Tobias Harris has been applauded lately for his strong leadership.
76ers' players and coaches alike have credited him for being a mentor both on and off the court, from scrimmage play in Orlando, to marching in the streets of Philadelphia fighting for racial equality.
But Harris’ leadership isn’t new. The bonds he’s forged are - quite literally - in the fabric of the team.
Almost a year ago, prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, Harris took rookies Matisse Thybulle and Marial Shayok on an outing, treating the then-new Sixers to custom suits from one of Harris’ favorite designers, Damari Savile.
“Honestly, I just needed some guidance my rookie year," Harris remembers. "I needed to know what to wear, and where to find stuff. It took me like three years to find jeans that fit me!”
Thanks to Harris, Thybulle and Shayok won’t have that problem.
“I know how coming in as a rookie, on a rookie scale, you don’t really know what you can buy, what you want to buy,” Harris said. "I just wanted them to be prepared for whatever - you now have a professional job, a real job.”
In recent years, elite basketball and elite fashion have become almost inextricably linked. From tunnel photos, to formal events, to off-court business ventures, style has become an essential facet of athlete identity and branding.
“I just thought getting them each some suits was important,” Harris said. “At an event, they could put that suit on and be professional, and somebody wouldn’t even know they were a rookie. They’d say ‘Man, kid knows how to wear a suit.’”
Sharing fashion with the Sixers' rookies is just one of many ways Harris has made an effort to bond with his younger teammates, with whom he shares a mutual respect.
“They listen, they are receptive, they want to get better, they work hard, they are in the gym. I root for guys like that because it reminds me of myself,” Harris said.
Shayok remembers the shopping trip well.
One day at practice, Harris approached the two rookies. He gave them an address, and invited them to meet him after their workouts.
“Tisse and I just laughed, wondering what it could be,” Shayok remembers.
“It was pretty cool. We were both shocked, surprised he would go out of his way to make sure we were coming in a little more comfortable.”
The trip to Damari wasn’t Harris’ only outing with the rookies.
In July 2019, Harris watched the pair of rookies courtside at Las Vegas Summer League. He made sure Shayok knew he’d been watching, and that he admired the rookie’s game.
“He could’ve easily kept those comments to himself,” Shayok remembers. “But he was cool enough say that, which instilled even more confidence in me.”
Later in the summer, Harris took Shayok and Thybulle out to dinner, to answer any questions they had about entering the league.
“Aside from being an amazing example, [Tobias has] been like a big brother,” Thybulle said in December, a few months later. “We sit next to each other on every flight. I seek him for all my questions, whether it’s financially, on the court, off the court - I go to him.”
As the year continued, Harris checked up on Shayok regularly while he was in Wilmington, playing with the Delaware Blue Coats.
“That was definitely cool to still have support from him, and other guys on the team, even when I wasn’t with them all season,” Shayok said.
Thybulle debuted his custom threads on Christmas Day. Sidelined with a knee injury, the rookie still turned heads in his bespoke burgundy suit.
He says it’s his favorite thing he’s worn all season.
“It was red, it was Christmas, so it was fitting,” Thybulle said. “It was special because that was one of the suits Tobias had [got] me... That was the first one that we had finished. It was all and all, a very special suit for me.”
As for the process behind the look, Thybulle remembers the initial outing with Harris well.
“We picked out fabrics, we picked out everything - I had no idea what I was doing,” Thybulle said. “It was cool, it was overwhelming.”
“[Matisse] was kind of going with the basics, and I was like, ‘You’ve got to get at least a little something - put the hot sauce on em,’” Harris remembers.
The added spice proved a worthwhile risk.
“To see the finished product, put it on, and be able to wear it on the court, on the bench, and just show off, feeling all slick in my custom suit - it was pretty cool.”
“He did his thing!” Harris said. “I think he picked things that match his personality, and match who he is. That’s the cool thing about suits when you get in there and you customize it - you really get to find out how much flavor you’ve got.”
Harris hopes the sharing of suits can become a tradition among this Sixers lineage.
While nobody took Harris on a suiting outing when he was a rookie in 2011, Josh Richardson fondly remembers a similar experience his first year in Miami with 11-time All-Star Chris Bosh.
It’s a special memory, and tells the story behind one of Richardson’s ‘Coach J-Rich’ fits from earlier this season:
“I think that might be my favorite [outfit] of the year,” Richardson said. “Backstory - Chris Bosh bought me that suit when I was a rookie. He was one of my vets that I was really close to. I used to go to his house, watch film, eat dinner.”
During one of those hangouts, Bosh introduced Richardson to Bosh's tailor, who fitted Richardson for some custom looks.
“He ended up buying me three suits,” Richardson said. “I kept them, and they fit, and they’re still some of my favorites.”
Richardson loves that Harris has shared that tradition with their rookies.
“You’ve got to pass it on, you know?”
“The big thing for me is - when they’re in year eight and nine of their NBA career, that they can go do that to a rookie. That would be the passing of the torch,” Harris said.
And pass it on they will.
“It’s definitely something I’ll appreciate forever,” Shayok said. “And hopefully, be in a position one day to do that to another rookie coming in.”
Even with the restart of the NBA season looming, the majority of Thybulle's and Shayok's rookie campaigns is already in the rearview.
They've got a fan in Harris.
“I always root for underdogs," said Harris, who scored 52 points in the Sixers' three scrimmages in Orlando. "That has just been my whole thing, I’ve been an underdog my whole career.”
"For me, seeing guys come in that are not necessarily top-five picks... a guy like Matisse, a guy like [Marial], guys I see with a lot of potential, that listen...I think their stories are even more powerful once they get to where they want to be.”
Listen to The Right Fit, a podcast episode about the intersection of the 76ers and fashion, from the 76ers Podcast Network
As the season has progressed, and entered uncharted territory, Harris’ leadership has been a constant.
“It’s always important to make sure our guys mentally are in the right space - so just being a teammate, a brother,” Harris said. “When we go into this type of quarantine, with the pandemic, I just thought it was really important to keep us in the loop with one another.”
“All year he’s been our leader vocally, and has also been a leader during these tough times in our society, speaking up against injustice,” Shayok said. “Tobias is just a genuine leader who I’ll continue to look up to, and use the things he’s taught me throughout my career.”
The rookies share a mentor.
“I really look up to [Tobias],” Thybulle said. “He’s been able to be a huge role model for me.”
From team dinners to springing for suits, from Zoom meetings to marching for equality, Harris has kept the Sixers tight this season through thick and thin. By all accounts, those bonds are only continuing to grow inside the NBA's Orlando bubble.
“The teams with the best chemistry usually end up being the teams that are the toughest to beat.”
From leadership, to mentorship, to communication, to chemistry: for Harris, it’s all by design.
Both Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle participated in the recent launch of the 76ers Crossover Capsule. Co-branded merchandise from the collection goes on sale this Saturday, 8/1 at 10:00 AM ET exclusively at Lapstone & Hammer.