When Ben Simmons was drafted in 2016 as the first overall pick in the National Basketball Association, the hype around his arrival was unreal. Some even went as far as to suggest the possibility that the next LeBron James had arrived.

What has ensued since 2016, on Simmons’ behalf, is the frustration of playing through injuries and mental health fatigue. For his fans, the frustration has reached a tipping point.

For those that don’t know, the 2022 NBA playoffs are in full swing, with the conference semi-finals currently being decided. While the hype around the NBA playoffs is always going to attract some serious buzz from basketball fans and sporting fanatics alike, it’s the prominent side-story that unfolded around Ben Simmons (and is lack of “commitment” to the Brooklyn Nets) that has garnered world-wide attention.

Now, if you have’t seen the headlines or watched the talkback shows or heard the commentary, the sporting world is hating on Ben Simmons right now. After the Nets’ humiliating loss in Game 4 of Playoffs to the Boston Celtics, Simmons was branded “the weakest, most pathetic excuse for a professional athlete we’ve ever seen,” by ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, as a result of his failure to play in the Series (or for the season, for that matter).

“Nobody is worse than Ben Simmons. I can’t think of a profession athlete who has come across more pathetic as this guy.”

To understand why the level of backlash and public outpour of hate has occurred towards the 25 year old, you have to go back to the past few seasons when Simmons was at Philadelphia 76ers. He missed his first official NBA season due to a broken foot. His next season was incredible. As a result, at the end of his second full season in 2018-19, Philadelphia gave him a mind-boggling five-year, $170.0 million USD contract extension.

But during his fourth – and ultimately last – season with the 76ers, the cracks started to appear. Simmons lost confidence in his playing ability, partly due to the fact that the 76ers wanted to trade him up. His performance dwindled, and there was that moment during the Game 7 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals that he infamously passed up an open dunk, for which he was openly criticised by his teammates (Joel Embiid) and supporters.

Now, a similar trend is coincidently (or not) happening at the Brooklyn Nets.

When Simmons was traded for James Harden at the start of the 2022 playing season, seemingly, it was a fresh start for the NBA All-Star player. But since his arrival, Simmons hasn’t even played a minute for the Nets, siting perpetual back issues which could potentially be trigger from a ‘mental block’ that stands between him and the court. The mental block being the result of the backlash he endured at his time with Philadelphia and the loss during the Playoffs.

While Simmons was reported to have met all the criteria for making his return to play in the NBA Playoffs for the Nets, he pulled up with back pain the day before his touted comeback.

Ben Simmons

Sure, no one likes an athlete who gives up on their team when it counts most (especially when said athlete is being paid an exorbitant amount of money to play). Many have questioned Simmons’ work ethic and his ability to play through pain for the betterment of the team.

But here’s the thing: whether you like him or not, whether you question his work ethic or his body language or what he does away from the court, Ben Simmons’ mental health is not a joke, and it shouldn’t be dismissed so abruptly – or any athlete for that matter.

Just take Naomi Osaka or Simone Biles, for example. Two professional athletes at the peak of their careers highlighting that it’s ok to take a break and work on yourself; it’s ok to speak out about mental health. This isn’t a simple matter, nor is it black and white as most are suggesting.

If Ben Simmons is citing mental fatigue or general mental health issues, this should 100% be taken at face value.

And in news just in, Simmons is set to miss many more months playing for the Nets, as he undergoes surgery on his back. So, all the naysayers that have questioned whether Simmons’ pain was legitimate or not perhaps need to revaluate the situation at hand.

The Nets have also released a statement of their own.

“After consultation with multiple back specialists, it has been determined that the best course of action for Ben’s long-term health is for him to undergo surgery,” the NBA franchise said.

“The microdiscectomy procedure, scheduled for Thursday, is designed to alleviate pain caused by the herniated disc in Ben’s back. Further updates will be provided following the procedure.”