A documentary airs this Friday on Showtime about Ben Simmons and it’s indirectly designed to show sympathy for a teenager who was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 Draft and worth millions even before he played a professional game.
Simmons played one year at LSU, and by his own admission never wanted to spend a day on a college campus. He was reprimanded for not going to class, obviously didn’t take his studies seriously, and was just biding his time until the draft. He just wanted to ball, which made him no different than dozens of high school All-Americans with realistic hopes of earning an NBA paycheck.
Yet, Simmons and his people show plenty of animosity toward college basketball for the one-and-done system — “One & Done” is also the title of the Simmons documentary — and he used salty language to describe what he thought of the NCAA. Simmons and those close to him say he “didn’t have a choice” but wait a year beyond high school or age 19, the requirement for NBA draft eligibility.
The NCAA has issues, but this isn’t one of them. The one-and-done isn’t an NCAA rule. It’s an NBA rule, has been since 2006. The players union hasn’t made it the highest priority in contract talks to abolish the rule. The league feels its necessary to give teenagers at least one more year to more physically and mentally, for the good of the game.
Simmons is the last player anyone should sympathize with. Born and mostly raised in Australia, he had every opportunity to play for money after playing high school ball at Monteverde Academy in Florida. There’s professional basketball in Australia (most natives go that route) or simply wait a year, then jump. Dante Exum followed that path and it didn’t hurt him (picked No. 5 overall by the Utah Jazz in the 2014 Draft).
He also could’ve done like Brandon Jennings and played in Europe. If being in America meant so much, the NBA D-League was an option. No matter where he went, NBA scouts would find him and he would still have been the No. 1 overall choice.
Here’s the real issue: Simmons and those advising him wanted him to play against solid competition (to sharpen his skills), enjoy massive American TV exposure (to enhance his brand) and do so on the best route (which was playing in college). That’s why he went to LSU. Nobody forced him.
Simmons chose college because of the massive marketing potential and name recognition – and future endorsement money – that comes with playing in the States. Basketball junkies knew about Exum before the Draft, but to most he was a mystery because he stayed in Australia. After a year at LSU, one in which LSU didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, Simmons had a vastly larger following.
He should save his annoyance for his fellow NBA players, who have shown little incentive to carve a piece of their financial pie for high school teenagers. And why should they? These veteran professionals paid their dues. Asking kids to wait a year before coming into NBA riches isn’t unreasonable.
There’s a comparison in the Showtime special to teenage musicians and why they can tour and perform for money right out of high school. Well, that’s faulty; again, high school players can turn pro immediately. Just not in the NBA. Which means, they have choices.
In a perfect world, the NBA D-League would generate massive TV ratings, draw thousands of fans a night in its arenas and have Dick Vitale screaming during the playoffs. Because that’s why teenagers choose a year in college over a year spent in NBA development. They want the ego-gratifying experience of being on TV, of having their friends and family gush, to get thousands of followers on Twitter and to enhance their brand.
Those are all fine, but don’t enjoy those advantages and then complain that it’s not enough for one year.
If it’s all about pure basketball reasons and nothing else, then the best choice for high school graduates is the D-League. There, you can stay in the States, get paid (verses getting no money in college) and play against competition that’s comparable to the top college teams.
The NBA is thrilled to have Simmons, and Simmons is thrilled to escape the dehumanizing experience of a year spent playing for free in college. For any high school senior who’d rather not follow the same painful process, there are other paths. Choose wisely.
Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.