Books, Basketball, and Brotherhood: Harris and Thybulle's Growing Bond

by Lauren Rosen

Matisse Thybulle has met his rookie season with vocal gratitude, and a constant awareness of his uniquely rapid rise into national consciousness. Exceeding expectations consistently (except for, perhaps, his own), Thybulle has earned widespread respect - from peers, coaches, and fans alike.

Tobias Harris has been pieces of all three of those roles when it comes to the rookie: part colleague, part authority, part fan.

Since training camp in October, Harris has emerged as one of the most positive and expressive presences in the 76ers’ locker room as the team navigates its pursuit of a championship. Calling his own number when it comes to leadership both on and off the court, Harris has fostered a special relationship with Thybulle.

Though only five years apart in age (Harris, 27, Thybulle, 22), each player refers to the other as his brother, little and big, respectively.

From sitting beside Thybulle on the team plane, to offering thoughtful advice, Harris has been a constant presence throughout the course of Thybulle’s rookie campaign.

Harris began investing in Thybulle’s potential as a basketball player during their first days together playing pickup in the summer. Independently, they each spoke publicly about their bond about a month and a half into the season, after a Dec. 10 win over Denver. Harris applauded Thybulle’s ability to carve out his own niche among a team filled with All-Star talent.

“He’s an amazing player, an amazing person, an amazing rookie too. He’s really catching his stride now,” Harris said.

Minutes later, Thybulle took the podium. He threw the praise right back:

“Aside from being an amazing example, [Tobias has] been like a big brother. I seek him for all my questions, whether it’s financially, on the court, off the court - I go to him. He’s done it at a very high level for a while now, and I really look up to him in that sense. He’s been able to be a huge role model for me.”

In the following month, adversity made the relationship stronger, as Thybulle missed seven games due to a knee injury. While the no. 20 pick was forced to take time away from the court, Harris’ support and guidance was unwavering.

Thybulle attributed his quick return to a high level of play to his consistent routine while injured. 

A steadfast part of that routine was familiarizing himself with each opponent’s scouting report, and getting subsequently quizzed on the material by Harris.

“He’s about a B+ student right now,” Harris joked at the time.

Not only did Thybulle return strong from his injury, he stepped fearlessly into six consecutive appearances in the starting lineup while Joel Embiid was out with an injury of his own.

Thybulle’s part-time big brother, part-time tutor was proud of what he saw.

Midway through that starting stretch, Thybulle and Harris took time to reflect on the season, their friendship, and their passions outside of basketball during a trip to Strand Book Store in New York City.

“[Matisse] is a good rookie. He pays attention. He comes to work every day - not only that, but he brings a lot to the table for our team,” Harris said. “With more and more games, and with more experience, he’s going to continue to blossom into a full-on, complete player, that’s going to be a beast soon.”

The night before Thybulle and Harris' visit to the Strand, Hall-of-Famer and eight-time All-Star Steve Nash visited the Sixers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden following their victory over the Knicks.

Growing up in Arizona, Thybulle idolized Nash. Noticing his little brother’s excitement, Harris insisted on making a formal introduction.

Less than 24 hours later, another meaningful introduction was made.

Along with sharing the same profession, Thybulle and Harris share a love for a couple other things  - reading, a relentless curiosity, a desire for self-improvement, and lightheartedly teasing one another.

Towering above the other patrons at the world-renowned Manhattan bookstore, Thybulle gravitated towards books on photography, while Harris explored the architecture section - each player taking time to share knowledge with his brother. 

But one book in particular caught both players’ eyes upon entering the store: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In a moment of perfect serendipity, Coates himself was browsing the shelves upstairs at the Strand. While Harris and Thybulle are accustomed to meeting adoring fans, this time, it was the two Sixers who had to make their own introductions.

Walking away from the brief meeting with Coates, each player lit up with excitement.

“Both of the books that I’ve read from him are truly impactful. I think he’s a great author,” Harris said. “What he stands for in the African American community is bigger than that too.”

From one class act making a profound difference in his community to another. 

(It’s never a bad time - but this is a particularly good time - to mention that just a few months ago, Harris donated $1 million to education and literacy-based charities in Philadelphia and around the country.)

It’s no wonder he had such a memorable experience at an old bookstore.

Harris and Thybulle have each vocalized, on numerous occasions, the heartfelt gratitude they feel for their positions as NBA players. They’ve also each acknowledged the challenges that come with life in the spotlight.

For Thybulle, all the attention is still relatively new.

“We’re in such a unique situation being NBA players. Not too many people can relate to what our lives are like. To have someone who’s close enough in age that we’ve gone through similar things, and [Tobias is] not far removed from the struggles I’m going through right now, but old enough to have made it through, and made it to the other side, and learned all the lessons, is invaluable.”

From summertime pickup, to battling in the trenches of the regular season, as time goes on, their bond continues to strengthen.

It might be a little early to start talking about legacy, but the mark that the still-young Harris aspires to leave on his younger teammates is a significant one.

“This is my ninth year, and this is his first year,” Harris said. “I just want to show him the ropes of the game, and at the end of the day, make sure that when he’s in year nine, that he’s doing the same thing to whoever else is coming in.”

Thybulle’s ninth year is still a long ways away. But given all he’s learning from Harris, the rookies of 2028 could find themselves in good hands.

 

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