Ben Simmons had some pretty harsh things to say about the NCAA during his days at LSU. And days before the new documentary he stars in premieres, it’s not exactly shocking that his roasting of the antiquated and hypocritical organization made headlines.
But watch the hour and a half film—One and Done, debuting Friday night on Showtime—and the most shocking aspect of it isn’t how hard the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft had it during his one season at LSU. It just might be how lonely it is at the top.
Cameras documented his journey, and his family’s, from a high school prodigy to a basketball savior considered among the most hyped prospects since LeBron James. And half way through we learn that as Simmons chased his dream—to play in the NBA and not necessarily in college—there was a cost.
College basketball’s best player was pal-less, exactly the opposite of how you expected Simmons to roll.
It’s a Saturday and Simmons is making his way through an LSU tailgating scene. At 6'10" and sticking out like sore thumb, he’s mobbed by undergrads and middle-aged Tigers fans. They all want a piece of him—a picture, a handshake, a conversation. And while he obliges, it’s the kind of vapid human interaction famous individuals know all too well and the kind that makes Simmons reflective in offering up one of the documentary’s most honest and poignant moments.
“I know people who want to try and be my friend because I might be in the NBA, might have a nice contract and be on TV and be famous,” says Simmons. “But I’m not friends with anybody.”
It almost makes you feel sorry for the guy who is going to make more money before he’s 21 than most people ever will. The freshman that dedicated his life to reaching the NBA roamed the Baton Rouge campus without a crew. He ventured to Walmart to pick up supplies solo. His roommates are basically nowhere to be found. College basketball’s best player was pal-less, exactly the opposite of how you expected Simmons to roll.
“You don’t normally think about that with somebody on the cover of magazines and on SportsCenter’s Top 10,” says Maura Mandt, the documentary’s co-director and an executive producer. “That was a very interesting juxtaposition for Ben to not really be able to trust a lot of people.”
It was just one of a number of interesting anecdotes that came out of a project that was two years in the making for Mandt and her team. The Simmons family approached her with the idea and Mandt made sure everyone—parents, siblings, and the star—knew going in that honesty was mandatory. She warned them “you’re not going to be able to see the doc; nobody is getting paid; you’re going to hate me about five times through this whole process.
“I gave them the worst case scenario,” says Mandt, “but Ben was committed to wanting to share this journey.”
The access the Simmons family granted is pretty startling. We watch intimate FaceTime conversations between Ben and his sister, who serves as sort of unofficial manager/advisor/liaison during his college season. We see him mature from wide-eyed teenager playing video games to a bonafide brand. And once Simmons’s season with the Tigers officially ended, life got a lot more complicated. While management agencies and sneaker companies battled to earn the signature, he’s caught in the middle. At one juncture, his father questions his sister’s guidance and motivations.
“I don’t think anyone is going to feel sorry for Ben and I don’t think they should feel sorry for Ben,” says Mandt. “Ben certainly doesn’t feel sorry for Ben. But a lot of times when there’s somebody with that type of fame you lose empathy for them as a human being that goes through struggles and challenges.”
Now that he’s officially a member of the Association, hopefully Simmons can start to form actual bonds with someone who isn’t blood—even while he rehabs a broken foot. Because the number of qualified individuals he can easily relate to—ones making bank and doing things mere mortals can only dream of—only gets smaller from here.