A few months back Ben Simmons’ local management approached Australian media companies looking to help boost his profile Down Under.
As the past few weeks have shown, he hardly needed the help.
The 24-year-old basketball star has dominated headlines for weeks and all he’s needed is a few public appearances and regular posts to his Instagram account.
But for some he’s done incredible damage to the brand he wanted to enhance.
RELATED: Jones tells Simmons to ‘go back to America’
The list of critics has been long but led by radio heavyweight Alan Jones, who said “Ben Simmons, I know you’re an Australian but go back to America and stay there,” and ex-AFL player turned media identity Kane Cornes, who said he was “sick of Ben Simmons”.
But is there a problem with Simmons — or a problem with us?
GREEN AND GOLD OR JUST GREEN
Celebrated in much the same way we trumpet all homegrown products who go on to sporting glory on the world stage, Simmons had been a media darling in his first two seasons in the NBA.
But he started to see the tide turn against him when he opted not to take part in the Boomers’ pre-World Cup games on Aussie soil scheduled for this month, or in the tournament itself in China.
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It went against the traditional view of what our athletes should value most. We expect them to place representing the green and gold above everything else — especially money.
But this was Australia’s first misstep.
Instead of getting out the well-worn axe used to chop down every tall poppy we produce, it was time to treat Simmons differently. Because he is different.
If we want athletes who can legitimately be considered among the best in the world in the biggest sports in the world, we’re going to have to alter our expectations.
If you loved it when Simmons went number one in the draft, or felt a sense of pride when he became our first NBA All-Star or have dreams of watching him compete for NBA championships one day as one of the one or two best players on his team, then there’s concessions that need to be made.
There will be many who believe he can do all of that and still play for Australia every chance he gets, but those people don’t live in Ben Simmons’ world or understand the incredible demands that come with being considered a franchise pillar for an NBA team or living up to a $240 million contract. No other Australian in history has faced the same dilemma.
The photograph below tells you everything you need to know. Granted some of these players who Simmons lined up alongside in last season’s NBA All-Star game are injured, but not one is playing in the World Cup, which is viewed as secondary to the Olympics.
Look up the list of outs for the US or Canada teams for perspective on the importance of this tournament in the grand scheme of things. It’s just not important enough for the upper echelon of NBA stars to play in.
Ben Simmons is hardly an outlier in skipping the Basketball World Cup. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
TOO BLACK OR TOO AMERICAN
If a section of Australia was starting to question the highrolling 76ers guard, it only became worse when he arrived on our shores last month.
In a country where just beginning to speak with a slightly-Americanised accent or dating Kendall Jenner was enough for some to start disliking him, Simmons put a target on his back.
With a 29-second video suggesting he was racially-profiled by security at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, he shone a light on Australia it’s never enjoyed.
As was made abundantly clear in the Adam Goodes case, call Australians racist at your peril.
For some, it’s undoubtedly a sore point because they do hold certain prejudices and don’t want to be called on it. But for many more, it’s because the topic is uncomfortable and something we’d rather avoid.
That was Simmons’ biggest mistake in many people’s eyes. He wasn’t rubbing them the wrong way because he’s black — it was because he was too American.
Most Australians want to enjoy their sport — and their sportsmen and women — without being force-fed a side dish of politics. Unlike America, where the biggest story in their number one sport in the past few years has been anthem protests — and their win in this year’s women’s soccer World Cup was all about furthering political and social agendas — Australia would rather its arguments remain about poor umpiring decisions and whether we picked the correct starting XI.
Simmons isn’t wrong for venturing into this space. If he did it with his eyes open about what the reaction would likely be, you should respect him more. And unless you’ve walked in his shoes, it’s best not to judge. Again, he’s just different — and apparently that’s too much for some.
Ben Simmons and his kangaroo chain were made into a street mural.Source:Twitter
Even Cornes’ criticism about Simmons’ apparent split loyalties when it came to the AFL, while tongue-in-cheek, highlighted a culture clash.
“He was there at the Essendon game, then he’s down at (Richmond’s home) Punt Road. So he’s an Essendon supporter, a massive one, he’s gone to Punt Road and then he’s got a Melbourne jumper on yesterday,” Cornes joked. “Ben, which is it? Pick your team, head off son.”
RELATED: Simmons roasts Cornes after sledge
For Simmons, there’s likely nothing unusual about being an Essendon fan but wearing a Melbourne guernsey because a close friend, Christian Petracca, plays for the Demons. Athlete-based fandom, particularly in the NBA, is becoming the norm in the US, where thousands immediately traded in their Cleveland Cavaliers singlets for the purple and gold of the Lakers when LeBron James switched teams.
Ben Simmons at one of his camps. (AAP Image/Ellen Smith)Source:AAP
The last time we saw him in green and gold. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
The pile-on reached predictable but still-frustrating proportions on Monday morning when reports began focusing on Simmons apparently snubbing autograph-seekers at one of his basketball camps.
Again, unless you’ve walked in his shoes, park the outrage. There’s not an athlete in the world who has the time to adequately satisfy the expectations of every single fan and if we’re going to start picking at Simmons like this than the likes of Jones — and all the other sections of the media who don’t really love basketball — will get their wish.
And that will suck because he’s the best basketballer we’ve ever had and we should be good enough as a country to accept him, whether he’s different or not.
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