Ben Simmons just can’t stay out of the news.
First, the 76ers point guard’s shooting woes against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals drew international attention, and cries from Sixers fans for him to be traded. Then, he was spotted hanging out in England before news broke of his spending $17.5 million on a 12,000-square-foot mansion in Los Angeles’ Hidden Hills neighborhood. Still in England, Simmons and his significant other, Maya Jama, were together in the Centre Court crowd on Monday at Wimbledon.
Now, former Australian NBA player Andrew Bogut said on his Rogue Bogues podcast the Victorian state government threatened to withdraw $148 million of basketball funding if Simmons did not play for the Australian national team against the United States national team in 2019. Simmons and Bogut are from Melbourne, located in Victoria.
Bogut’s claim was denied by the Victorian government, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
But the Boomers originally decided Simmons could only be on their team if was committed to playing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. That’s because they were using the games against the U.S. as warmups and practice for the international event. But according to Bogut, the Boomers changed their minds and allowed Simmons to play in just the warm-up games after the alleged threat.
The funding was for State Basketball Centre stadium infrastructure and for high-performance development in Victoria.
“The call was given to Basketball Australia [from the Victorian government], it basically said this: ‘If you don’t let Ben Simmons play these two games in Melbourne that money is gone, we are not giving it to basketball in Victoria,’ ” Bogut said on the podcast. “We will do our best to get that number as close to zero as possible, and you will never get another dime from the Victorian government again.’
“He [then Australian coach Andrej Lemanis] came to the group, said this is the situation we are dealing with … He said, ‘If we don’t let Ben play in these two games we are losing funding for grassroots.’ He said, ‘I can’t have that on my soul, in my heart, I can’t have that taken away from young kids’ development ... I am letting Ben play.’ “
However, Simmons only participated in two practices and didn’t play in the games. Yet, the funding was not withdrawn.
”The Victorian Government made no such threat regarding the State Basketball Centre, which was a 2018 election commitment,” a spokeswoman for the Victorian government said in a statement to the newspaper. “The fact is, Ben Simmons played in neither game and notwithstanding that, all funding commitments by the Victorian Government towards basketball have been honoured and were never in question.”
Bogut played 14 seasons in the NBA after being selected first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2005 NBA draft. The Sixers even acquired him from the Dallas Mavericks as part of a trade package for Nerlens Noel on Feb. 23, 2017. The Sixers waived Bogut four days later.
Bogut, 36, played for the Boomers in the 2004, 2008, and 2016 Olympics games in addition to the 2019 World Cup.
Simmons, 24, was expected to play for Australia in the Toyko Olympics. However, he withdrew to work on his shooting. Sixers teammate Matisse Thybulle, who has dual United States/Australian citizenship, will play for the Boomers.