Tobias Harris on Friday addressed a series of topics ranging from his concern over health and safety risks with the NBA’s plan to resume the season at Disney World to the Sixers’ chemistry issues this year.
In an interview on ESPN’s "First Take," he spoke honestly about whether he believes the league should go ahead and restart play on July 30 in Orlando. The Sixers are scheduled to travel to Disney World on July 9.
“That’s a tough one for me to answer,” he said. “I would say that if we’re going to be safe, then let’s play. If the league, if my fellow brothers in the NBA want to go out and play, I’m with playing. I know my teammates, they want to go hoop, so I’m with my team to go hoop.
“Do I think necessarily it’s the safest thing? No. That’s just straight up and down. I don’t think it’s the safest thing. You look around the world, the cases continue to rise. But that’s also on the NBA to make sure we’re in a safe environment.”
Harris called the announcement Friday from the NBA and NBPA that 16 players tested positive for the coronavirus (out of 302 tested) “not surprising,” in the context of a recent spike in United States cases.
“You look around the world with cases continuing to rise now, you’re going to see an increase in cases, even with guys in our league,” he said. “The biggest thing for us is to just make sure we’re put in a situation where we can be healthy and we can go out and do our job and play. That’s how I look at it. It wasn’t surprising, the number.”
As usual, he gave a nuanced explanation for why he’s choosing to play, citing an opportunity to advocate for change and against racism and police brutality, as well as future financial harms for players if the season doesn’t conclude with a champion which he'd like to avoid.
“COVID-19 — our health, our safety — and then everything going in the world with pushing the message, Black Lives Matter, equality, police brutality, are both things, for me, that I’m heavily concerned about,” he said. “With the bubble … I have to know that I’m healthy, that I’m OK with going out there and I’m not going to be put at a high risk. And on top of that, I also have to take the responsibility as a leader of my team and as a player in the NBA to continue to push the message of what we want overall for the African American community, and that’s change. We have to use our platforms when we go to Orlando to continue to push this message.”
When the discussion shifted to basketball, Harris assessed what went wrong for the Sixers this year and why the team sits at 39-26, sixth in the Eastern Conference and below where it expected to be heading into the season.
I’ll just say, and I’ll keep it real, we haven’t had the best chemistry throughout the whole year. It took us a while to kind of get everyone together, we battled injuries from the start to the end. And right now, if we’re the sleeper, then we’re the sleeper. Truth be told, how we’re viewed, that’s someone else’s opinion, but I know when I look my guys in the eye and we have conversations, we have one goal in mind, and that’s to go out there and play and win a championship.
“That’s the only view that matters to me. What people have to say about our team, I get it, because we haven’t met our expectations so far this year. But we have a new opportunity in Orlando to go out and just play ball, and really scratch a new surface of what we can accomplish.
In an interview Wednesday with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Michael Barkann, Charles Barkley had given the Sixers that same “sleeper” label and said he believed Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will be the best two players in any Eastern Conference series involving the Sixers besides a matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.
Despite the concerns he laid out, Harris insisted the Sixers can come away with a title in what might be the most unusual conclusion to an NBA season ever.
“I’ve always been in contact with all of my teammates throughout this process,” he said, “mainly just to make sure guys are in a good space mentally, asking, ‘Hey, do you want to go hoop out here? What’s your opinion?’ Not really holding much judgement to it. … I believe that when we go out here and go hoop, we have a chance to win a championship. We’re going to be healthy, a lot healthier than before — having Ben recovered and fully healed is big for us — and we’ve just gotta go out there and play basketball.
“This for us is kind of like an AAU tournament. We’ve just gotta go out there and hoop, play our best and do what we do. But I really believe that we’re going to have a clear-cut shot to win a championship, and I stand on that.”
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