Ben Simmons is speaking out
The Sixers star discusses the casino incident and experiences with racism
PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons became the richest professional athlete in Australia’s history after signing a $170 million extension with the Philadelphia 76ers in July. But the NBA All-Star’s fame, money and stature did not protect him from what he believes was racial profiling by the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia, in early August.
Upon entering the casino, Simmons said, he and his black friends were asked for identification while a white friend was not. Video footage showed Simmons saying to casino security, “I find it so crazy that the only guy who doesn’t get checked to go into the casino is this [white] guy. They didn’t let me in, or him, or him, or this guy. Wow, we’ve got a long way to go.”
The casino has denied the allegations.
Back in Philadelphia for the start of the NBA season, the incident is still heavy on Simmons’ mind.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘OK, obviously it’s not a random thing. This is you picking us out,’ ” Simmons told The Undefeated. “It didn’t make us feel good. You’ve probably been in situations where you felt lesser or just made you feel lesser of a person or just not good about yourself. But it wasn’t really about me not feeling good about myself. It was me knowing that’s not right, and me letting them know it’s not right.
“And knowing that there’s other people that have definitely experienced the same thing but can’t say anything because they don’t have the same platform. They can say something, but they might not reach as many people. And knowing I was able to do that and bring awareness to the situation, I was happy about it, and I didn’t really care what the media was going to say, what people were going to say, because it doesn’t matter.
“Everybody should be respected and treated the same way.”
Simmons recently sat down with The Undefeated to talk about dealing with race issues in Australia and the United States. Here are excerpts of the interview.
What gives you the strength to speak about your issue at the casino incident publicly?
I’m never going to back down, because I know I wasn’t in the wrong. It wasn’t a situation where I was making things up. It is what it was. It is what it is. …
And I’m not afraid to let anybody know how I feel about it because I am who I am. At the end of the day, I’m from Australia. I was born there, I was raised. It’s where I’m from. And I want that respect too.
What response did you get to your comments about the incident at that time?
I had many people reach out and tell me they felt the same way and had similar experiences within different places and even the same place. But there was also a lot of negativity that came with it. There was a lot of people saying, ‘Well, you think you should just be let in because you’re this and that.’ And it had nothing to do with that.
And that’s just people talking and just thinking that it’s something that it wasn’t when they don’t really know the situation. Then there’s also the side of people who really understood how I felt, which was amazing. And I was glad I was able to bring that to people’s eyes and let people feel comfortable about saying, ‘You know what? I felt the same way when it happened.’
You are the executive producer of an Australian sports documentary called The Australian Dream, about Australian Rules Football star Adam Goodes, who is indigenous and dealt with racism. What can you tell us about it?
It was really about how he carried himself and really opening people’s eyes about saying certain things during a game. No matter what it is, it is disrespectful. And everybody should be treated equally. … He was called a ‘monkey’ or ‘ape’ on social media for months. People booing him every time he touched the ball. He handled it. I got a lot of respect for Adam the way he handled it.
I don’t know if I would’ve handled it the same way. But he handled it the right way. And I think that’s one thing that everybody respects about him, and I’m really appreciative of him and his people.
You plan on showing the film to your teammates. What do you want them to gain when they watch it?
I think the main thing from my team is just the character we need to hold ourselves with and how we handle situations. Because I know most of my guys on my team obviously are mixed or from another place in the world. So, they’ve obviously dealt with certain situations and I think it’s just a good representation of how to carry yourself. Wrong, right, you should use your voice and your platform.
How is it to have that kind of platform now?
I love it. I love being able to be somebody who kids can look up to and be a leader and an example for the new generation coming through. I’ve always looked up to guys like Magic [Johnson], LeBron [James], D-Wade [Dwyane Wade]. So, I feel like it’s my time to really step into those shoes and be somebody who can represent Australia and my people back home the right way.
You come from a mixed-race family. Your mother’s white from Australia. Your dad’s African American. What was it like growing up in a multicultural family in Australia?
It was normal for me. To me, white, black, it’s all the same. But then it’s not because there’s so many different problems that continue to go on in the world. And I think, over time, where I grew up, I kind of learned that. But as a kid you don’t really realize it.
But I’ve had certain situations where I’ve been called the N-word from other kids at a young age. And the one thing my dad told me was, ‘Never take that from anybody. Never let anybody be racist towards you or make you feel a certain way, because it’s not right.’ That’s the one thing that’s sort of stuck with me.
But growing up in a family where everybody’s different was amazing because I was able to just learn and see different cultures and things like that, especially, growing up in Australia. Culturally, it’s a very diverse country. I’ve seen so many different things and then, obviously moving to America … was a huge change for me. I’ve been to so many different areas. My family is from New York and Australia. I lived in Florida [for prep school], went to Louisiana [State University]. So, I’ve experienced a bit of everything.
But I love it. I love being able to teach people and educate people on things I’ve seen and what’s right and wrong in terms of different cultures and the way people should be treated.
When did you first feel like you could be viewed differently as mixed-race or a black kid?
I’ve never been scared to be different. And I know that because I know who I am as a person, so I’ve always been confident with who I am, no matter what people say. …
Everybody’s different. Tall, skinny, fat, short. Everybody is different. Black, white. And that’s just the way the world is. But I see it differently just because I’ve been to so many different places to where everybody’s different. Even if it’s two black guys, two white guys, they’re both different. Everyone’s individuals in their own way. And you should be proud of who you are, no matter what the situation or circumstances are. …
There’s not one instance where I’ve been like, ‘I’m black?’ I’ve known this. I was proud of it. It was cool to be half-American, African American and be in Australia. I love that because I’m looking at guys who were my role models, like Magic Johnson, LeBron [James], Dwyane Wade, just different people, Tiger Woods, guys like that. I’m like, ‘I want to be them.’ So, I’m not worried about what I look like or the color of my skin or me being mixed. I love that.
Anything that you noticed racismwise when you came to the United States?
The best example would be just seeing Confederate flags on the back of trucks, stickers, even in certain restaurants in Louisiana. I was like, ‘Yo, this is different.’ I wouldn’t go in certain places if I saw the flag.
But some of my teammates were oblivious to it to where they would go in and I’m like, ‘I kind of want to go in there and rip that down, then I’ll come in.’ But it’s things like that. Just knowing there is still that side of racism and people who are narrow-minded towards other people and other people’s beliefs and just people of a different race.
Kawhi Leonard eliminated your Sixers with a buzzer-beating jump shot in Game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference semifinals. How painful was that?
It wasn’t as painful as it seemed or looked for me, personally. And I think that’s just because I’m the type of player, if we don’t win, there’s a reason. And I believe that my time and our team’s time is coming and we’re going to be in sync when the time is ready.
But just experiences and things like that help you grow as a player and help you get better. So, it’s disappointing. Obviously, we want to win a championship, but we got this season, we’ve got a whole new team, everybody is more prepared. And I think it’s going to be a fun year. So, I’m looking forward to just getting better and achieving that goal of winning a championship.
What kept you up and positive after that?
You have got to get better. There’s nothing you can do. The shots happened. They’re going to move on. Nothing stops. So, it’s like, I’m not going to sit here and keep worrying about something that’s already happened. I got to continue to focus on what can help me be better in the future and continue to get better. Otherwise, I’m just going to waste time.
Can you talk about the changes that have been made with the team?
I’m excited. This is the first real team we’ve had where we’re able to start the season with a full roster, and know guys are going to be there. With the addition of Josh [Richardson], Al [Horford], and a few other guys, I think we have a great team, but more so great people.
And I think that’s huge on a team to win championships. You got to have everybody in sync. Everybody has to be accountable for what they’re doing on the floor, and you’ve got to hold each other accountable.
What are your thoughts on Tobias Harris re-signing and “The Big 3” with him, yourself and Joel Embiid?
I’m superexcited that he’s coming back. First off, he’s an amazing player, and then off the court he’s a good person, and I can relate to him. He helps me get better. He wants to see me do well, so we work a lot. And then, of course, you got an All-Star in Jo. I believe we got multiple All-Stars in Al, me, Jo, Tobias. But it’s an exciting time, especially with ‘The Big 3,’ like this one. We’re so young. We have an opportunity to do something so special.
Jimmy Butler left to Miami in free agency. You didn’t play with him for a long time, but what was that like, and how’d you feel about his departure?
He’s an amazing player. His work ethic is out of this world. He works hard, and he wants to win. … He taught me a lot, just the way to carry myself as a professional. So, I got a lot of respect for Jimmy.
What needs to happen for this team to potentially put a championship banner up in Philly this year?
We have to hold each other accountable, and we got to have that championship mindset. We have to be selfless and really just be locked in as a team. We can’t worry about individual stats or achievements and accolades. It has to be team first.
What would it mean to put that banner up?
I think about it all the time. I think about having a float down Broad Street, holding a championship trophy and knowing we did something special for the city. But we want to do it multiple times also. So, it’s one day at a time.
Will you have a stronger leadership voice now?
Me re-signing kind of helped. And this summer, also, just finding who I was as a player again. I kind of lost that last season to where I was just going through the motions, and I wasn’t playing the game. I knew how to play, and I kind of found that this summer, and I kind of feel confident going onto the floor and saying, ‘I’ve prepared awesome for this, and I’ve worked harder than anybody here, and I’m going to show everybody.’ So, for me, I’m going to miss shots, I’m going to make shots, but I think it’s just about taking them and just playing my game, playing with confidence.
How do you change vocally or as a leader now?
Just being more aware. I’m the type of person who, when I walk in the room, I’m kind of quiet, and I kind of get a feel for everybody and what’s going on in my situation, and I think the past two years or three years I’ve been with the Sixers, that’s kind of developed to now to where I’m very confident in where I know what I’m doing, but I have a lot more to learn. And I think guys respect that.
So, when you have that five-year, $170 million extension in front of you to sign, what kind of emotions do you have?
I just remember signing it in L.A. on a rooftop with my parents. It hasn’t really hit me yet. I look at the numbers, and I’m seeing like $170 million, and I’m like, ‘That’s a lot of money.’ That’s the first thing, and I’m grateful to be able to be in this situation and help my family and friends and things like that.
But besides that, now I feel confident. I’m like, ‘OK, they’ve re-signed me for this reason and this amount of money. I got to do my job, and I can’t really worry about outside noise, or what’s going on, because I know I’m valuable to this team, and I can bring a lot to the team.’ So, I’m confident.
How do you keep that outside noise from distracting you?
Especially with my age, we grew up with social media. … It’s pretty much bulls—. So, I don’t go on Twitter. I’ll be on Instagram and things like that, but I just don’t really care for it because at the end of the day, it’s all fake. It’s not real.
Things are going on, but it’s not real news. It’s not things like that can help me. So, I prefer to just be home, be with my friends and do normal things like that, be with my dogs and things. To me, it’s all fluff. It’s all fake stuff. People can say what they want, but it could be a guy from [anywhere] with two followers talking about, ‘You need to do this …’ How are you going to tell me what to do? I don’t tell you what to do. …
It shouldn’t matter. There’s no point in it mattering. If I use my energy to care about what other people are going to say, what they think, then I’m wasting energy on something that doesn’t need to be wasted on, where I could be using that energy for something else, being creative or doing something I love to do, and worrying about things I want to worry about instead of being stressed out and anxious and things like that just because somebody says something. And mentally it’s tough for a lot of players to deal with things like that. But I kind of found a peace where I’m happy now, and I really don’t care about that stuff.
What does the city of Philadelphia mean to you?
It’s home for me now. When I’m in L.A. [in the offseason], I’m like, ‘Damn, I kind of want to go home.’ So, people kind of find it funny, but to me it’s just where I live now. Everything I have is here. I got family, friends here, and I just love to be back in Philly. I feel comfortable here. I love the fans here. The people are amazing, great restaurants, and I think it’s a very cultural city, and there’s just something I love about. There is something different about Philly that you don’t really feel from other cities.
So, Ben Simmons has a free day in Philly and feels like getting out. What do you do?
I do a lot of random things. And my friends, Taj, all my friends know that I’ll be up for anything. Could be paintballing one day. It could be taking my dogs to the park. It could be just driving down by the water docks, going to the ‘Rocky’ steps on my bike, things like that. So, it’s anything, really.
Can you talk about the Ben Simmons Family Foundation and what you’re hoping to accomplish with it?
We reach out and help different charities, whether it’s kids, people who need food, homeless people, just different things where we’re just trying to reach on and branch and trying to connect with all these different communities and just try to help people the best way we can. Whether it’s just being there for support, talking to them, coming to see them, giving kids new uniforms or shoes, whatever it is. Just being able to give them somebody that can reach out to or talk to or just know they have that support.
I know, growing up, everybody wants that support and know they have somebody backing them. So, I feel like if I’m able to give that to certain people, it will bring that positivity to them and that energy that everybody wants.
What does Australia mean to you?
Everything. It’s where I’m from. It’s my home. It’s always going to be my home and it’s just who I am. I think people get a little twisted and confused because my accent isn’t as strong as some words I say that sound Australian. I live in America. I wear diamond chains. I don’t look like a typical Australian person and I think that’s what really irks and annoys people back home. But at the same time, I’m not scared to be who I am.
The 2020 Olympics. Should we be expecting you to suit up for Australia’s basketball team in Japan?
If everything goes smoothly and correctly, that’s where I want to be. I definitely want to represent Australia in the Olympics. It’s a dream. And if I’m able to bring a medal and help this team and do something right for the country and bring a positive light to it, I would love to do that. And I want to do that alongside Patty Mills, hopefully [Andrew] Bogut, [Aron] Baynes, Dante [Exum], Joe Ingles, all those guys. I want to do that with them, and I think we can do something special.
Any goals this season?
I just want to be great. I’m not really worried about individual accolades, because I know the work I put in will pay off and things will happen over time. I think I can be great.
What do you got to say to people that keep asking you about your jump shot?
Nothing really. … I don’t care. I’m working, what do you want me to do? I’m working. That’s all a part of it. Everybody has things they’re not good at or as good at, and that was one of my weaknesses for sure, 100 percent. Everybody has a weakness. But I’m still dropping 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. And that’s at a superhigh level. There’s not many guys — probably three, four guys — in the NBA who are doing that.
What is the biggest difference between the racism in America and Australia?
I’d say casual racism is the biggest difference with America and Australia. I feel like the racism here [in America], it’s either super racist or it’s not. I haven’t really seen the in-between here. But back home there’s a lot of people that’s joking around and thinking it’s just funny to make fun of people’s ethnicity or where they’re from and culture, or make themselves feel like they’re better than that person. Even if they’re saying they’re joking and using that casual racism, which sucks, because I’d honestly rather see somebody completely be some way or just not do it at all. …
You know what your intentions are. But it’s just wrong. Either way, whatever you’re saying, if it’s negative and you’re hurting somebody else’s feelings or making them feel less of a person, then it’s not good at all and there shouldn’t be anybody feeling like that.
How much pressure comes with having a voice that the world is listening to?
A lot of pressure but it’s a great responsibility. Not everybody’s given it, but I love having that voice and just be able to be one of those mentors and leaders of this world, and of what I do, and just be a role model for kids and just different people to where, if everybody’s doing it and everyone’s able to speak up, then everybody feels like we’re stronger as people. It means a lot to be able to have that responsibility and power.