After a season spent off the court but directly in the glare of the national basketball media spotlight for his refusal to play with the 76ers, Ben Simmons is filing a grievance against his former team to the tune of $20 million in unpaid salary.
Simmons has cited mental health issues as the reason he wasn’t able to play with the Sixers this season, and the team withheld $20 million worth of his salary, stating that he was in breach of his contract as he refused to participate in training camp, preseason workouts, and regular season games and fining him for each infraction.
He’d expressed his desire to leave Philadelphia following the 2021 NBA Playoffs after a falling out with his team, reportedly telling the Sixers front office last August that he had no intention of ever playing a game for their organization again, and the drama continued when he refused to participate in preseason drills and was removed from several practices and suspended for a game in October. He has not played since — even after being traded to the Brooklyn Nets last month.
The 76ers kept millions of dollars of Simmons’ salary in an escrow account from which to withdraw the fines he was handed this season for missing games and practices. As his grievance heads to arbitration, he’ll have the backing of the National Basketball Players’ Association and the power of one line in the current collective bargaining agreement that ensures players’ salaries in a case like his “if such failure has been caused by the player’s mental disability.”
While no one but Simmons and his doctors are qualified to comment on his mental health, the Sixers took issue with the lack of access that the team’s doctors had to Simmons and his initial resistance to being assessed and diagnosed by them, though he did eventually agree to work with the Sixers’ medical professionals.
With the NBA’s CBA expiring in 2024, the way this case plays out could have some major effects on future bargaining regarding mental health clauses and salary protection for physically healthy players. The owners don’t want to have to face a situation like this again, but at the same time, they can’t simply throw mental health out the window as a legitimate excuse for not playing simply because of its invisibility.
Simmons has not yet played a game with his new team in Brooklyn due to an old back injury flaring up, but the current story is that he’s hoping to be physically ready to get back on the court with his teammates by the time playoffs begin two weeks from today.