Ben Simmons on the NBA limelight, Donald Trump and Olympic gold

Ben Simmons on the NBA limelight, Donald Trump and Olympic gold

To understand the impact Ben Simmons has had on the Philadelphia 76ers in his rookie NBA season, consider what the team did for Australia Day.

For last Thursday's game against the Chicago Bulls, the 76ers' stadium was transformed for Australian Heritage Night.

The 22,000 spectators were given boxing kangaroo t-shirts and introduced to the delights of Four'n Twenty meat pies.

As one local noted with a laugh, one of the NBA's oldest franchises still hasn't even had an Italian heritage night yet.

And Simmons didn't disappoint, leading his side out and notching a match-winning performance, reaching a triple-double early in the third quarter.

He said heritage night was "perfect" and while he's thriving in America, he still misses home.

"I don't get many chances to go back. I usually go back once a year, and do my camp-out there, but I definitely miss it," Simmons told 7.30.

"A lot of family, a lot of friends back home, and just the culture.

"We're so down to earth and love our sports and just love having a good time.

"I think that's one of the things that I miss."

Simmons eclipses his father's achievements

With talk of a potential new $100 million-plus contract if Simmons continues to impress, his family is helping him remain grounded.

He shares a house with his brother while his parents live just one street away.

"It's huge for me, they keep me humble," he said.

"It's a reality once I get back home with my brother and sister and my mum and dad, so they're a huge help.

"I think they really keep me composed and relaxed once I'm away from the lights and the cameras."

Simmons' father Dave came to Australia in 1989 as a US import player in the National Basketball League.

He played in the NBL for more than a decade, marrying and settling in Australia along the way.

The bond between father and son has always been strong.

A YouTube clip of Dave with a young Simmons shows he always had the talent.

By succeeding in the sport's toughest league, Simmons has eclipsed his father's achievements.

Now, with his trademark confidence, Simmons is predicting a level of Australian Olympic success more familiar to his adopted country.

"One of my goals is to win a medal with Australia and I want a gold medal, so when the time's right I think it will happen," he said.

"There's a lot of Aussies in the NBA, it's really fun."

Right now there's a record eight Aussies on NBA rosters.

On Trump's America: 'That's the crazy thing, it is real'

The glitz, glamour and sheer size of the NBA stage mean Simmons has a level of fame beyond the reach of most Australian athletes.

A recent shout-out came from Hollywood star Will Smith.

"Definitely didn't think Will Smith would be shouting me out on TV," he said.

"I think that's a pretty cool thing but it's just, there's a whole lot of things that have kind of come my way and they've been very cool and I'm very blessed that they've happened."

That profile means Simmons' views are even sought on politics in a way that's unfamiliar in Australia.

He attracted praise and hatred for calling US President Donald Trump a "dickhead" over his clash with NFL athletes, but isn't backing down.

"I think if that's how they want to protest and put the word out there for whatever they're representing or saying, you know, I think that's their freedom of speech," he said.

"That's the great thing about America, you can say what you want and how you feel and I think everybody has to respect that."

Just like many others, he's finding life in Mr Trump's America a little bewildering.

"It's one of those things in Australia where we're a lot different, but when we see what's happening it's kind of like a TV show or a movie, you just don't think it's real," he said.

"But that's the crazy thing, it is real and it is really happening."

'A once in a generation player'

Like any athlete though, Simmons' focus is firmly on the basket.

His performances in his rookie year haven't been without criticism as he's moved from being a power forward to a point guard.

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Keith Pompey said Simmons needs to work on his long-range game.

"I think I would give him a B+ and the reason that I'm saying that is we have to factor in that Ben Simmons was a power forward," he said.

"We also have to factor in that we know that Ben Simmons isn't a guy who's used to shooting the ball.

"So these are certain things that he's learning how to do."

If he can do that, Pompey says, he'll be a megastar able to dominate games like Wilt Chamberlain.

"He's a freak of nature," he said.

"You look at him and, if he can develop that jumper, we're talking about a once in a generational type player."

It's been more than 30 years since the Philadelphia 76ers won a title and if Simmons can deliver on this promise to help deliver one, it won't be the last Australian heritage night.

"For me, I believe we can win a ring but it comes down to everyone playing their role," Simmons said.

"It's not easy. It takes time.

"It may not happen this year or next year, but we're going to get there."