One can make a strong case that the 76ers are Tobias Harris’ team.
All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are regarded as the best players. Yet, Harris is the unquestioned leader.
The 27-year-old organized team functions during the season and mentored younger teammates. He kept it up after the NBA shutdown on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous teammates have credited the standout forward to organizing team Zoom calls and group messages on Instagram during the extended break. He and teammate Matisse Thybulle also attended peaceful Philadelphia protests to declare Black Lives Matter after George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed Black man, was killed May 25 by since-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white. General manager Elton Brand, scout Rod Baker and several team personnel accompanied Harris and Thybulle at one of the protests.
Thybulle, a rookie shooting guard, also credited Harris with helping him with issues on and off the court.
The ninth-year veteran’s actions are why several teammates believe the chemistry improved during the NBA shutdown.
“I think it’s just always important to make sure our guys, mentally, are in the right space,” Harris said of his actions Saturday before the Sixers training camp at at the Arena NE Pavilion on Walt Disney World’s sports campus near Orlando, Fla. The Sixers are one of 22 teams there competing in the NBA start in the “bubble”-type atmosphere.
Harris said his role in organizing zoom meetings is that of being a good teammate, a brother. It was also important to keep guys in the loop.
“I also looked at it like, if we’re being honest, we didn’t have the best chemistry through the year with everything going on,” Harris said. “Just use the time to build on that and grow together through the whole pandemic.”
At times, the chemistry was so bad that some questioned if Simmons and Embiid could share the spotlight and play together long-term.
A preseason NBA title favorite, Philly went into the shutdown with an underachieving 39-26 record and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Some of the Zoom calls turned into team happy hours. They, however, weren’t all about team building and relaxation. Harris also wanted to educate his teammates.
On the guest speakers was Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, who has written and/or edited more than 20 books on subjects such as Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Marvin Gaye, Malcolm X, Tupac Shakur, and Bill Cosby to name a few. The renowned scholar and preacher focuses on race, religion, popular culture, and contemporary issues in the Black community.
The Sixers look to use their platform in the NBA restart to speak out on and bring awareness to racism.
Dyson “really gave us some true knowledge of everything going on in our history,” Harris said. “That was one of the best calls that we had, because it was us being African American and us being around each other and understanding and learning the different struggles of others and also educating ourselves and knowing our history.”
We’ll find out how the Zoom calls will translate on the court once the Sixers face the Indiana Pacers on Aug. 1 in the first of eight seeding games.
“It’s no mystery that the teams with the best chemistry usually end up being the teams that are some of the toughest to beat,” Harris said. “That’s not rocket science.”