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Sixers' Tobias Harris delivers strong message about racism, police brutality in personal essay

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Sixers' Tobias Harris delivers strong message about racism, police brutality in personal essay

In an essay published Wednesday morning in The Players’ Tribune, Tobias Harris delivered a strong message about racism and police brutality in America while also providing insight into how his perceptions about race have been shaped. 

The piece is headlined, “Y’all Hear Us, But You Ain’t Listening.” Harris begins by framing the conversation about the death of 46-year-old black man George Floyd, who was killed last week in police custody when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for over eight minutes. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while the three other officers on the scene were fired but haven’t been charged.

“But if we gon’ talk about what happened to George Floyd,” Harris writes, “there needs to be a baseline acknowledgement of the reality: A white police officer killed an unarmed black man, and he was able to do it in broad daylight, with three other cops watching, because of the color of his skin.

“And don’t reply to me with, ‘Oh, but this person did this.’ Don’t try and make excuses, or say this isn’t about race. In a lot of my conversations with white people lately, I’m getting that statement over and over again: ‘Let’s stop making this about race.’” 

Harris draws a sharp juxtaposition between President Donald Trump’s characterization of protestors against stay-at-home orders in place because of the coronavirus pandemic and Trump's language about protestors who have marched around the country in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. 

Last month, armed men took over the steps of Michigan’s capitol building. To protest the QUARANTINE.

And what did the President call them?

'Good people.'

But we go out and protest that another black life has been taken senselessly, and we’re 'THUGS.'

Come on.

This is why black Americans are angry.

Harris writes that “the killing of Trayvon Martin was a turning point for me.” 

“When he was killed, all because he looked ‘suspicious’ for wearing a black hoodie at night in his own neighborhood, I realized that that could have been my brother,” he writes. “Once you really sit with that, it’s a really scary feeling. I had to get out of my own NBA bubble, and understand that there’s a different world out there. Not everybody can get in a nice car every day, drive to work, come home, work out, and be O.K. People go through different s---. Every. Single. Day. I had to come to grips with that.”

He later reflects on the obligation he feels to speak on behalf of black people who don’t play in the NBA or have celebrity status and cites the late Muhammad Ali as an inspiration.

The way I look at it? If people in my community are oppressed, then so am I. Shout out to Muhammad Ali, one of the biggest role models in my life, for showing the way. He was never scared to take a stand against INJUSTICE.

"I’ve also had to get uncomfortable in knowing who I am — knowing that, yeah, I made it to the NBA, and that’s changed some things for me in terms of how I’m treated. I don’t have it the same as the next person. I’ve come to grips with the fact that yes, I’m black, but that dude that’s getting pulled over by a cop in his car, he don’t have the luxury of that officer recognizing him.

"That’s the problem. The difference between a cop recognizing you or not shouldn’t be life or death. 

Harris says he’s glad he protested on Saturday in Philadelphia after regretting a missed opportunity to march in Orlando in 2013, about a year after Martin’s death.

“On Saturday in Philly, it was about a togetherness of people pushing out a message. And that message was really about respect. It was about people respecting others, and understanding their hurt and their pain.”

Another interesting topic Harris covers is the deficiencies he sees in what kids are taught about black history, and his individual efforts to fill in knowledge gaps. He also covers his own work mentoring young people in the Philadelphia area and the disparities he’s observed “between a school in North Philly out here, and a school in the Main Line of Lower Merion.”

The entire piece is worth a read. 

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Can Furkan Korkmaz hold his own on defense vs. Celtics? Brett Brown weighs in

Can Furkan Korkmaz hold his own on defense vs. Celtics? Brett Brown weighs in

Furkan Korkmaz’s biggest weakness as a player is no great secret.

He is an improved defender but not a good one and so, with the Sixers set to face the Celtics in the first round of the postseason, it’s natural to wonder if the 23-year-old will be playable against skilled wings like All-Star Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.

I do (have confidence). I think he’s made great progress this year,” Brett Brown said. “He understood well and truly that it was going to influence, clearly, how much he was going to play. Because we experienced some different things this year with lots of injuries, it opened up a door for him to take advantage of.

"He’s a great story, as we all know. This route from where he was to where he is needs to be told — I suspect that it will. And I think that his defense has improved enough to where you feel confident he can come in and play in an NBA rotation. 

That’s certainly an endorsement of Korkmaz’s defense. 

It’s not, however, as if Brown called Korkmaz a shutdown defender. “Play in an NBA rotation” isn't the same as “be on the floor in crunch time of a playoff game” or “take on the opposition’s top scorers,” or anything close to it. And, given Brown’s tendency to focus on the positive, it’s not stunning that he gave an affirmative response to a question about whether he had confidence in one of his players.

The formula for Korkmaz making the Sixers a better team has typically been high-efficiency shotmaking and passable defense. As Brown said, Korkmaz’s path — from having his third-year option declined last season, to signing with the Sixers on a minimum contract last July, to honing his conditioning and focusing on his defense, to leading the team in made three-pointers — is remarkable. Still, it’s rare for Korkmaz, who scored 21 points in Wednesday’s 125-121 loss to the Raptors, to be a positive-value player when he’s not hitting jumpers. 

Other Sixers on the bench are more well-rounded. If he’s not limited by a nagging left hip pointer injury, Glenn Robinson offers an attractive two-way skill set, a playoff-ready mixture of perimeter defense, outside shooting and cutting. Alec Burks is far from an elite defender, but he’s generally looked capable of stopping some dribble penetration and can single-handedly generate offense in a way few of his teammates can. 

Though Matisse Thybulle provides little offensively besides spot-up shooting and athleticism, he has special talent on the other side of the ball that the Sixers will need with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery on his left knee. 

It’s possible all of the players mentioned above will be in the Sixers’ playoff rotation, which Brown has said he expects will include nine players. Mike Scott is a name seemingly on the edge, and perhaps he’s the kind of perpetually unfazed veteran who could step in if Korkmaz or Thybulle are having trouble in a particular game or matchup. 

Korkmaz combines a supreme faith in his abilities with an earnest, humble personality that’s endeared him to his teammates. He understands that opponents will try to target him defensively.

“I was just trying to be solid on defense,” he said on July 21, “because the first (two) years, everybody was talking about my weaknesses on defense, but I think this year I made a big jump on defense. Also, I was talking to the coaching staff, talking to players, to improve myself. Still I am trying to improve myself, every part of the game — not just only defense or offense. But I think defense is key for me to stay on the court longer, I know that.”

Against Boston this season, Korkmaz played, in chronological order, 19, 8, 14 and 25 minutes. He actually held Celtics players to 1 of 6 shooting on field goals he defended on opening night, while Boston shot 4 of 5 on shots Korkmaz guarded on Jan. 9. Assuming he’s in Brown’s initial rotation, there will likely be fluctuations in both Korkmaz's performances and his playing time. The idea of giving him a few stints per game alongside Al Horford, a player he’s thrived alongside this year, might work if he’s shooting well and holding his own in a manageable matchup against Marcus Smart or Semi Ojeleye.

Consistency and reliability are not traits usually associated with Korkmaz, but it’s a logical area of focus at this stage. 

“Defensively, offensively, I’m just trying to stay consistent,” Korkmaz said Wednesday. “I know my role. It’s good to be playing good basketball. I’m feeling good. I wish we just won this game. … Just getting ready for the playoffs.”

Brown seems to believe the Turkish wing’s defensive deficiencies aren’t enough to eliminate the possibility of him helping in the postseason. We'll see soon if that's the case. 

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2020 NBA draft: Sixers will own a first-round pick, thanks to Mike Muscala

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2020 NBA draft: Sixers will own a first-round pick, thanks to Mike Muscala

The Sixers will own a first-round pick in this year’s draft, and they have Mike Muscala to thank.

Muscala’s go-ahead three-pointer Wednesday night with 5.2 seconds remaining lifted the Thunder to a 116-115 win over the Heat. The shot ensures that the Sixers will have a first-round pick because Oklahoma City will finish with a top-10 record. In the Markelle Fultz trade last February, the Sixers acquired the Thunder’s top-20 protected first-rounder, in addition to Jonathon Simmons and a second-round selection last year. 

For many reasons, it’s an improbable turn of events. (Did we mention Oklahoma City trailed by as many as 22 points?) Muscala came to the Sixers as a part of a three-team trade in July of 2018, and he didn’t have an illustrious tenure here. After averaging 7.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 47 games, he was dealt to the Clippers in the Tobias Harris trade, then shipped to the Lakers a day later. 

Muscala signed this past summer with Oklahoma City, who many projected to have a steep short-term decline following the departures of Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Instead, 35-year-old Chris Paul, 22-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Sixth Man of the Year finalist Dennis Schroder excelled in clutch situations and performed well above expectations. Former Sixer Nerlens Noel has had a solid year for the Thunder, too. 

The Sixers will own four second-round picks along with their improbable first-round. If the selection had not conveyed, it would’ve turned into second-round picks in 2022 and 2023. 

That’s not a bad return, but the Sixers will prefer having a first-round pick in a draft that, while not considered very strong at the top, should have future rotation player options in the 20s. 

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