Former NBA players turned analysts know basketball, but definitely not medicine.
That’s why many wound up with egg on their face on Wednesday after news broke on Ben Simmons. 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 backing out of Game 4 of the NBA playoffs with his team down three games to none.
Originally, it was reported that Simmons was finally healthy and would make his season debut in the postseason against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center.
Then Simmons’ health status changed and he was ruled out. It was reported that his back had gone south on him and he was feeling pain. Many questioned the validity of it and called Simmons pathetic and weak.
TNT’s 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:
“Cmon MAN!!! Out for Game 4 when it was rumored you were going to make your debut. This dude has ZERO competitive (Fire).. As small a chance as the Nets have to come back in this series, you still have 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 had stole money this season by not playing a single game. “Ben Simmons officially completed the biggest heist in NBA history. He really sat out the entire season! Carry on...”
All of that sounds good, makes for great hot takes and keeps people feeling good about themselves. Simmons is an easy target, the NBA’s human piñata.
All were wrong, totally wrong.
And not for being critical of Simmons, who definitely mishandled his exit from Philadelphia.
But what these guys, others in the media — and some rabid fans — did was an outright injustice, calling a man’s health into question.
None of us have this right.
Unless you have examined Simmons or had his medical records, you couldn’t make a fair or honest assessment on whether he was injured or not.
No one — not even a soon-to-be Hall of Fame center who won four championships — knows what pain another man is in.
The notion that Simmons was faking it, that he was just scared to play in the game because the Nets were down in the series, made no sense. And the back is a tricky thing to put a handle on. A back issue could be so bad that a person can’t even tie their shoe, let alone play basketball on the NBA level.
Sadly, people were giving the viewing public feelings, not facts. They let their feelings get in the way of having an honest take on Simmons’ situation. It’s shocking since athletes know what they have to go through to perform at such a high level.
Can’t imagine that any will offer an apology for being wrong — both dead wrong on his health and wrong in judgment to pretend like they knew his medical status when, in reality, they had no damn idea.
This isn’t new. We’ve seen watching-on-TV doctors before. People on their couches at home rip athletes who get hurt and don’t go back into games.
One famous incident involved Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler.
Most couldn’t stand the guy from his persona and the vibe he gave off. So when he got hurt in the 2011 NFC Championship game, came out, and did not return, other athletes watching on TV unloaded on Cutler. They questioned his toughness.
“All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee. ...I played the whole season on one,” Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew tweeted at the time.
Of course, Cutler suffered a sprained MCL. Doctors confirmed his knee was legitimately hurt.
But hey, don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good hot take. For sure, Simmons has opened himself up to criticism with the way his career has gone the last year. And in many of those cases, it’s fair game.
And for sure, analysts have a right to give their opinion. But it should NEVER be the case of telling someone they aren’t really hurt when you honestly just don’t know.
When it comes to health, we just have to take a man’s word on it. There’s no other way.
That’s why so many were so wrong.