NBA Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons is currently one of basketball’s hottest talents. Given the prestigious title this past June, Simmons is now officially in the company of the game’s greatest players: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving.
His star’s risen off the court, too: in 2016, Simmons secured a place with the Philadelphia 76ers, and was welcomed to the city by Meek Mill. “He was really one of the first people to embrace me,” Simmons says now, “which was great because obviously Philadelphia love him, and as soon as he did [that] everyone was on board.” And just days before our meeting, Simmons rendezvoused in Mexico with rumoured girlfriend Kendall Jenner.
But right now, we’re in Simmons’ hometown of Melbourne, at Box Hill Senior Secondary College, where he studied until 2011. He’s barely landed, but Simmons is already greeting a slew of young basketballers as part of his Beats by Dre ambassador initiative. A line of high schoolers filed into the gymnasium, feverishly surrounding the 22-year-old as he casually shoots hoops in a caramel turtleneck. Standing close by are his family, including his father, basketball retiree Dunc Simmons, and his sister, who is tightly swaddling Ben’s 3-week-old niece.
As Simmons’ friendship with Meek blossoms, so does his passion for the hip-hop. From a cameo appearance in Meek’s “Issues” video to a tumultuous relationship with Tinashe, Simmons is already becoming a figure intertwined with the scene. A partnership with Beats by Dr. Dre has seen him bring music and sport to his hometown to inspire a new generation of stars. And back in Philly, plans for Simmons to work with Meek and other local artists are already in motion.
After Simmons is finished meeting schoolkids, we sit down in a small room by the gymnasium, at a table peppered with boxes of fried chicken and hot chips from his favourite Blackburn chicken shop. At 6 ft 10, Simmons sits as comfortably as he can at the standard school-sized table across from me. In terms of his career, Simmons is already in elite company, and plans to be one of the greatest players of all time. But right now, we’re not talking about the game: instead, we took some time to talk about Simmons’ love of hip hop, his friendship with Meek Mill and his rumoured penchant for opera.
Noisey: Do you come back to Melbourne often?
Ben Simmons: I just landed yesterday so I’m a bit jet lagged. I usually come back once a year for the camp but this is the second time I’ve been back this year to see my niece, she’s 3 weeks old.
Tell me how you found a place in hip-hop.
Just by being in America and being around different artists, and now being a celebrity figure has led me to enjoying [hip-hop] music. I’ve been interacting with all these people and learning a lot more about it.
What’s it like having this proximity to music as an athlete?
It’s cool, and it kinda keeps growing. Now playing for Philly, all the rappers and all the artists know me now, so it's more of one of those things where i’m running into people and connecting with them. It just cool having friends that are not associated with basketball and sports and it’s away from all of that
So it's refreshing?
Definitely, even just talking about different things is refreshing.
How did you end up making a cameo Meek Mill’s ‘Issues’ video?
Yeah that was random! We both got a yacht in Miami and we were just chilling and it happened.
When’s the next cameo?
There’s nothing planned, but it’ll probably happen randomly again.
How’d you guys meet?
Just through Philly. So when I got drafted he posted something welcoming me to Philly. Meek was really one of the first people to embrace me which was great because obviously philadelphia love him, and as soon as he did everyone was on board.
How do you feel about everything going on with Meek right now?
I think it's great for him, obviously it wasn't great going to jail. I went to visit him when he was in there and i think now that he's out, he’s really using his platform to help others and he really continues to contribute to the community.
So what do you listen to before a game?
I try to listen to chill music before a game, Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye. I try not to listen to things that'll get me too pumped up just because I don't like to go into a game ready to go, I like to be mellow.
Speaking of feeling mellow, back when you played for LSU, some of your teammates said you liked to listen to opera before a game—
No! My roommate, Darcy Malone, made a joke about me loving opera, and everyone ran with it. [laughs]
So it was a joke that went too far?
Does the music you listen to change depending on what you're doing?
Yeah for sure, before a game it’s more relaxing music and if i'm in the car I'm listening to stuff that's more uptempo, modern—right now I’m listening to ASTROWORLD, it’s dope.
It’s such a good album, it sounds like 50 different songs.
Yeah that's why it’s so cool, because it's so different with all the different artists on there.
Who are your favourite artists at the moment?
Definitely Travis Scott, Gunna, Lil Baby, Drake, and Meek Mill, of course.
Who’s your favourite rapper right now?
Do you prefer a 7 song or 25 song album?
I don’t mind as long as its good and it's not all there just to be there. Is that what Drake had?
Yeah, it was two-sided album with 25 songs.
But they were all decent you know, so it wasn’t bad. I always find that better because you always have more options. I get tired of songs quickly ‘cause I’ve always got them on repeat.
What was your first concert?
Kanye’s Yeezus tour.
What did you listen to as a teen?
Oh man, whatever was popular at the time. Probably 50 Cent and The Game.
Can you ever imagine aligning yourselves with artists to help them out? Definitely. I talk to Meek a fair bit about doing different things within Philly. I talk to a lot of guys that I'm just cool with about upcoming things that we could possibly do.
Kish Lal is a writer from Melbourne. Follow her on Twitter.