Early in his Great American Novel about self-delusion and the noble, impossible reclamation of the past, the desire to write our own alternate histories, ones in which life proceeded the way we thought it should have, rather than as it did, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway — a one time Long Island neighbor of theoretical Brooklyn Nets employee Ben Simmons — says:
“And so with sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with Summer.”
It is a universal sentiment, in life as well as in the NBA. After the trophy has been handed out and the ticker tape is swept off the street, after the flurry of names and faces signing new deals and changing teams in free agency, after the draft class of the next season have received their assignments and gathered in Vegas to give us a speculative taste of next year’s excitement, we briefly reminisce on one more in a fleeting number of seasons in our lives, shake hands, and go our separate ways. The podcast mics go cold, the slow news days yawn in front of us, the players leave town to spend some blessed time with their families, and we all have a moment to catch our breath and take stock. Summer, as Nick Carraway suggests, is a time for a great reset.
This summer, I was one of over six million Instagram followers and and likely, approximately 1 million bots that lived two summers: There was mine, and there was the summer I lived vicariously through Ben Simmons. My summer was chill and lowkey. My kids went to an affordable summer rec in Bed Stuy that kept them occupied, I didn’t have the good fortune to get out of town, but I got a lot of writing done and filed a few pieces I was happy with, rode my bike to the beach several evenings a week, and read Walter McMurtry’s Summer Dad-lit epic, Lonesome Dove. And then, parasocially, I followed Simmons, who flitted between Miami and Los Angeles, working out and training, driving expensive, beautiful cars, hanging with his cool and totally normal entourage, partying, and taking some much needed time away from the spotlight.
A cliche at this point is that our social media feeds are aspirational, we follow people advertising fake lives highly massaged and edited to present the best versions of themselves to the world. But in doing so, they create a fascinating prism through which we can understand them anyways. Even when telling a lie, you can’t help telling on yourself. In the plastic and heightened presentation of a life via social media, we learn something of the user’s values and aesthetics. We can scroll and understand this activity you’re displaying yourself participating in, this plate of food you’re telling us you’ve eaten, is what you want people to see. It’s the mask you’re showing the world, but it’s still a mask of your choosing. So I wondered, what can we glean in considering the mask Ben Simmons shared with us?
I reached out to my editor and suggested turning on my IG alerts, playing armchair Clark Griswold with a selective slideshow that surveyed The Summer of Simmons. Perhaps through his Instagram output, beginning with his birthday in late July, we can better understand the past, present, and future of the very rich Australian former No. 1 pick, and arguably, the most enigmatic superstar the league has ever seen.
I began my serious documentation of Simmons’ Instagram feed in late July, but it’s worth mentioning this post from June 8th, his first on the grid since July 12th, 2022. The timing was curious, coming the day after the Nuggets had won Game 3 of the NBA Finals, reclaiming control of the series and eventually, the championship, but the post still managed to create something of a stir for both fans and aggregators alike, racking up nearly 60,000 likes and 1,000 comments in two hours. The post contained six photos, (all apparently taken by the Richard Ontiveros-Gima, or @thehapablonde, who appears to be Simmons’ primary personal photographer) but for many the headline, and the breakout was the photo posted above, showing off Simmons’ newly jacked physique (overseen by @craigturner__, his longtime trainer and fellow fishing fanatic, which we’ll get to in a minute). There were some fascinating takeaways that will inform much of our exploration:
Simmons’ physique has never been an issue in his game, in fact it has always been one of his great strengths. His combination of size, speed and power is what made him so compelling as a prospect, a nearly seven foot point guard who could guard all five positions, a matchup nightmare impossible to keep out of the paint. The issue, of course, is his, at this point pathological, refusal to shoot and fear of being in situations that could conceivably necessitate shooting at some point down the line. So adding what looks like tens of pounds of muscle is proof that Simmons is putting in work at the gym, but is he working smart, or hard? Filling out has helped young bigs, or wings that need to be able to fight through bullying defenders in the past, but we’ve also seen it slow down players that rely on speed, and negatively impact conditioning. Either way, muscle mass was never Simmons’ problem.
I also found this photo in the post particularly cruel:
Because several months from now, fans will be able to return to it, sick with the knowledge that Simmons is ambidextrous and has, not one, but two trained, capable hands he refuses to shoot with.
There was also this, a candid of Simmons with Turner and Tahj Malone, a co-founder of Simmons’ Training Hub App, which is “A Platform for Amateur Coaches In The Sports Creator Economy”. The caption of the entire post was nautical themed: “Just Chumming the water ” Simmons is an avid fisherman. You imagine it’s the one refuge for a person who has serious issues getting out of his head and away from the intense glare of NBA scrutiny and criticism. Meditative downtime on the water off the Miami shore will play a major part in his summer.
On July 20th, Simmons turned 27, and celebrated with this three picture post. The best is this one, drinking espresso, in front of a Bentley, in baggy sweats, with Grateful Dead Dunks on (to be fair, fire.) The pictures tell a story of a day hanging out with “The Boys”: Dionte Christmas (a journeyman Temple grad who seems to fill the role of on court sparring partner), Josh Pittle (a “sneakerhead” with his account on private. His LinkedIn suggests he’s been in the healthy retail beverage space most of his career), and Daryl Smith, owner of Healthy Green, a shop selling organic juices and acai bowls in Woodland Hills California. There’s a bit more that appears to be exploits from the big day on Smith’s account, and based on the two posts, combined with a little bit of social media stalking, the way I’d characterize Simmons’ circle is a health-conscious mix of beverage hustlers and fitness gurus who enjoy cars, working out, hanging in pools, and playing pool. It’s like Entourage if everyone had Vince’s vapid vibe but no one was Vince.
For years now, friends, family, teammates, scouts, coaches, front office executives, talking heads in media, Brookylnites, Philadelphians, Austrailians, and many others have tried to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on with Simmons, in his head, and in his game. I’ve never been a big believer in astrology, but out of desperation for insight, on the occasion of his birthday, I decided to try the last place anyone has thought of looking: The stars. I consulted with Lisa Stardust, an astrologer and writer, to read the Cancer’s astrological chart, based on his birth date of July 20th, 1996. Here’s an edited and condensed snippet of what she had to say:
“Right now he has Pluto opposing his sun in Cancer. He’s being pulled in two different directions because the sun is your ego. Pluto is all about transformation, and a lot of people like to live in their egos. So what happens is, they’re like, “I don’t want to change. I don’t want to grow. I don’t need to.” But the bottom line is Pluto is the type of planet that- if you don’t make necessary changes- what will happen is time will make those changes for you, which may not necessarily be beneficial to you. Unless you learn to go with the flow, everything could fall down before it can be rebuilt. If he’s having roadblocks in his career, I would say it’s probably because maybe he doesn’t want it anymore. Maybe everything he worked hard to achieve isn’t where he sees himself going. If this were a client of mine, I would say, “How badly do you want this?” Sometimes Pluto can push you forward. Sometimes it can make you question what you’re doing.
You also have to realize that you may not be able to work in a career where there’s so much pressure on you to perform, and you have to give yourself a lot of grace, too. So I would say that there’s a lot of fear in succeeding right now, because maybe he doesn’t want it. Maybe he’s self sabotaging. He likes to be the one in charge. There’s a chance working with a team isn’t the way for him to go. I think that he’s more used to being the one who calls the shots, so maybe this isn’t the best career for him because with that opposition, he’d be better as a movie star or an actor or a model or a writer. He has a chart that no matter what he works for, if he’s not impassioned by it, then he’s not going to make moves to go for it. Does that make sense?
Thanks Lisa! Yes it does! I think I believe in astrology now.
The most recent post on grid is another album with another nautical themed caption (“Daily Catch”), this one five photos that suggest a troubling turn towards an attempt at full-blown influencing. After the dissolution of his most famous relationship, Simmons began dating Maya Jama, a fitness influencer who is very good at social media. This post strikes me as someone who is doing a transparent, sweaty job attempting to throw his hat in the influencing ring, as you can glean both from the recent uptick in activity, and the composed sheen of each photo. There’s no weird angles of Simmons, no blur, no odd facial expressions, even when he’s intensely petting a dog or brandishing a massive fish, he’s the subject of every photo, it’s all celebrity Christmas card shit. But even in doing this, he can’t hide the sad emptiness behind his eyes, like a tiny Eddie Murphy is in his head operating a giant Ben Simmons machine.
Then, as displayed above, he made the move where you repost your post from the grid on your story to make sure all your followers see it, deeply thirsty behavior. Consider this post from Maya as an exemplar of the form and everything Simmons gets wrong: Its video of her at shows, action pictures of her friends caught doing goofy shit mid pose, a plate of grilled, butterflied lobster, a blurry selfie in bed. There’s an intimacy, a (curated and manufactured) authenticity to her giving you the same brief look at what she’s been up to lately, and crucially, it’s not all about her.
I also just want to flag- sure, the Uggs- but also this calf tattoo, that Simmons got sometime after January of this year. It’s a mash-up of onetime Ebbets field legend, who almost ended up playing on the same hallowed ground where Simmons plays now, Jackie Robinson, and blatant references to legendary artist and Park Slope native Jean Michel Basquiat. Paying homage to Robinson is one thing, but this is like when transplant NYU Freshmen rave to their friends at home about the “energy” of New York and build their entire identities around being New Yorkers. This would be like hooking up with someone for a few weeks who is clearly not that into you and getting a massive mural of them etched onto your calf. Or going to a concert with a massive mural of the band etched onto your calf.
This story was the culmination of a week of stories dedicated to Simmons’ new vintage Ford Bronco. I don’t really have much to add besides how funny I find it that Simmons tags Vintage Broncos CEO Chau Nguyen on this story, and the next day this is what Chau throws up on his grid:
Bucket hats begin playing a big part in Simmons’ late Summer. This looks like Simmons requested @theovision, which seems like some sort of paparazzi account, for the Eve 6 video/Opening credits of How I Met Your Mother treatment. This same day we got a batch of stories, one was a gym candid, and another fishing trip.
The top is down on the Bronco and bucket hat Ben is out, cranking the new release from Quavo, Rocket Power, with “Patty Cake”. Simmons soundtracks the story with the opening line of Quavo’s verse which suggests he just skimmed it, likes the beat and played it from the beginning, but for fun let’s briefly parse the lyrics and see if there’s any cryptic messages he may be trying to send to the public.
The song is pretty standard Migos shit, bragging about sex and materialism, threatening violence, but the opening bar, quoted by Simmons is, “I put that white Cartier on my wrist, but just know Black Lives Matter.” This could mean nothing, or perhaps it’s a reference to the traumatic, heady days of the protests during the pandemic, when Simmons was still on the court as a 76er, and still playing meaningful basketball with Joel Embiid. It’s a reach as a theory, for sure, but is potentially supported by the stunning recent interview with Simmons’ chosen mouthpiece, Andscape’s Marcus J. Spears, in which he expresses a desire to return to Philly, which is the most bizarre and least self-aware sentiment I’ve heard from any human being on Earth … since his completely deluded and genuinely sad underhand softball lob of a podcast appearance on former teammate J.J. Reddick’s The Old Man and the Three.
And we’re back! The prodigal son has returned, the prince of the city is home, etc. etc. This once again has major “Freshman at Brooklyn L.I.U.” energy, and it’s a still image, but I’d imagine he’s cranking something incredibly obvious and corny like “Empire State Of Mind” or “Coming Home”. Based on the view, we can deduce Simmons lives in Dumbo, and I’d bet it’s one of those horrific new constructions with luxury hotel grade amenities and a poor door that is a blight on the skyline.
This season will unquestionably be “The Last Chance” and “The Most Important Season Of Ben Simmons’ Career”, but it’s a testament to his incredible gifts that it’s merely another in what’s been several opportunities described as such, and I’d guess even if the Nets situation is a bust, there will be at least one or two more grim stops ahead of him. This New York Post media day recap was another in what’s been several months of rose colored narratives, attempting to frame the last few years as a mental and physical blip for a player who will surely regain the instinct and athleticism that made him a tantalizing potential franchise player for so long. Simmons, to his credit, is leaving nowhere for himself to hide.
He told reporters, “As it is physically, your mental [health] is very important. So it’s just doing the things that work best for you. For me, it’s a lot of meditation. And then physically, that’s all a part of it, too. So when you’re at your best physically, that helps your mental also. So it’s being in a place now and it’s just great. And I’m very blessed to be able to get on the court and play.”
Which is all well and good, the question will come when he has a smaller man between himself and the rim, and the obvious play will be to use his size and speed to take that man to the rack, and risk a trip to the line, and the demons that await him there. If he’s reduced to the role he wound up filling towards the end of the last Nets season, as Nic Claxton’s backup center, there may be a lot of fishing in his future.
There’s a famous scene in The Great Gatsby when Nick Carraway discovers his neighbor is less a man than a construction designed to travel back in time. Carraway reflects, in reference either to his neighbor, or Ben Simmons at media day, “He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps…..His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.”