This has been a strange season for basketball fans, especially if your team is the Philadelphia 76ers or the New York Nets. The thread connecting the two teams is point guard Ben Simmons, who sat out his season with the Sixers citing mental health issues and then was traded to the Nets where he has been unable to play because of back pain.

The big question has been when or if Simmons will take the floor during the NBA playoffs as the Nets battle the Boston Celtics. While he hasn’t taken the floor yet, he has taken the bench. Simmons never appeared on the Sixers bench this season, but once traded he took his place beside his teammates at every game and stood out among the uniformed players wearing brightly colored, coordinated designer clothes and jewelry.

The NBA is legendary for its fashion. When injured players are on the bench, it is not unusual to see some pretty snappy looks and fun to get a glimpse of the personality behind the uniform.

But Simmons hasn’t worn a uniform for any team this season and his choice to play this role on the bench has infuriated fans and commentators alike. He chose to stand out and call attention to himself despite zero contribution to the team. Simmons is tone deaf about the messages he is sending with his clothing and his press conferences, regardless of the status of his injuries.

Simmons’ appearance at games garnered major media attention because of his clothing choices. After appearing in a Prada green lambskin leather jacket and matching shorts, GQ ran a story entitled “Ben Simmons Is Making Bench Style a Thing.”

Last week, Simmons announced his plan to return for game 4 against the Celtics, a must-win situation.

NBA pundits have been speculating about the wisdom of bringing in a player who hasn’t been on the court all year and has reported mental and physical health issues. Playoff games have charged atmospheres and teams work all season to coordinate and gel with each other on the court.

Could Simmons simply come back and play without hiccups? Regarding game 4, Simmons was asked about coming back at this point in the playoffs and replied “I’ll fit in. I’m not worried about that” and “My IQ is so high, to play with guys like Kai, Seth, Kev…I know how they want to play.”

Basketball IQ is important, but it isn’t everything. Your emotional intelligence quotient, or EQ, is at least as crucial.

Daniel Goleman, in his groundbreaking book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” defines EQ as having four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Within those domains, he identifies twelve competencies: emotional self-awareness, emotional self-control, adaptability, achievement orientation, positive outlook, empathy, organizational awareness, influence, coach and mentor, conflict management, teamwork, and inspirational leadership.

A basketball team is the perfect place to employ EQ because a player cannot do their job unless they figure out how to be successful in these areas.

I (obviously) don’t know how Simmons’ teammates on the Nets feel about his behavior, but there are typical reactions likely to be occurring because teams are teams, regardless of what they are working on.

Simmons has been a distraction, first for the Sixers and now for the Nets. Sitting out the season was an extraordinary situation and both news media and social media has been fixated on it. Both teams have had to answer questions about it constantly. Had Simmons been focused on his team, he might have chosen to:

  • Avoid the spotlight, understanding that his team is trying to win and not taking away from that with the attention-seeking outfits and remarks.
  • Employ empathy by understanding that some players have been toughing it out all season, are injured and exhausted. Perhaps they don’t like to hear that Simmons thinks he can simply fit in after sitting out every game. I wouldn’t.
  • Let someone else talk about his high IQ. Doing it himself showed poor self-management and lack of self-awareness. It came across as arrogant.

Doing technical work, whether you’re a lawyer or a basketball player is only part of the job. Essential social and leaderships skills are necessary for true success.