Tobias Harris is the heart, soul and conscience of the Sixers

Tobias Harris is the heart, soul and conscience of the Sixers

It was a chilly, overcast Monday morning in December and the Sixers were coming off an ugly loss to the Nets in Brooklyn the night before. 

Still, Tobias Harris had somewhere to be. He was headed to Bethune Elementary School in North Philadelphia to brighten up an otherwise gloomy day.

Harris surprised all the Black, male teachers — a small demographic among educators — at the school with a night out at a Sixers game. He gave out gift cards for all the teachers to get supplies and read to a group of kids while donning a Dr. Seuss hat. He spent time in the principal’s chair and in the barbershop the school has for kids that can’t afford haircuts.

This was just one day for Harris. The 28-year-old has been in Philadelphia for a little over a year and has already made an impact all over the city with similar endeavors.

Whether it’s making charitable contributions or protesting racial injustice or keeping his teammates unified, this is who Harris is.

He may not have an All-Star appearance to his name as a basketball player, but Harris is an All-Star human who’s leading the Sixers.


When Harris first arrived here in a blockbuster trade last February, all the stories were about how he could help the Sixers on the court — and for good reason. Harris was considered an All-Star snub by some and slid into a starting lineup that already featured Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick. 

Harris was businesslike in his approach when he first arrived. He didn’t have much time to adapt to his new surroundings, but always said the right things in his raspy voice. While the season didn’t end how Harris and the Sixers would’ve liked, there was obvious interest between the pending free agent and team in a long-term deal.

The Sixers then signed Harris, who finally found a place to call home in a nomadic career, to the richest contract in franchise history.

“Well, yeah, right now [it’s the richest contract]. It’s just the logistics of the game,” Harris said on media day as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast. “But obviously with that there’s a responsibility and there’s accountability too. That’s another reason why I work as hard as I do to improve my game and get better. When I signed for four years and $64 [million] in Orlando, that was all the chatter, ‘Oh, you’re not worth that, blah, blah, blah.’ I outplayed that deal. Now I look to do the exact same thing with this one.”

There was a pattern with Harris that maybe we didn’t see at the time. A pattern of being humble yet confident. A pattern of being selfless and wanting what was best for those around him.

In the offseason, Harris changed his number from 33 to 12. No. 12 was worn by his best friend, Morgan Childs, who died at the age of 16 from a rare blood disease. When Childs lost his life, Harris said he was determined to make it to the NBA to fulfill both their dreams.

The 2019-20 season would also mark the first time Harris wasn’t teammates with his good friend Boban Marjanovic since the pair first played together in Detroit in 2016-17. They were traded to the Clippers and Sixers together. Harris revealed that he encouraged Marjanovic to go to Dallas because it was the best situation for the big Serbian.

When the Sixers acquired Josh Richardson as part of the sign-and-trade that sent Butler to the Heat, we heard another story about Harris. When Richardson first arrived at Tennessee, the NBA was in a lockout, so Harris was back at his alma mater working out. Harris took the freshman Richardson out to dinner, something that left a lasting impact on Richardson.

Harris has made an even larger impact on standout rookie Matisse Thybulle. Ask Thybulle about Harris and he can’t help but smile and laud the player he refers to as his “big brother.” Harris sat with Thybulle on the team plane and has helped him navigate his first pro season — even if he’s also given the rook a hard time in the process.

But nobody could prepare for what transpired during this NBA season. The Sixers failing to meet expectations became a footnote in one of the most bizarre years in history.


People talk about leadership in sports all the time. Is it instinctive? Can you develop into a leader? Do circumstances create leaders? For Harris, it might be a combination.

On Jan. 26, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash. Bryant was Harris’ idol. Harris got to spend time with the Hall of Famer during the offseason while working out at Bryant’s facility. When the Sixers had to face the media, it was no surprise that Harris was one of the first players to step to the mic.

When the world was shook by the coronavirus pandemic, the Sixers were forced to go their separate ways. The players began trickling back into their practice facility in early July and there was a recurring theme when they were asked about how the team kept in contact. Just about every player mentioned Harris as the guy that organized Zoom calls and kept everyone together.

Harris also stepped up with more charitable contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When George Floyd was murdered on May 25, Harris didn’t sit idly by. He joined in protests on the streets of Philadelphia. He went after a local politician, calling for his resignation over a “disgusting” statement surrounding Black Lives Matter. He penned an open and honest piece for the Player’s Tribune. He used his time with the media earlier this week to call for Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron to arrest the officers — Brett Hankison, Jon Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove — involved with the death of Breonna Taylor.

At every turn, Harris has stepped up and led this year. 

“Tobias has embraced that type of role that you’re referring to the second George Floyd’s murder happened,” Brett Brown said Tuesday. “He has just jumped into this racial injustice area and heightened awareness that the country is now under in a significant way. ... 

“And so Tobias’ comments [Monday] are such a bigger discussion — that is a reflection of how he thinks in general.”


Bethune Elementary is a Trauma Informed elementary school that resides in the 25th police precinct. The area sees a high number of homicides and incarcerations that affect children growing up there.

For at least one day, Harris made a positive impact on the students and teachers there.

“Usually when you see this area on the news, it's a homicide or something bad,” Principal Aliya Catanch-Bradley told NBC Sports Philadelphia's Serena Winters, “so today, we get to have one of the 76ers come, and really bring with him such great joy, that's not associated with tragedy and travesty happening. It's like, I took time out of my day to see and spend some time with this school, because you matter.”

So when you see Harris protesting or calling out politicians, it’s not an act. Harris walks the walk.

While Embiid and Simmons are the stars of this team, Harris has become its leader. On the court, off the court, in the community, Harris has proven to be the heart, soul and conscience of the Sixers.

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Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Updated: 8:42 p.m.

Ben Simmons is out for the Sixers’ seeding game Friday against the Orlando Magic with a left patella subluxation and there's not currently a timeline for his return as he considers treatment options. That news is clearly significant in the Sixers’ world, and it raises a range of questions. 

Let’s run through some of the bigger ones: 

What exactly is the injury? 

A simpler way to classify the injury is as a partial dislocation of the kneecap. 

How long will Simmons be out?

This is the largest question and still murky. Brett Brown on Thursday said “stuff is still being evaluated” and that he wasn’t in a position to offer a timeline. Presumably, factors such as the state of the ligaments around the knee could play a key role in determining how long Simmons is out. 

Outside of Simmons’ physical status, the team’s approach will be important. There’s no reason to put Simmons back on the court before he’s healthy. 

Shake Milton is hoping for a speedy return.

“It’s tough for us,” he said Thursday. “Ben is an incredible player, an incredible athlete. I don’t know, he’s like a freaking superhuman, so hopefully he’s able to heal super fast and get back on the court, because we definitely need him.”

How will the starting lineup change?

On March 11, the Sixers’ final pre-hiatus game, the team started Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. That’s one possibility. The Horford-Embiid pairing is still the Sixers’ worst regular duo in terms of net rating despite having a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World.

If Brown wants to prepare for a scenario in which Simmons is available and in the postseason starting five, he could keep Horford as the sixth man. He could instead turn to a wing such as Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz or Glenn Robinson III, all of whom have started games for the Sixers this year. Robinson, who has missed the Sixers' first three seeding games with a left hip pointer, is doubtful for Friday's game. 

What about the rotation?

Robinson’s health is a relevant issue with the rotation, which Brown shrunk to nine players when the Sixers played the Wizards. Raul Neto didn’t play against Washington after seeing time in the first two seeding games.

It’s interesting to note that Neto started in Simmons’ place on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10 when the Australian was out with a shoulder injury. The circumstances were very different, however, as Milton was sidelined by a bone bruise and left knee sprain, leaving Neto and Trey Burke as the two main ball handlers on the roster. Trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks now appears ahead of Neto in the backup point guard pecking order, and Simmons’ injury should increase Burks' value a touch. 

As of Wednesday, Brown said his plan was still to have a nine-player rotation for the playoffs. 

What’s the intangible impact? 

When Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back on Feb. 22, Brown recalled him vomiting because of pain. He’s lauded Simmons often for the diligent rehabilitation he did to recover from that injury and be ready to go when play resumed amid a pandemic.

Injuries aren’t anything new to Brown, but he admitted it hurt some to learn about this one after witnessing the process of Simmons’ back rehabilitation. 

“It’s the life that we've lived since I have been in Philadelphia,” he said. “I’m sure every coach has some level of a similar story. This one stings, for sure. We all felt with the pandemic and are we going to play again, it obviously bought time for Ben — had the season kept going, it’s anybody’s best guess. In relation to being incredibly down about it, I’m not. When I think too long about it, probably I can go there.

“But I feel numb to it. I feel conditioned, that we’ve gone through this type of thing before. There is a level of faith that I have in the rest of the team that we can hold the fort until we hopefully get him back. But snakebitten, woe is me, I don’t go there.”

In addition to dealing with the disappointment of a star going down, the Sixers will have to tinker with ingredients like leadership that aren’t necessarily evident to an outsider.

“It’s going to be kind of everyone has to step up by committee,” Richardson said. “I think we have a few guys that can step up as leaders, who can step up and have big games for us. We don’t really like to put too much pressure on one or a few guys. Everybody’s going to step up in his absence.”

Can the Sixers manage without Simmons? 

Again, the lack of a timeline looms large here. We can say without question that the Sixers are 6-5 this season without Simmons and don’t have direct replacements for his elite defense, transition talents, creative passing and more.

It’s also logical that the Sixers will rely on Embiid defensively and feed him frequently in the post. His 34.4 percent usage rate so far in Florida may very well rise. 

“Offensively, he needs to get as many touches as we can get him,” Brown said. “And I think that one of the areas of most noticeable growth … is what he’s been doing passing out of the post. It’s maybe the single thing that stands out most to me offensively when you look at whether it’s Jo, or just us as a team — I like our post spacing.

“I like Jo’s unselfishness quarterbacking the gym. His ability to read where the double teams are coming from I think has been shown.”

Thybulle, Richardson, and perhaps Robinson when healthy could assume challenging defensive assignments that otherwise would have been Simmons’. Players like Harris and Korkmaz will miss Simmons’ ability to drive and set up three-pointers. 

Initially, the Sixers are coming to terms with the situation and hoping the injury doesn’t dent their playoff hopes.

“There’s a lot of moving parts right now and really we're all coming to grips with the news that we’ve received,” Brown said. 

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons has subluxation in left patella

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons has subluxation in left patella

Updated: 8:37 p.m.

The injury Ben Simmons sustained in the Sixers' win Wednesday night over the Wizards is a subluxation of the left patella. He's out for the team's game Friday night against the Magic and treatment options are being considered.

Simmons exited Wednesday's game in the third quarter after throwing a pass for Al Horford. He immediately flexed his left knee and headed to the locker room.

Brett Brown was not prepared to give a timeline for how long Simmons will be sidelined.

"Some of the information is fluid, it’s still moving," he said Thursday. "In relation to saying any type of deadline, timeline, playoff, whatever, I’m not in a position to offer anything. Not because we don’t want to, but stuff is still being evaluated. What I do know — it’s boring, but we play Orlando tomorrow and we don’t have him. That’s kind of all I know at this point.”

The 24-year-old Simmons made his second All-Star team this season and has averaged 16.4 points, 8.0 assists and 7.8 rebounds. The Sixers shifted him to power forward in their new starting lineup, and he was open to the change.

"You've just gotta work with different things,” he said on July 14. “You’ve gotta try different things out, see if they work. We’re not at a stage where we can be comfortable yet. I’m still trying to figure it out myself ... what feels comfortable, what’s right for this team and how we’re gonna win. 

“If it’s this way, then I’m all for it. I’ve been having fun in that position — whatever you guys say, the four — whatever it is. But at the end of the day, when you see me I’m on the floor, I’m making plays."

He'd missed the Sixers' final eight games before the NBA's hiatus with a nerve impingement in his lower back but recovered from that injury and said he felt explosive heading into the restart. 

Without Simmons, Brown will have a few options to replace Simmons in the starting lineup, including original starting power forward Al Horford and wings Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz.

Brown said he spoke with Simmons and Sixers medical director Scott Epsley on Wednesday night during a team dinner.

"There is clearly disappointment," Brown said, "because I don’t know if anybody really understood what he did to get ready to play basketball again. He really invested time, he really was diligent during the whole pandemic about recovery and rehab and strength and conditioning. ... And so I feel like there is certainly some disappointment, I think (there’s) the uncertainty of what really is it right now, is obviously there.

"But he’s a great teammate and his teammates care about him, and I think more will unfold, I suspect, in the next 24 hours where we can maybe provide more information.”

In other injury news, Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is questionable for Friday's game and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful. Both participate in the Sixers' practice Thursday after missing the team's first three seeding games. 

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