JJ Redick, Sixers help spread holiday cheer by giving back to U.S. military

Philadelphia 76ers

JJ Redick, Sixers help spread holiday cheer by giving back to U.S. military

Two years ago, on vacation in Italy with his wife, Chelsea, JJ Redick stopped at a U.S. Cemetery, outside of Florence.

“That was really an emotional moment for me because that was where he was flying his missions over,” Redick said of his grandfather.

Redick’s grandfather served in the Air Force during World War II, flying over 30 missions throughout Europe, usually over Northern Italy.

“That he survived to make my mother,” Redick said.

Before his next thought, Redick trailed off thinking about how his grandfather survived the "max" number of missions.

The greatest gift I ever received was from my mother, as an adult. It was a framed photo of my 19-year-old grandfather, when he entered the Air Force and all of his medals from World War II.

I come from an area in Virginia where a lot of people I know served, still serve, and are now officers. It’s incredible what our service men and women do to protect our country, and I am just incredibly grateful.

While Redick told me the story of his grandfather, he was holding his son Knox in one arm. Knox was a little bit squeamish after having spent the past hour and a half helping his dad package holiday stockings for service members in Iraq, Afghanistan and veterans.

Landry Shamet and T.J. McConnell also walked by at the Boys & Girls Club Tuesday in Camden, New Jersey, as did Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil and dozens of other Sixers employees. In between assembling hygiene kits, McConnell had been hanging with his "Walk In My Shoes" mentee, Chris Frison, who lost his father in the line of duty when he was just six months old.

It’s all part of the Stars and Stripes initiative, furthering the NBA’s Season Of Giving, which honors the military and their families as well as veteran-serving organizations and retired servicemen and women.

Even head coach Brett Brown addressed the crowd.

“The gratitude that we all have for the United States military," Brown said. "The people that we’re looking at in service, the stockings we’re going to fill, myself and my players are so grateful for this opportunity.”

“It’s a small token of our gratitude,” Redick said. “I have an incredible amount of respect and gratefulness for every service member and what they do for our country.

“You realize that you’re part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”

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Practice? All Sixers' Matisse Thybulle has to work with is a mini hoop

Practice? All Sixers' Matisse Thybulle has to work with is a mini hoop

Matisse Thybulle’s life had been fixated on basketball. He’d studied film and scouting reports, attended shootarounds and practices, traveled on planes across the country with his teammates and played in 57 games as an NBA rookie. 

That’s no longer the case. With the NBA season suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Thybulle explained Monday in a remote interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters that basketball is now a much smaller part of his life.

It’s really limited,” he said of his basketball activity. “I’ve felt guilty because I haven’t really been doing much of basketball at all, just because I don’t have access to a gym and I care about my neighbors enough not to pound a basketball through my apartment building. I’ve been looking at other NBA players, seeing what they’re doing, what they’re saying. It seems to be a trend, that a lot of guys, they don’t have access. And if they do, they’re too worried to be around people or be exposed to too much. It’s going to be interesting to see what we’re all looking like once we come out of this.

This season, Thybulle’s rookie campaign, has perhaps been the most bizarre one in league history. On Opening Night, he guarded the Celtics' Kemba Walker and admitted it was “intimidating,” remarking that he’d played before as Walker in NBA2K. In late March, Thybulle was back playing virtual basketball, falling to the Suns’ Mikal Bridges in a 2K matchup both teams streamed on Twitch.   

“It’s not my area of experience,” he said with a smile. “You want to get a Rubik’s Cube-solving contest? I’m pretty sure I’ll win. I’ll take any NBA player, I’m pretty sure I can win that. But in terms of video games, I’ll do it socially to talk with my friends and hang out with my friends, but I’m not good.” 

While he hasn’t been entirely separate from his teammates during this time — the players have stayed in touch through a group chat and a couple of team Zoom calls, he said — Thybulle has mostly been isolated in an apartment with his cousin. The 23-year-old had plenty of time to meditate, do yoga, read, workout and consider life outside of basketball (see story). 

When he’s had a chance to play a miniature version of basketball, though, it hasn’t gone very well. 

 “I ordered a little mini hoop that I put on my door,” he said. “If you saw my TikTok, you’ll see that I’m not too good at shooting on it. I think I went 9 for 100. … Not my best day.”

In the time he’s not bricking mini hoop jumpers, Thybulle said he has thought some about how the NBA might change moving forward. As a rookie, it’s an especially odd position to be in — considering how all the rhythms and habits you’d finally become comfortable with could change.

“I think about it, but I’d just gotten used to the NBA,” he said. “I was just starting to figure it out and be good, and then everything gets changed and uprooted. I don’t know what could work. But I think it’s an interesting opportunity for the NBA to make some changes that maybe they’d wanted to make or been meaning to make and hadn’t had an opportunity. 

“There could be some changes that could stick for a while, or there could be some changes that we don’t like, and then we just go back to the regular thing. But I think it’s an interesting opportunity to just try out some different things, because we’ll have to, honestly.” 

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Sixers' Matisse Thybulle talks TikTok, reading, life in self-quarantine

Sixers' Matisse Thybulle talks TikTok, reading, life in self-quarantine

For Sixers rookie Matisse Thybulle, life during self-quarantine started out as it did many of us.

Reading books, including To Kill a Mockingbird and Freakonomics; workouts in which he did step-ups on his bed while holding a box (don’t worry, he’s since gotten his hands on some free weights!); yoga; meditating in the morning; walking outside when the weather was willing; and group chats and video calls with teammates, family and friends. He even built a Lego — a small Porsche, he said, that fits in his hand.

But unlike many of us, Thybulle decided not to spend his time binge-watching TV shows or movies.

“Because I want to do things that I don't (normally) have time to do, and I've always had time to find TV shows to binge-watch," he said in an interview Monday with NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

So, Thybulle did something that he says was completely out of his comfort zone, creating a TikTok account. It's something that he says still feels awkward for him, a guy who admits he's uncomfortable in front of the camera. 

“I know, it's pretty backwards,” Thybulle joked about his new hobby. “It's quite unfortunate.” 

And it takes a lot of time.

“The one where I was dribbling around in my jersey took all day — like, hours," he said with a laugh.

Thybulle has also gotten used to a new diet —he's eating gluten-free and dairy-free, thanks to his cousin that he’s been staying with — and figuring out a way to fill his competitive hunger without basketball games.

“For me, competition has always been largely an internal battle,” he explained. “Competing with myself, I find that a huge challenge and hugely rewarding if I can exceed expectations.

So how does he compete with himself while being isolated? He might pick an activity that he doesn’t necessarily enjoy doing, like stretching, tell himself he wants to reach a certain goal of being more flexible, and achieve it.

“Some days, it’s hard to motivate yourself to do something productive," he said. "I find it rewarding to actually not be a lazy bum and sit on the couch, and be productive. I find that's like competition.”

But along with making TikToks, reading books, practicing yoga, stretching and building legos, this time has given Thybulle even more opportunity to think.

Not just about basketball, though he’s been reflective of his rookie year.

As a whole, because you get so caught up in the day to day, preparing for each game, every micro-detail, you can lose sight of the big picture," he said. "To step back and embrace the fact that I made it to the NBA, I played in the NBA, I started an NBA game, I've scored, I've gotten steals, I've done all these things as a kid you dream of. ... For me, to be able to look back on a short season, but my first season, and see all the stuff that I achieved, it's cool. It helps put things in perspective.

He's also been thinking about life outside of basketball. 

“To think about what my life means, for me, and what I want to achieve, it has been eye-opening," he said, "and I think it will be cool once we can try to get back to a normal life, to see how people use what they have been able to learn about themselves during this time, and act on that once we are back out in the real world.

“I'm a strong believer that everything happens for a reason and that good or bad, there is something to be learned from it. I know that this has been a tragic time and really hard for a lot of people, but it has also given us a great opportunity to just remember the human aspect of life, that it is not just about your job or what your status is ... appreciating just what it is to be alive, be happy, be healthy, have friends, and people who you look after and who look after you. This has been a really difficult time for a lot of people, but this has also brought a lot of people together.”

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