How Ben Simmons Cheered Up A Brave Little Boy Who Lost His Dad
Jaden Exeter idolised his dad, and with good reason.
Ant Exeter was a great dad, husband and bloke -- and a terrific basketballer who was once named Most Valuable Player of the WA State League.
Then, in January this year, tragedy struck.
The family -- parents Ant and Kelly, and kids Jaden and Mia -- was driving in Western Australia when a canopy detached from a boat being towed in front of them and slammed into their windscreen.
Ant, 41, never recovered from his brain injuries and died in hospital two days later.
"I'm not sure how we’re here, myself and my two kids," Kelly Exeter said of the horrific accident.
Exeter was speaking to 10 daily because her son, 10-year-old Jaden, has just had the most wonderful experience with champion Aussie basketballer Ben Simmons, and she kindly agreed to tell us about it.
Simmons, the much-loved 23-year-old Aussie-born Philadelphia 76ers star, has unexpectedly become a divisive figure this week on his visit to his homeland.
There was the Crown Casino refusal-of-entry controversy, a radio interview walk-out, and even criticism of the cost of his $200 basketball camp.
The controversy over the $200 fee seemed particularly petty, given that every kid in Melbourne would have showed up had it been free.
But regardless of whether or not you're a fan of Simmons, the story of how he and his family extended a hand to young Jaden Exeter is a story well worth hearing.
We'll let Kelly Exeter fill in the details.
"My husband was a state league basketballer of some repute. Jaden was very much inspired by him, and looking to follow in his footsteps," she said.
"Then when he lost his dad, he went looking for someone else to fixate on, and Ben Simmons became that person."
When it was announced that the Australian Boomers men's basketball team would play two exhibition matches against Canada in Perth ahead of this year's Basketball World Cup, the Exeters were incredibly excited.
"Jaden was just happy at the prospect of being in an arena with 14,000 people watching Ben play," Kelly said.
"He didn't need to meet Ben or anything like that. Being at the game would have been a dream just by itself."
Unfortunately, the dream was dashed. Simmons withdrew from the exhibition matches as well as the World Cup, citing "professional obligations".
In all likelihood, that meant the 76ers had ordered him not to play and risk injury. Simmons did, after all, ink a five-year, $240 million deal with them last month -- the largest-ever sporting contract signed by an Australian.
"When Jaden heard that Ben might not be coming for that game, he was very devastated," Kelly said.
"He got quite upset, and as a mum of a child who's lost their dad, you'd do anything to try and make them happy."
That's when she found out about the Ben Simmons Basketball Camp in Melbourne.
"I was more than willing to pay the fee, I thought $200 was totally reasonable," Exeter said. "But of course, the camp had been sold out for a long time.
"I didn’t want to approach the Simmons family directly. I didn’t want to put them in a position where they would feel bad for not being able to help a grieving family. So I put it out to my network of friends and basketball people."
It worked. Her message got through. And when the Simmons family heard Jaden's story, they immediately reached out. They even offered him a spot for free, even though Kelly Exeter was willing to pay.
"It was a dream," she said.
And off they went to basketball camp in Melbourne.
What happened in Melbourne was beyond Jaden and Kelly Exeter's wildest dreams.
There was the gym session with Melbourne United NBL players Chris Goulding and Mitch McCarron. Even Aussie NBA star Joe Ingles dropped by.
But the highlight, of course, was the Simmons camp.
"The kids were broken into groups of 20, and it was genuinely well-run by a group of ex-NBL legends," Kelly said.
"Ben very quietly entered about an hour into the camp and joined in with each group. He worked his way round from group to group with the kids, working with each group two or three times. He was there for at least three hours.
"Ben didn’t act as leader. He just joined in with whatever activity they were doing.
"Jaden was just thrilled to be playing alongside his hero."
"At the end of the camp, there was a Q and A session with Ben, and Jaden got invited to sit next to him. He got to ask him a question as well. He asked if he could play in a two-on-two game, who would his teammate be?"
For the record, Simmons' answer was Houston Rockets player James Harden. But that's irrelevant. What's most important here is that a 10-year-old kid who's been doing it tough all year had the day of his life.
"He was just on a high," Kelly said.
"He couldn’t believe that this guy he'd only seen on TV playing in another country was in the same room as him.
"His whole goal for the day was to give Ben a high-five. He did it. And afterwards, he just couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
"The kindness of Ben Simmons and his family was amazing, and it wasn't for the cameras or for any other reason. It was just to make a kid's life a bit better."