76ers star Ben Simmons has grown tired of answering questions about his longstanding Rookie of the Year war against Jazz sensation Donovan Mitchell. And after Philadelphia drubbed Utah on Thursday night, 114-94, Simmons seemingly put an end to the conversations altogether.
“It wasn’t a f****ng race,” Simmons said, via The Salt Lake Tribune’s Eric Walden. “You saw the votes, right? … Did you see the votes? So what’s the question?”
How did we get here?
The 76ers drafted Simmons with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and he was a heralded prospect out of LSU who many dubbed the second coming of LeBron James. But Simmons did not play in his original rookie year. Instead, he sat out as he recovered from a season-ending foot injury.
Utah landed Mitchell as a steal at pick No. 13 in the 2017 Draft, and he — along with Boston’s Jayson Tatum — quickly became the darlings of the class.
But Simmons also proved he was every bit as good of the player many believed he’d become. And because his injury kept him out of his entire first season in the NBA, he was considered a rookie in a class that wasn’t his own.
Mitchell campaigned hard
In a world without Simmons, Mitchell was the runaway Rookie of the Year candidate. In Utah’s first season after the disappointing departure of Gordon Hayward, it was Mitchell’s electrifying offense (and, of course, Rudy Gobert’s incredible defense) that vaulted the Jazz to a playoff appearance without their All-Star forward.
His performance garnered legitimate Rookie of the Year consideration in the second half of the season, and Mitchell eventually partnered with Adidas for a Rookie of the Year campaign that challenged Simmons’ legitimacy as a rookie. He became a “rookie truther,” wearing a hoodie with the literal definition of a rookie on it.
But it wasn’t enough
Simmons had an incredible season of his own. He averaged about 16 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists per game, partnering with Joel Embiid to revitalize a Philadelphia fan base that had been dormant for years. He was proof The Process had born fruit.
In an interview with ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Simmons said no other rookies had caught his attention, and that it wasn’t even a discussion “if you look at the numbers.”
Snubbing Mitchell did not make Jazz fans happy, nor did Mitchell himself appreciate it.
But Simmons was right
The media, and virtually everyone outside of Salt Lake City, sided with him. Simmons landed 90 of 101 possible first-place votes for Rookie of the Year. Mitchell placed in second. The only other players to receive second or third-place votes were Tatum, Kyle Kuzma and Dennis Smith Jr.
Mitchell congratulated Simmons in-person during the NBA’s Award Show.
But he undoubtedly felt he should have won the award, even if the overwhelming majority of voters believed otherwise.
Which brings us to present day
A present-day where every matchup between Simmons and Mitchell will be viewed as a rivalry game. This isn’t a beef caused by the players, more so one player’s imagination, which the public took and ran amok with. There’s no bad blood between the two talented players. But there are only so many ways one can ask Simmons the same question before he eventually snaps back.
“How do I feel about it? I don’t give a [expletive]. Honestly, I don’t,” Simmons responded to questions about Rookie of the Year arguments, according to the Salt Lake Tribune’s Eric Walden. “I’m not worried about outside noise, I’m not worried about anything in terms of fans, media, you guys asking these questions; [I don’t care what anyone says] besides my teammates and my coaches, everyone in this locker room.”
And then, of course, he’s complimentary of Mitchell and his game, as well.
“He’s a great player, he’s a great player,” Simmons said. “He can score the ball really well, he’s getting better finding his guys. He’s learning. He’s a great player.”
So really, this beef is simmering, if it truly existed at all.