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Nets' Ben Simmons Explains His Back Injury Following Criticism from Stephen A. Smith

Adam WellsSeptember 22, 2022

Jean Catuffe/GC Images

Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons opened up about the back injury he sustained during the season that drew criticism from ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith.

Appearing on The Old Man and the Three podcast (starts at 46:50 mark), Simmons explained he initially had "soreness" in his back while he was working out and he went to "run up the stairs" and his "whole right side just dropped."

"As soon as I went upstairs, I laid down, and I could not move," he added.

The Nets announced on May 5 that Simmons underwent successful microdiscectomy surgery.

During the episode of First Take from the same day, Smith didn't dispute there was any injury but questioned why there was no mention of a back problem up until the moment the Nets released their statement.

Smith's main point of contention was that it seemed like Simmons was trying to protect his grievance against the Philadelphia 76ers in an attempt to recoup the nearly $20 million in salary they withheld when he didn't appear in a game for them prior to being traded.

"What I'm saying is this: You missed all these games. You get traded to Brooklyn. If you play then that messes up your case with Philly and the grievance, because then it would have been about you just not wanting to play in Philly as opposed to you really having a mental health issue that prevented you from playing period," Smith said. "So when that came into question, then we heard about the back."

Simmons had a contentious exit from the Sixers. He arrived at training camp prior to the start of last season after requesting a trade during the offseason.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Oct. 22 that Simmons told Sixers officials he didn't feel mentally ready to play in games. He refused to meet with the team's medical staff, causing frustration from the organization, per Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.

At the same time, Simmons also told the 76ers about back tightness he was experiencing. Their medical staff cleared him to participate in a team workout, but he declined because of the injury and mental readiness issues.

In February, Shelburne wrote a story in which she noted Simmons was upset Joel Embiid "seemed to blame him" for the Sixers' playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks and "frustrated" head coach Doc Rivers didn't visit him when he was training in Los Angeles during the offseason.

After a long standoff between both sides, the 76ers traded Simmons to Brooklyn on Feb. 10. The three-time All-Star passed his physical for the deal to be made official, but was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back on March 21.

Nets head coach Steve Nash announced on April 4 that Simmons wouldn't return for the regular season or play-in tournament. He also sat out the team's first-round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics.

Smith said last month Simmons told him personally he will be "ready to go" for the Nets at the start of the regular season.

Brooklyn opens the regular season at home on Oct. 19 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

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