Sixers rookie Matisse Thybulle has a ton of vivid memories from growing up in Sydney, Australia, but none quite like the one when his late mother Elizabeth was nonchalantly hauling an arachnid the size of a dish plate through their cozy townhome.
“The body was this big,” Thybulle recalled of the giant spider, motioning to the size of his fist.
“We had a massive butterfly inside on our wall and I guess the spider was stalking the butterfly. … Me, my sister and my dad are freaking out and my mom’s like, ‘OK, I got it.’”
“She takes a broom and a box and is trying to sweep the spider into the box and the spider is like the size of my hand! She's trying to sweep it into the box and it won't go in, so she got it on the outside of this box and my mom walked this thing so casually through the house and let it free in the backyard.”
“I've never been so traumatized,” Thybulle said, reliving the moment as if it were yesterday. “The size of it, the fact that she let it live. It's still in my backyard when I was sleeping, who knows. ...”
Thybulle still remembers that backyard, overlooking tennis courts, and the fourth floor of their townhome that was always too hot in the summertime to play in.
He even keeps in touch with a couple of his friends growing up. Their family moved there when Thybulle was 2 years old — the company his father worked for opened a branch in Sydney — and lived there until third grade.
He also remembers his mom and grandpop walking across the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the train station nearby where he would buy Madeleine cookies.
And how pregnant his mom was with his sister Chloe when they moved to Australia that, as Matisse remembers, “We were all super scared she was going to give birth on the plane!”
And Christmas, of course — in the summer, which calls for quite the twist to the good ole Santa Claus tradition.
“Santa Claus wore a speedo and surfed. … That was the Santa we grew up with.”
“I don't know if he was surfing to our house,” Thybulle laughed speaking of how Santa delivered presents in Australia, “but in his off time he would go to the beach and surf. Definitely remember that.”
These are just some of Thybulle’s many memories of his time in Australia, a connection that he now shares with Sixers head coach Brett Brown and teammates Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden.
“It’s like the same way NBA players have a connection with each other that other people don't, just because you are a part of a special group. … We all have a similar relationship with the land and the experiences we have had over there.”
On Feb. 9 at Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers will celebrate Australian Heritage Night against the Chicago Bulls, and continue their efforts to raise money and awareness for the bushfires that have ravaged over 24 million acres of bush, forest, and parks across Australia.
Thybulle, who has dual citizenship, can remember smoke from the bushfires rolling through their city as a kid.
“It was pretty intense,” Thybulle remembered. “You couldn't go outside, you couldn't see very far.”
But this fire season has reached another level, and Thybulle’s experience living in the U.S. and seeing the recent devastations of fires in California has given him additional perspective.
“That fear that people must've been living in while being there, I couldn't even imagine.”
Fittingly, it’s the “beauty of landscape and nature,” and the active preservation of it that makes Thybulle most proud of his heritage.
And it’s also a unique way of looking at the world that he feels thankful to have gained.
“I'm definitely proud of Australia,” Thybulle said. “Living outside of the U.S., I feel like you gain a certain perspective that you really can't get living here, just because so much of the world is dominated by the U.S., whether it's media or fashion or music, it's all powered through the U.S., and because we live here, we are kind of in this filter bubble of our own world. Growing up in Australia I think gave me, as a kid, perspective.”
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