OAKLAND – Ben Simmons was sitting on the Philadelphia 76ers team bus, heading to Oracle Arena in Oakland for a showdown with the powerful Golden State Warriors, when history was made.
When the NBA's All-Star rosters were being announced, Simmons was off to work and thanks to an assist from a friend, his place among the NBA’s elite was revealed.
“Yeah I was on [the bus],” Simmons said, when asked about how he heard news of his maiden All-Star appearance. “I had a friend who was FaceTiming me and showing me the TV while it was going on.”
And with that, Simmons was in. Australia’s most prominent millennial athlete had officially punched his ticket to Charlotte as the nation’s first NBA All-Star.
Becoming the first Australian to make an All-Star game is something that Simmons has long spoken of, and in the aftermath of it becoming a reality, the Melbourne native was quick to offer a special thanks to those back home.
“That also means a lot because I know I have a lot of people back home that voted for me,” Simmons said. “A lot of people back home have been very supportive of me and I appreciate that.”
Simmons will become the first Australian Boomer to ever play in the NBA’s showcase event. Melbourne-born Kyrie Irving will be partaking in his sixth All-Star game. Unlike Irving, who identifies himself as an American and represents Team USA in FIBA basketball, Simmons will be the first Australian player to earn the accolade.
Simmons, of course, did nothing to earn the accolade today; his performance over the first 50 games of this NBA season offered the resume of a bona fide All-Star. There will be no talk of snubs or being overlooked this time around. There's only success and accolades this time for Simmons, who in addition to his excitement and gratitude was quick to distance himself from last year’s All-Star race.
“I’m excited and I’m happy,” Simmons added. “I’m grateful and I’m not worried about last year; last year is last year.”
Brett Brown, who has a unique relationship with the Simmons family having coached Ben’s father, Dave, in Australia during the 1990’s, had a simple message when asked to explain his thoughts on Simmons’ first All-Star appearance.
“I am just happy for him and his family, “ Brown said. “I knew his mum and dad before Ben was born. The connection of my Australian background and coaching over there, knowing his mum and dad, coaching his dad and now coaching his son who ends up an NBA All-Star. The circumstances for that to have happened are complex. I am just extremely happy for him and his mum and dad.”
Beyond the serendipity that Brown feels given his unique role in the growth of Australia’s biggest basketball star, he is proud of how his second year point guard has navigated the challenges the blossoming into NBA stardom. Brown acknowledged the wide spread critics that have followed Simmons throughout his brief NBA career, and spoke to the parochial mindset that has aided the NBA’s reigning rookie of the year.
“The noise in the marketplace about his shot. The noise, at times, in the marketplace about his free throws; I’ve known the spirit of the Australian, and that toughness, and the mateship, and all those things. I think his family, I think Ben Simmons was smart enough and strong enough just to play the game. He’s such a unique athlete.”
Following the announcement, Simmons’ fellow Australians around the NBA have voiced their congratulations on social media. Patty Mills, speaking with The Pick and Roll last week after facing off against Simmons in Philadelphia, identified the budding talents that allowed Simmons to become an All-Star.
“You’ve seen how much he has grown. Obviously with the buzz behind him, but you’ve seen him grow as a player from year to year. Obviously, he has the physique and the talent, but I think mentally with his mindset you are seeing another growth of his basketball I.Q.”
Mills added that Simmons’ individual accolade is deserved recognition and a tremendous boost to the sport of basketball in Australia.
“I think it’s great,” Mills said. “ He has all my support as an Australian. To be able to represent the way Australians play, for him to be at All-Star weekend, I think that is going to be really cool. I have all the support in the world for him.”
Simmons will take the floor and face off against the Warriors in his first appearance as an All-Star today. While the Australian has made history, he sent a clear message that team success is the ultimate goal his is chasing.
“I grew up thinking about championships,” Simmons said. “I didn’t really think about All-Star appearances."
Simmons has bigger goals on his mind. He is quick to admit it and should offer excitement to all with a vested interest in his career. It certainly excites his head coach.
"He’s just scratching the surface of where I think he will end up," Brown says.
The importance of today's announcement cannot be overstated, both for Simmons and his homeland. It offers a tangible accomplishment not before seen. And yet, with the passing of time and a sustained NBA career, it could look like an infant stepping stone on the path of a transcendent basketball career.
That is certainly the hope; for the Sixers, Australian basketball and most importantly, Ben Simmons himself.