Bakari Simmons, 14, to Bobby Simmons: 'Dad, I'm So Proud of You'
June 18, 2014
CHICAGO – As Bobby Simmons walked with his fellow 2014 graduates in DePaul University’s Commencement ceremony, a smile came over his face and there was a feeling unlike anything the former DePaul basketball star and 10-year NBA veteran had ever experienced before.
We’re talking about a strong-willed individual who persevered through a childhood in a rough and dangerous South Side housing project who helped lead DePaul back to the NCAA tournament and competed in the 2012 NBA playoffs with the Los Angeles Clippers.
But before he earned millions of dollars in the pros and was honored as the NBA’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2005, Simmons made a solemn promise to a wonderful woman named Charlene Simmons that he would one day earn a college degree.
That day came on a warm Sunday afternoon smack dab in the middle of June, and with more than 25 family members and friends looking on, Simmons completed a painstaking two-year odyssey culminating with his Bachelor’s degree in Communications.
For Charlene Simmons, this was a mother’s dream come true. That it happened on Father’s Day made it all the more special for Bobby Simmons and his 14-year-old son Bakari and 5-year-old daughter Brielle.
“I was picking up my son from basketball practice when he turned to me and said: ‘Dad, I love you,’” Simmons said. “I told him: ‘I love you, too.’ Then, he said to me: ‘Dad, I’m so proud of you.’
“That means a lot. It shows he is always watching you and that all the time I’ve spent with him doesn’t go unnoticed. He is graduating from eighth grade as I’m graduating from college. From me, he is seeing the value of a college education and how hard I worked for it.”
Bakari knows as well as anyone the demands put on his dad these last two years.
Just going to college full-time and raising two kids would be enough for most folks. But that was only part of the equation for the former Simeon High School standout.
He also continued to oversee a business empire that includes the Succezz athletic shoe and sportswear boutique at 1329 S. Michigan Ave. and the chic Bryson Milan boutique at 1409 N. Ashland Ave.
In addition, the former Blue Demon owns the Monarchy Investments real-estate firm, Full Spectrum Printing, Simmons Marketing Entertainment which promotes events and concerts and the Society Nightclub at 2201 W. Walnut St.
“Keeping up with all of that and going to school full-time was a lot,” Simmons said. “Raising two kids keeps you busy. You’ve got to go home and study, but the kids still want to play with you. It’s been pretty hard. The kids were great giving me some peace and quiet to get my studies done.”
Simmons is quite unlike your typical entrepreneur, constantly finding ways to give back to his community. Monarchy rehabs buildings and creates affordable housing for families who can't afford a home.
"I've seen so many families who need space for housing," Simmons said. "There are so many people living under one roof. And even with subsidized housing, there's only so much money they can spend.
"I grew up in the Altgeld Gardens housing project where everyone lived on top of each other. I was raised in a three-bedroom house with my mom and dad, three brothers and two sisters.”
But to this day, Simmons counts his blessings growing up in a two-parent home with grandparents Robert and Artie Simmons also keeping a close watch. His parents and grandparents instilled a Vincentian-like, sensitive and caring nature exemplified in the way he deals with the less fortunate in the world around him.
He gives back by sponsoring barbecues, back-to-school events and customer appreciation days. He established the Bobby Simmons Rising Stars Endowment Fund in which he has donated $250,000 to help give underprivileged students a chance to attend DePaul.
“For all the people who have helped me become a success, it’s time for me to give back and help someone else rise high,” Simmons said. “It’s all about reaching out, reaching back and reaching high.”
Simmons came to DePaul along with Public League stars Quentin Richardson and Lance Williams and helped lead the Blue Demons to the second round of the NIT in the 1998-99 season. A year later, Simmons averaged 13.1 points and nearly eight rebounds a game as DePaul earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. Simmons averaged 16.7 points and 8.6 rebounds his junior season.
Coming out early for the 2001 NBA Draft, the 6-foot, 6-inch forward was selected in the second round by the Seattle Supersonics and traded to the Washington Wizards. His best pro seasons came in 2004-05 with the Clippers averaging 16.4 points and nearly six rebounds and 2005-06 with the Milwaukee Bucks averaging 13.4 points.
“It was after my second season (2006-07) with the Bucks when I had foot surgery and the doctor told me I was never going to play again,” Simmons said. “That’s pretty scary, and I was only 25 years old. It started me thinking about life after basketball.
“I underwent 10 months of intensive therapy and started Succezz in 2008 after I worked my way back to the League.
“In the NBA, there’s a stigma about getting injured. It’s like you’re tainted merchandise. My goal was to come back better than before, and I wanted to prove people wrong. Now, I channel that energy into everything that I do.”
Simmons played in 70 games with 21 starts for the Bucks in 2007-08. After being traded to the New Jersey Nets, he played in 71 games with 44 starts in 2008-09. In all, after that doctor’s discouraging prognosis, Simmons went on to play in five NBA seasons---finishing up in the 2012 NBA playoffs.
“My whole entire family and close friends---about 25 or 30 of them---were at Allstate Arena last Sunday to see me walk in the graduation ceremony,” Simmons said. “I was so happy. I was one of the first in my family to go to college and graduate.
“It was pretty emotional. Bakari is going into high school in the fall and he knows I have high expectations for him to go on to college and graduate as well.“My graduation is a big accomplishment in life.”
At times when everything seemed to pile up, there were doubts he was going to make it.
“There were times when I thought: ‘Why am I putting myself through this?’” Simmons said. “And during the times when I was having the most difficulty, it was people like (athletic academic advisors) Kate O’Brien and Tracy Moss who kept encouraging me. They helped me understand my ultimate goal and to stick with it. They never stopped believing in me, and I’ll always remember them saying: ‘You can do it.’
“I want to thank them for being so patient.
“DePaul has been great to me, and this was like coming back home. DePaul has done so much for me, especially giving a kid from the ghetto an opportunity to go to school. I’ll never forget my first game when we played at New Mexico on national TV and Dick Vitale gave me the nickname of Silky Smooth.”
Now that he has his college degree, Simmons is ready for the next challenge.
“I’d like to give it one more push to play in the NBA,” Simmons said. “I’m 34 years old and my game is still fundamentally sound with a high basketball IQ. I can outsmart people like Michael Jordan did at the end of his career. I learned a lot from him about both basketball and business.
“With my degree, I’m also really looking into coaching where I can pass on all the things I’ve learned. I know Chicago has a lot of talent, and a lot of the young kids can relate to someone like me. A lot of their dads are guys I competed against.
“All the things I’ve learned and the success I’ve had both on and off the court, I want to pass that on to someone else. It’s a way of showing kids that you can do better.”
Bobby Simmons, DePaul Class of 2014, is living proof of that.