The Sixers participated in training camp, five preseason games and 65 regular-season games. There were plenty of road trips and practices in between. Suffice it to say they spent a lot of time together.
Then suddenly on March 11, the NBA season was suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic. The players went their separate ways and were forced to socially distance like the rest of us.
Over the past four months, they’ve all stayed in communication, thanks in large part to Tobias Harris. Harris had emerged as a leader even before the season started and proved to be the team’s most reliable player as the only one to suit up for all 65 games.
Ahead of the Sixers’ first practice in the Disney World bubble Saturday afternoon, Harris talked about why it was imperative to keep in touch.
I think it’s always important to make sure guys mentally are in the right space,” Harris said in a video conference call with reporters. “Just being a teammate or brother. We were around each other for so long, so when we go into quarantine with the pandemic we have, I just thought it was really important to keep us in the loop with one another with what we’re doing, whether that be Zoom calls, checking in through group texts — we’ve got a group text on Instagram.
“I also looked at it like, if we’re being honest, we didn’t have the best chemistry through the year with everything going on. So just to use the time to kind of build on that chemistry and help us grow a little bit together through the whole pandemic.
Harris has been candid about the team lacking chemistry. That’s part of the reason the Sixers, who had lofty expectations going into the season, sit at 39-26 and are currently the East’s sixth seed.
That lack of cohesiveness can be attributed in part to the team’s new-look starting five playing just 19 games together and the fact that the team in general has seen a lot of turnover over the past two seasons.
Even Harris himself has only been with the team since just before last year’s trade deadline. Part of the reason GM Elton Brand looked to re-sign Harris is he saw the nine-year veteran as a leader and player that would do well representing the franchise.
From a basketball perspective, Brand signed Harris to provide complementary scoring to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. While Harris hasn’t quite lived up to near-max status, he’s proven to be a reliable player and locker room voice.
The 27-year-old’s efforts to keep the lines of communicatin open have him feeling like the team has bonded through the experience. The human element is something we lose sight of when discussing grown men being paid a lot of money to play a sport.
But consider that these players were dealing with a global pandemic and the racial inequality issues gripping the country. Now, they’ve been thrust into a less-than-ideal situation as they look to gel over the course of the next few weeks and gear up for a playoff run.
In an unprecedented and tumultuous time, they’ve had each other to lean on.
And, as most of his teammates will tell you, Harris was at the forefront of that.
I feel as a player and as one of the leaders on the team, we definitely have grown throughout the pandemic,” Harris said. “It was a time for us to really communicate with one another, get to know each other a little bit more than we may have known (each other) before. So I definitely think it’s a positive.
"I think just having constant communication and being able to reach other was key. Obviously we had a bunch of Zoom meeting calls and whatnot. We’ve really taken this time to try to keep ourselves and our mindset going, and to be ready. And here we are. So hopefully it pays off and works.
How will that translate to the court?
“I think we’ll see how it translates,” Harris said. “At the same time, it’s no mystery that the teams with the best chemistry usually end up being the teams that are some of the toughest to beat. That’s not rocket science.”
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.