New York City, The Eighties
Basketball in New York City in the Eighties had come of age. The Knicks, with two championships in the early 70’s, had turned the city’s burgeoning love for the sport into a full-blown passion: the fire burned from Red Hook to Jamaica, from Battery Park to Van Cortlandt Park.
Basketball in NY back in the 80s was all about holding the court. When you played pickup ball, you had to win or sit out for maybe 3 or 4 games at a time. Big guys didn’t venture out beyond the top of the key. Most players were punished every time they drove to the hoop - if they weren’t strong enough.
The city courts that created the physical, skilled modern game blossomed: Rucker, West Fourth, Dyckman. Madison Square Garden enshrined itself as the sacred court of basketball. The NBA had chosen Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue as its headquarters since the 70’s, where it still stands. Basketball was in the blood of the city.
Uptown, a young Dave Simmons graduated South Bronx High School. He started playing late, at age 15, but made up for his lack of experience with hard work, determination and a tough physical presence. His love of the game would open up doors to a professional career in South America and eventually Australia.
Melbourne: Part 1
It was also now that Dave met Julie. Before long, Ben’s sister Olivia was born, and, on the 20th of July 1996, right in the middle of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, Benjamin David Simmons entered the world in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.
Ben may have been born in Melbourne but definitely has that Bronx toughness and competitiveness in his DNA - he hates losing.
Newcastle & Canberra
In 1997, the family moved north, to Newcastle, where Dave played for the Newcastle Falcons. Ben spent his early childhood in the east coast city, before the family briefly relocated to Australia's capital, Canberra, when Dave played with the Canberra Cannons. After two seasons there, the family returned to Newcastle, where Ben stood out in basketball, making the Newcastle Hunters’ representative under-12 side at the age of just seven, and playing for local rugby league clubs Western Suburbs and South Newcastle.
As the youngest in a large family, Ben always had his older siblings to play with and it wasn’t long before he learned how to catch and throw a basketball with ease.
Melbourne: Part 2
At 10, Ben was back in Melbourne. His journey into elite representation was well underway, playing junior basketball for the Melbourne Tigers, Dandenong Rangers, Bulleen Boomers, Keilor Thunder (with buddy and future Jazz player Dante Exum) and Knox Raiders.
Ben also took to Australia’s national game - Australian rules football - for the Beverley Hills Junior Football Club.
Ultimately, his love for basketball won out, and at 15, Ben made his first appearance in the United States at the invite-only Pangos All-American Camp for basketball prospects, which hosts the top 150 high-school basketball prospects in the world. It was there he recognised the need to be playing against the best, and knew his future would be in the US.
Later in 2012, Ben was chosen to represent Australia at the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World Championship, where he helped the national team to the silver medal.
Coming to America
After the Pangos camp, letters piled up for Ben to complete his high school basketball in the US.
Ben and the family considered the options and ultimately decided on joining coach Kevin Boyle at Monteverde Academy. Kevin had a no-nonense coaching approach where he pushed players to reach their true potential. This environment would also provide intense training and top national competition. With Ben, Monteverde would win three straight National Championships (2013, 2014 & 2015).
It was during this time that he hit another major milestone: at 16, Ben knew he was finally better than his Dad.
By the end of 2015, in his Senior year, Ben achieved a personal goal by being ranked the number one high school player in the United States. He was awarded Mr. Basketball USA 2015, Gatorade National Player of the Year 2014-2015, Naismith Prep Player of the Year 2015, a McDonald's All-American spot, included on Parade's First-team All-American, and was selected to the winning World team at the Nike Hoops Summit 2015.
One and Done
Ben received offers from multiple major colleges, ultimately committing to Louisiana State University, where his godfather David Patrick was assistant coach. LSU’s last great product got excited.
Through the 2015-2016 college season Ben played 33 games, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. His play made other people take notice…
…and led him to some interesting places.
Ben declared for the 2016 NBA Draft on 21 March 2016, the top freshman in the country. He signed with agent Rich Paul, of Klutch Sports Group, and based himself out of Cleveland, Ohio for his pre-draft process.
During this time, Nike signed Ben to their stable of elite talent, offering him the most significant endorsement of a college athlete since Kevin Durant in 2007.
The 2016 NBA Draft
On 23rd of June, 2016, Benjamin David Simmons was drafted #1 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Philly was pretty happy about it.
So were the family.
Ben packed his bags and headed to the City of Brotherly Love.
A Jones fracture sidelined Ben for the 2016-2017 NBA season. Ben debuted on October 18, 2017, the starting point guard in an away game to the Wizards. He notched 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a performance coach Brett Brown described as “exceptional”. Ben said it felt like playing 2K.
It felt like I was playing 2K, honestly. Just looking at Joel Embiid out there with the lights on his jersey. I was like, 'man, I'm actually here.'
And it tuned out, he wasn't far wrong about the 2K thing either.
Ben played 81 games in his first year, averaging 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists. The numbers drew comparisons to guys like Magic and Oscar. Not surprisngly, they got him the 2017-2018 Rookie of the Year...
...and onto the All-Rookie First Team.
From where I am now to a year ago, I would have thought I knew so much more a year ago, and now looking back, I really didn’t know anything... [now] I know how to handle my business.
Ben had arrived.
Where To From Here?
But every arrival is just the beginning of another journey. During his first off-season, Ben returned to his hometown Melbourne to run his annual basketball camp.
The whole city put it on for him.
He continued to work on his game
and he made it back to China for the NBA Pre-season.
Season 2 of Ben’s NBA career opened on 16 October 2018 with a 19 point, 15 rebound and 8 assist effort in a loss to Eastern Conference rivals Boston. He continues to grow and learn, and is focused on taking the Sixers deep into the post-season in 2019.