Stephen A. Smith Criticizes Ben Simmons Upon Rejoining ESPN

On Monday, after being absent from ESPN for more than a month, Stephen A. Smith returned in dramatic fashion, taping an episode of First Take on a boat in the Hudson River. This gimmick made some viewers queasy, and host, Molly Qerim had to take a 15-minute break in ESPN’s South Street Seaport Studios as the team dealt with heavy seas and her motion sickness.

Maybe the rough seas explain why the former Inquirer columnist suddenly changed his mind about Ben Simmons, who used to be a troublemaker on the Sixers. The former No. 1 pick is now playing for the Nets in Brooklyn after being traded there from the Sixers in exchange for James Harden.

Smith hasn’t been hesitant about his criticism of the former No. 1 choice. He criticized Simmons, a three-time All-Star, for sitting out the Nets’ loss to the Boston Celtics in the playoffs and compared him to the character Zoolander because of his penchant for flashy clothing when on the bench.

 

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Forget American sports history, “Ben Simmons might be the weakest, most pathetic excuse for a professional athlete we have ever seen,” Smith remarked. Simmons, according to Smith, is “the antithesis of everything Allen Iverson personified,” and Philadelphians saw him as a “coward.” He has called the 26-year-old a quitter on multiple occasions.

“I feel bad for anyone who was his teammate. He quit on LSU, he quit on the Philadelphia 76ers, and now he ain’t showing up for the Brooklyn Nets,” Smith said during ESPN’s coverage of the NBA playoffs.

“This is one of the most pathetic situations that I’ve ever seen in my life. He ain’t going to war, he ain’t going into the octagon, he’s not going into the boxing ring — it’s pulling teeth to get this man to play basketball. It’s pathetic, it’s sad.”

A recent encounter with Simmons, though Smith mistook him for “Brent,” has changed Smith’s tune. “His personal business is his personal business,” Smith said Monday. “I support the brother. I had a problem with him not playing, that’s the past. He’s ready to go. He swears he’s ready to go. I’m rooting for the brother.”

 

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Smith’s about-face occurred before it was publicly known that Simmons had settled his dispute with the Sixers and would receive the $20 million he had missed out on by sitting out the 2021-22 season. Despite not playing for the Nets after undergoing back surgery in May, Simmons was nonetheless paid in full for the remainder of the season.

While Smith isn’t the only former critic to extend an olive branch to Simmons, we’ll hear his thoughts on the settlement on Tuesday’s First Take. After initially calling Simmons a “crybaby” on The Big Podcast with Shaq in January, NBA Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal changed his tune in February.

A few months later, however, he was criticizing the point guard again for missing the Nets’ playoff loss to the Celtics because of a knee injury. “He went the punk move route, ‘Oh, I’m not going to play, my back hurts.’ We all know what that is. Ballers know what that is,” Shaq said in April. Stay tuned with us only on Lee Daily

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