Finally healthy and on the court, Ben Simmons is tearing up the league in his rookie season. Through 19 games, he's averaging 18.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists, and has already recorded multiple triple-doubles. Everyone knew he was going to be great, but that he's doing so much so soon is quite a surprise to many.
LeBron James, however, is not one of those people. Recently, the Cavs star told reporters he . But in private, years before Simmons made it to the NBA, LeBron told Simmons that he has a chance to be better than him.
The tale comes from Lee Jenkins' latest masterpiece. In it he details Simmons' rise from a high school phenom, to becoming the Sixers' franchise point forward. Via Sports Illustrated:
Just 21, Simmons has been waiting almost a quarter of his life to play in the NBA. At 17, perched on the side of a high school gym in Las Vegas after a session at the LeBron James Skills Academy, he felt a meaty palm on his shoulder. "Tomorrow morning," James told him, "6:30." Simmons was dressed by four. As he did pull-ups in the fitness center at the Wynn hotel alongside James and Dwyane Wade, he kept FaceTime on his phone, so his best friend from home could watch. Simmons grew up wearing Wade's Converse kicks, buying pairs in red, white and black. He studied James's highlights on his iPad during class. He came of age with the Heat's Big Three, who handed the rock to their 6'8", 250-pound kingpin and called it small ball.
"You have an opportunity," James told Simmons early on, "to be better than me. But you can't skip steps. You have to do the work." Those words helped sustain him when he stumbled at LSU and helped fuel him as he rehabbed in Philadelphia. "Is this really going to happen?" he asked himself. He knew, even if others wavered, that it would. Because LeBron said so, and for a prospect of Simmons's vintage, no endorsement means more. "Part of his greatness," Simmons says, "is that he wants others to be just as great."
Simmons obviously has a long, long way to go before he's even mentioned in LeBron's class. But for James -- one of not only the best, but also smartest players ever to put on an NBA jersey -- to make that comment to him as a teenager is telling of the potential that Simmons has.
And so far, he certainly seems to be on the right path.