A Friend, a Father, and a Jersey Number
What’s in a number?
To some players, not much. To others, perhaps a little bit more.
Put Tobias Harris in the latter category.
Over the course of his eight-year NBA career, the veteran wing man has been no stranger to switching teams. The 76ers are his fifth.
In spite of this steady movement, Harris has tried to make a few of his jersey numbers stick.
Parts of the past four seasons, in stints with the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers, he’s gone with no. 34. But following Wednesday’s blockbuster trade, Harris quickly realized ‘34’ wouldn’t be an option with the Sixers.
“He’s got to talk to Barkley - ‘let me use your number, man!’,” said Torrel Harris.
“Barkley,” of course, is Charles Barkley, whose Hall of Fame career assured that his jersey would one day hang in the South Philadelphia rafters.
So, with no. 34 spoken for in perpetuity, Tobias Harris settled on having no. 33 stitched into his fresh Sixers’ threads.
Close enough, right?
As for Torrel Harris, he assumes a key role in Tobias’ jersey number story.
Based on their shared surname, you might correctly guess that the two are linked by a familial connection. Yes, Torrel is Tobias’ father, but he’s many other things to his son, too - agent and former coach among them.
Torrel is also the inspiration behind Tobias’ choice to wear the number ‘34’ with his past two NBA teams.
They were the same numbers Torrel sported during his college days at Duquesne and Murray State, then later in the pros with the Albany Patroons of the old Continental Basketball Association (CBA).
“Phil Jackson cut me, then he winded up being a great coach,” Torrel joked.
Tobias is one of six children. Several of his brothers and sisters also played hoops, and occasionally opted to wear Torrel’s no. 34 as well.
“It’s an honor,” said Torrel.
The first number Tobias had an attachment to, however, was ‘12.’
Around the time he was 10, Harris became close with one of his AAU teammates, Morgan Childs. Childs always wore no. 12.
After Childs lost a battle with leukemia at 16, Harris adopted the no. 12 - in high school, at the University of Tennessee, and for four years with the Orlando Magic.
When Harris was dealt to Detroit in February of 2016, ‘12’ already belonged to Aron Baynes. No. 34 was Harris’ next choice.
“When [Tobias and Childs] were kids, they used to brag a lot how they were going play in the NBA,” said Torrel Harris, who coached the boys’ AAU squad. “I used to mess with them, ‘You all have to do a whole lot to play in the NBA!’
“Morgan passed away, and Tobias put him on his shoulder, and said, ‘I‘m going to carry out that dream.’”
Lo and behold, here the versatile, hard-working Harris is now, a coveted target at the trade deadline. The NBA is fully his reality.
Destination and numbers may change, but the drive remains the same.
"We [want] to impose our will every single night so the other team walks out of the arena like, 'Dang that team's good. That's a championship team,'" said Harris. "That's what we want them to know every single night."