Peter FitzSimons: NBA star Ben Simmons has me gushing
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Peter FitzSimons: NBA star Ben Simmons has me gushing

Here at TFF, when it comes to famous sports stars our natural disposition is not to gush in unseemly fashion. Most particularly when everyone else is so gushing, it just doesn't seem right, and besides, what would you be adding to the conversation? Puncturing pomposity is much more TFF's go, but enough about Greg Norman.

I do need, however, to make an exception in the case of Ben Simmons, the Melbourne-born, Newcastle-raised, 21-year-old now tearing up the boards for the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. In all your born days, have you ever seen a more mesmerising Australian sportsman on the world stage in just his first year?

Rising star: Australia's Ben Simmons has been a revelation.

Rising star: Australia's Ben Simmons has been a revelation.

Photo: MICHAEL DWYER

Every time you look up, the point guard seems to be smashing a new record; pulling off extraordinary plays which you've never even conceived of, let alone seen; guiding his team to improbable victories. And he does it, game after game after game.

Just this week he became only the second player in NBA history, behind Larry Bird, to finish a game with at least 19 points, 17 rebounds, 14 assists and two blocks.

Though currently a little behind the rookie seasons of LeBron James and Michael Jordan in terms of average points scored – Simmons on 17 points, LeBron 21, and Jordan 28 – he is ahead of both superstars in the number of rebounds and assists, and his hallmark is not just individual brilliance, but how well his team does with him in the engine-room.

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Ultimately, however, it is not the mere stats that go remotely close to doing justice to the wonder of Simmons. It is watching him. The speed, the verve, the swerve! Look at the calm manner in which he shimmies left, shapes right, moves left ... no, right again, and then turns on the jets to surge through the frozen defence and slam dunk the ball right down on their melons before, just an instant later, moving back into position.

He seems to have no time for any "hot-dogging", no carry-on, never disputes with the officials and just gets on with it. No swagger, no talk of the millions he has made. He still keeps in touch with the blokes he was at school with just a few short years ago, gets them tickets to his games, and follows closely what is happening in his beloved AFL comp, a sport he likely could have turned professional in, before turning to basketball.

All that, and he has a social conscience, and courage, calling Donald Trump "an idiot" and a "dickhead", over the American president's attacks on black NFL players "taking a knee", during the American national anthem.

Ben Simmons is the one, and will be at the prow of the Boomers in the next Olympics. Bravo, young man.

We now resume our normal service of sneering unpleasantly.

Off the grid

Listen. Cock your ear to the wind. There! That low, moaning, groaning sound? A little familiar, yes? It is sports fans from around the globe having a whinge because just in this one week the 21st century has caught up with them.

I refer to "grid girls" being banned from Formula one, at the same time as "walk-on girls" were banned from professional darts. Both were the rough equivalent of the decorous women you used to see holding up the round number in boxing bouts.

The Australian Grand Prix Grid Girls pose for a photo in 2015.

The Australian Grand Prix Grid Girls pose for a photo in 2015.

Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

For yes, of course the traditionalists are moaning into their beers, talking about "political correctness gone mad", and all the rest, but they just don't get it. Both sports are highly tuned commercial entities, money-seeking missiles that alter course according to where they will achieve their best return. So yes, they may lose some of their fringe supporters, who take it as a human right to have big boobs served up with their darts and roaring engines. But the point is, by giving their sports a modern, inclusive look, they stand to gain many more adherents. And what happens when a sport takes gender politics seriously? It succeeds. So many of the voices now bagging the loss of "grid-girls" and "walk-on girls" were exactly the same voices bagging Women's AFL, which ... turned into the break-out sport of last year! It started again on Friday night, and this year will be even bigger. The guts of it?

If you frame your sport so both genders are attracted to it, and even participating in it, you get to build a bigger marquee to bring new followers and stand to make double the money.

Get it now, Alan?

Knee injury

Which brings us to the David Pocock thing. As discussed, when they form up the queue of those who admire both Pocock and the horse he rode in on, you will find me right up the front. And of course he will get the best deal he can for himself. But the news last week about the ending of his sabbatical is curious.

As you know, last year, the ARU paid full freight – a reported $750,000 – for Pocock to go on a sabbatical, to freshen up mentally and physically, while still remaining locked into Australian rugby. It was an expensive exercise, whereby such serious coin was put to an employee, not to work – though, to be fair, Pocock says rather than a strict sabbatical, it more suited the ARU to pay him that way, over three years, rather than two years. And he has also made the point to me that he could have made much more money by playing in the UK.

Wallabies' star David Pocock has undergone knee surgery

Wallabies' star David Pocock has undergone knee surgery

Photo: AAP

But, now returning from that sabbatical? You would think, would you not, that the ARU insisted that in return for their money, his first and only games would be for Australian rugby. Instead, he turned out for a Japanese rugby team, Panasonic Wild Knights, and having returned to Australia a fortnight ago, will be be having a "clean-up" operation on his knee, putting him out of action for the next 12 weeks, encompassing a fair chunk of the Super season.

Can I ask the obvious? If you are going to pay your finest footballer full-freight to take a break and freshen up, to effectively be paying him to rest, why would you allow him to pick up extra coin by playing a torrid season overseas, just before he gets back to you. What am I missing?

What they said

Confusion: Bernard Tomic has had a tough year.

Confusion: Bernard Tomic has had a tough year.

Photo: AAP

Bernard Tomic, just before he yelled, "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here". "I don't need this now. I've never felt this bad in my life. This is the jungle. It's so different. Not what I expected. I need some peace. This is going to knock me around for a week, two weeks. I'm just not coping. It's too risky. I don't know if I can do it. I'd like to speak to someone ... As soon as I got here, my mind was a bit twisted and the more hours I spent the more depressed I became."

Boris Becker on Tomic: "You are taught how to play tennis, but you're not taught how to handle fame. There isn't a school for that. The school is called life. You have to make those mistakes to know better ... I was lucky. I had a great family that supported me and I say this very carefully: they weren't depending financially on me."

Bernard Tomic: "I didn't know any life apart from tennis since I was eight years old . . . I was just a machine, training with my father ... I didn't have a childhood; obviously, that took its toll."

@Former_legend comments on Twitter: "I watched two different tennis players on TV tonight: one won his 20th grand slam, the other had chicken guts poured on his head. Tennis Australia must be wrapt with the money they've sunk into Bernie. #investment."

Cameron Bancroft on how good the Perth Scorchers are: "The one thing we do have is the respect – we're the best team in this competition. We have been since the beginning of time, since the beginning of BBL."

NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron: "Instead of building two stadiums, the NSW government should invest that money in school buildings and maintenance."

Former NRL footballer Joe Williams on Australia Day. "How does that connect with January 26 being Australia Day? How many Jews celebrate Hitler day? People say, 'You Aboriginals want everything'; we say, 'No, we just want to celebrate a national day with you. Not one that marks a massacre. We're your First Australians, we are the oldest culture on the planet, you should be proud of that, not put us down.' We just want to celebrate this land, where we've been for thousands upon thousands of years."

Williams on the national anthem: "That song was a song written by a Scotsman about England and it was written during the time of the White Australia Policy when it was legally OK to steal our children."

Anthony Mundine: "I just kick back and relax while women cook and clean. That is my attitude." Those who take their cues from religions established by males of 800 and 2000 years ago, have a higher tendency to evince the patriarchal attitudes of men who lived 800 and 2000 years ago. Discuss.

Women Sport Australia spokeswoman Louise Evans, on Formula One ditching "grid girls": "Women in sport should be celebrated as strong, skilled athletes, not as a titillating decoration to a male-dominated sport. It's time other sports scrapped ring girls, walk-on girls and podium girls and and provided women with equal opportunity, equal pay and conditions to participate in sport, not pose."

Dutch darts champion Raymond van Barneveld on the cancellation of walk-on women: "I will really miss the girls!! For me they are a part of the darts."

Sean Bratches, F1's managing director of commercial operations announcing the end of "grid girls": "We feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms."

Bayern Munich player Sandro Wagner on his first goal for his new club: "It may be that my penis played a part. It was there, I'm just not sure. It happened so fast, but it was still very pleasant." Move on.

NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley as the school year started with many schools in hot areas still without air-conditioning: "You can bet your bottom dollar that the private corporate boxes in their new stadiums will have air-conditioning."

Team of the week

Roger Federer. After having not won a Grand Slam since 2012, now won three of the last five. His first win in a five-set grand slam final since 2009 Wimbledon.

Caroline Wozniacki. The 27 year old Dane, won her first Grand Slam tournament against Simona Halep, of Romania, in a three-set thriller.

Australia Sevens. Men and Women both victorious at the Sydney Sevens.

Australia Davis Cup team. Take on Germany in Brisbane.

Superbowl. Happening again Monday morning our time. Patriots and someone, in the annual climax of the Festival of Concussion.

No more: Chief Wahoo is being phased out at the Cleveland Indians.

No more: Chief Wahoo is being phased out at the Cleveland Indians.

Photo: AP

Chief Wahoo. Iconic sports logo will be removed from Cleveland Indians uniforms from next season. Next to go – and it should – will be the name Indians itself, just as the Washington "Redskins" is very unlikely to endure, even in the age of Trump.

Jason Day. Won on the PGA tour for the first time in a while with victory at the Farmers Insurance Open

Six Nations. Kicks off tonight in Cardiff.

Dylan Alcott. Won his fourth-straight quad wheelchair singles title at the Australian Open, defeating top-seeded American David Wagner 7-6 (7-1), 6-1. In a refreshing change, he was also the face of an ANZ advertising campaign.

West Pymble touch football social group. These Sunday warriors are once again running The Hope Challenge: a 12-hour touch football marathon to raise funds for the Black Dog Institute. The web site will be live soon, where anyone can sponsor players by the hour, by the try scored or with a flat donation. All other sponsorships welcome.

RIP Wendell Rosewarne. 1937-2018 The Forrest Gump of Goulburn sport has passed away. If there was a game of something, he was ever and always in the middle of it.

RIP Ron Walker. Famed Victorian entrepreneur, and driving force behind Melbourne getting the Formula One Grand Prix, passes away age 78.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

Peter FitzSimons

Peter FitzSimons is a Herald journalist, columnist and author, based in Sydney. He is also a former Wallabies player.

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