and see how miserable you can be.

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