Former NBA players-turned-analysts know basketball, but definitely not medicine.
That’s why many had egg on their faces on Wednesday after the news of Ben Simmons broke. The 25-year-old All-Star will have back surgery today, the Brooklyn Nets announced. Simmons – the much-maligned guard – missed the entire season with injuries.
Nonetheless, Simmons still suffered the wrath of many talking TV heads after withdrawing from Game 4 of the NBA Playoffs when his team lost three games to a clean sheet.
It was originally reported that Simmons was finally healthy and would make his postseason debut against the Boston Celtics at the Barclays Center.
Then Simmons’ health changed and he was disfellowshipped. It was reported that his back had moved south and he was in pain. Many questioned its validity, calling Simmons pathetic and weak.
TNT studio host Shaquille O’Neal called it a “punk move.”
TNT color man Reggie Miller blasted Simmons on Twitter in a post that went viral:
“Come on dude!!! Off for Game 4 when there were rumors you were going to make your debut. This guy has ZERO competition (fire). As slim as the chance is for the Nets to come back in this series, you always have nor KD and Kyrie, all you need is to win ONE and take it from there.. #ManUp.
And ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins said on Twitter that Simmons stole money this season by not playing a single game. “Ben Simmons has officially completed the largest heist in NBA history. He really sat all season! Continue…”
All of this sounds good, makes for great hot takes, and makes people feel good. Simmons is an easy target, the NBA’s human pinata.
All were wrong, totally wrong.
And not because he criticized Simmons, who definitely mishandled his exit from Philadelphia.
But what these guys, others in the media — and some rabid fans — were doing was a total injustice that put a man’s sanity in question.
None of us have that right.
Unless you examined Simmons or had his medical records, you cannot give a fair and honest assessment of whether or not he was injured.
No one — not even a future Hall of Fame center who has won four championships — knows the pain another man is in.
The idea that Simmons was just faking it, that he was just scared to enter the game because the Nets were out on the series, didn’t make sense. And the back is a tricky thing to attach a handle to. A back problem can be so bad that a person can’t even tie their shoe, let alone play NBA-level basketball.
Unfortunately, people were giving the audience feelings, not facts. They let their feelings keep them from honestly assessing Simmons’ situation. It’s shocking because athletes know what they have to go through to perform at such a high level.
I can’t imagine anyone going to apologize for being wrong – both about their health and their incorrect judgment of pretending they knew his health status when in fact they had no bloody idea.
That’s not new. We’ve seen doctors on TV before. People on their couches at home tear up athletes who get injured and never come back to the games.
A famous incident involved Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler.
Most couldn’t stand the guy because of his personality and the vibe he exuded. When he got injured in the 2011 NFC Championship game, came out and didn’t return, other athletes watching on TV erupted on Cutler. They questioned his toughness.
“All I’m saying is that he can end the game with an injured knee. … I played on one all season,” Jacksonville RB’s Maurice Jones-Drew tweeted at the time.
Cutler, of course, suffered a sprained MCL. Doctors confirmed that his knee was legitimately injured.
But hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good hot shot. Certainly, Simmons has faced criticism over the course of his career over the past year. And in many of these cases, it’s fair game.
And of course analysts have the right to express their opinions. But it should NEVER be the case to tell someone they’re not really hurt when, frankly, you just don’t know.
When it comes to health, we simply have to rely on men. There is no other way.
That’s why so many were so wrong.