Happiness and Hope
Tobias Harris is living proof that - even in 2020 - you can create your own happiness.
Like many people this year, Harris faced his fair share obstacles. But he’s entering the 2020-21 season, his 10th in the NBA, with a strong sense of self, a strong sense of community, and an optimistic outlook.
“I’m extremely happy,” Harris said recently. “A lot has gone on off the floor. I’ve been able to have a lot of time to reflect on myself, help myself grow, and learn.”
Between the Sixers’ August exit from the bubble and the team’s preseason opener on Tuesday, Harris’ life has been nonstop.
There have been milestones, growth, and a meeting with one of the most powerful people in the world.
Let's start with this…
It would be impossible to talk about Harris' offseason without noting a major off-court moment.
“I’m a pretty private person, but the moment was so special that I wanted to put it out there,” a smiling Harris said about the day he proposed to his fiancée, Jasmine.
“I wanted the moment to be as memorable as possible for Jasmine and myself. I wanted to go all out.”
Mission accomplished, to say the least.
As is often the case with Harris, he used his big day to lift up others - specifically Black-owned businesses.
“I did make an emphasis to support Black-owned businesses, so that’s down to my planner, the harpist, the photographers, the outfits, all the way down the line,” Harris said.
“When you want to do something big, something that essentially went viral, there’s no better feeling than to know that your own people were able to put this together. They did a phenomenal job.”
Harris marked another major moment just weeks before his engagement, while gathered in an airplane hangar with two of his peers and a future occupant of the White House.
“I got a call. “‘Hey, Kamala’s doing a roundtable. Would you be interested?'”
The answer was, of course, a resounding yes.
Throughout 2020, Harris has used his voice and his platform to shed light on the issues close to his heart, from marching for racial justice, to voter advocacy. His efforts were noticed by people in high places.
“To have that type of sit-down, and be able to meet her, was awesome,” said Harris, who was joined that day by Portland's C.J. McCollum and Utah's Donovan Mitchell. “It was a great experience with somebody who wants to do so many great things for the country, wants to do great things for the African-American culture.”
According to Harris, despite the Vice President-elect's stature, she is very down to earth.
“She just comes up to me, and she’s like, ‘What’s up, cousin?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah we are cousins. We’ve got the Harris last name!’" Harris remembers, laughing.
From secure calls preparing for the interview, to the manpower on site, Harris was struck by the sheer magnitude behind the Vice President-elect’s operation.
“It was cool, seeing her come off the plane to do this interview - she rolls deep. It’s 30 people deep for this one person… The Secret Service always guarding her every move.”
On the road, NBA players roll pretty deep too, but Harris says this trip was on a different level.
“You see a full team, especially during a Presidential election. You really saw what goes into it. It’s a lot.”
But as is the case with his own career, effort, preparation, and attention to detail are all well worthwhile.
The experience left Harris reflective, and in awe:
“When you see the final result, how close it was, and what it truly came down to, you really start to think. You get a true gratitude feeling, that every vote counts.
“Wow, my vote counted. Hey, Matisse [Thybulle’s] vlog counted. The NBA opening up arenas as voting places truly counted.”
But Harris’ gratitude extends far beyond the NBA community.
“I want to give true thanks to the people on the ground that were really getting the most work done - in the communities, in the cities, getting people to vote, signing people up, registering them. Those are the people that truly deserve all the praise.”
And while Harris has always stood up for what he believes in, the decision to do so publicly, and openly, is relatively new.
“I had this conversation with Matisse [last season]: When I came into the league, I was very politically correct, because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I know you don’t have to be like that.
“You can be yourself, you can speak up for what you believe in, and if some people don’t like it, it is what it is. Not everyone’s going to agree with you.”
Setting a strong example seems to come naturally, and is extremely important, to Harris. Look no further than his relationship with Thybulle for proof.
The two bonded quickly during Thybulle’s rookie season.
For as much as Thybulle excelled on the floor, Harris was more proud of how his younger teammate used his own voice, in his own way.
“I thought [Matisse] did an amazing job. He’s such a creative person.
“He’s one of those guys who will have a long career, and when he’s done, he’ll move on to another adventure where he feels comfortable, and is great at doing whatever he wants to do.”
Harris remains grateful for their growing bond.
“It’s one of those things where you’re teammates… but friends for life.”
To Harris, it’s guys like Thybulle that make the journey meaningful.
“That’s important when you’re on this NBA journey, in different cities, playing, competing - to really enjoy the whole thing.”
Entering year 10 as a pro, Harris finds himself reunited with another important figure from his life.
Prior to joining the 76ers via trade in February 2019, Harris played under Doc Rivers with the Clippers. During his year and a half in Los Angeles, Harris played some of his best basketball.
Following Harris' departure, the pair stayed connected.
“We talked from time to time throughout the year. If we were playing, and he saw something, he would text me, ‘Hey, think about doing this…,’” Harris explained.
“It was that type of coach-to-player relationship that we’ve always had. That’s just the type of person that he is, and the type of coach he is: He cares about his players no matter what.”
Following Harris’ scary fall this summer in Game 4 of the Sixers' opening-round playoff series against the Celtics, Rivers reached out to Harris, to make sure he was okay.
When Rivers parted ways with the Clippers about a month later, Harris did the same.
“I’m thankful for him as a coach, I’m thankful as an individual,” Harris said. “When he texted me [after] the fall, it makes you know it’s not just about basketball. It’s about life.”
As is the case with many of Harris’ other relationships, his bond with Rivers transcends basketball.
“During the election, there were a lot of things [Doc] was doing that I was seeing, and I thought it was important. Being here in Philadelphia, we’ll both be trying to do things to make an impact.
“That’s what it’s about: using your time, using your space, to impact, help, and bring awareness. [Doc] is an icon in that area, and I appreciate that in a coach.”
As a new season fast approaches for Harris, the pieces in his life are falling into place, or back together. He believes the same can happen this year for the Sixers.
“[Last year] was a terrible way to end the season. For all of us, we have a lot to prove. We have to get our respect back,” he said.
“It’s a redemption season for us. We’ve got to fight for everything coming forward, to get to where we want to be - and that’s to win a championship.”
With a continued focus on self improvement, dedication to being a leader, and a desire to win, Harris closes his first decade in the league motivated, humble, and at peace.
“I love the life that I live, I love being who I am, and waking up every day and trying to better myself each and every moment I get,” Harris said. “I’m happy for that. I’m blessed.”