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With proper protocols in place, 76ers’ Tobias Harris ready to return: ‘I'm fine with it’

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris had seen the iconic picture before.

But actually hearing Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan in “The Last Dance”, crying on the locker room floor following his Father's Day championship in 1996 — MJ's first title since his dad, James, was murdered — caused Harris himself to become emotional.

“I ain't going to lie, I was shedding a tear when I saw Jordan crying,” Harris told Yahoo Sports in a recent telephone interview. “I thought they should've just stopped the episode right then and there. It was touching. I'd seen the photo a whole lot, but I was probably too young to understand. And now you can really see all the emotion that's in it.

“I did some research after the show ended. You hear about his father passing away, but then you dive in and it's a pretty crazy story.”

Harris, a Long Island native, was fortunate enough to see Jordan play at Madison Square Garden when he was a kid alongside his father, longtime NBA agent Torrel Harris — founder and CEO of Unique Sports Management — and his older brother, Tyler Harris.

It proved to be a memorable evening.

“We kept asking my dad if we could meet him after the game and he was just telling us maybe,” Tobias recalled. “But it ended up happening and it was unbelievable. As we were walking away I realized I didn't get him to sign my card. So my dad had to pull him back and get him to sign our cards. Tyler and I were so excited on the train ride back.

“I kept thinking my dad was so cool because he knows Michael Jordan. I ended up losing the card on the way back, but it didn't matter because I had gotten to meet him. It was an unforgettable experience.”

Tobias and Torrel have an extremely close relationship — much like Michael and James Jordan — with Torrel serving as his son's agent, mentor and financial adviser. After playing in college at Duquesne and Murray State, Torrel had aspirations of turning pro, but his dream vanished in 1983 when he was cut by none other than Phil Jackson, then the head coach of the CBA's Albany Patroons.

Tobias Harris is in his second season with the 76ers. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Tobias Harris is in his second season with the 76ers. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

“I was the last cut,” Torrel recalled to Yahoo Sports. “I remember Phil brought me into his office with his assistant, Charlie Rosen, and told me it was a tough call. He told me I was a good player and to keep pursuing it. I told him he was making a mistake. But I had a son already and was married at the time. I knew I needed to put my family first, so I stopped chasing my dream.

“I've never gotten the chance to talk to Phil again, but it's interesting how it turned out.”

Not just a client

At the time his basketball playing career ended, Torrel Harris was making $14,700 a year while working as a buyer for Macy's. But his fortunes were about to change. A friend wowed Torrel by showing him a $20,000 check – his monthly earnings at Northwestern Mutual.

So Torrel, with his strong business acumen, decided to take a few sick days and enroll in a training course with a job change in mind.

He ended up finding success in finance and working under Alan Nero, a Northwestern Mutual higher-up in Chicago who was representing baseball players on the side. With his strong connections to professional athletes, Torrel helped Nero land Cecil Fielder as a client while starting to carve out a basketball division for the agency.

In 1988, Torrel went out on his own and landed George Gervin, who would later become a mentor to Tobias, as well as Nate Archibald, among others. Two years later, Torrel’s idea for a reversible warmup suit became a springboard to a successful venture as a professional sports apparel licensee in the NBA and NFL.

Torrel became Tobias' primary agent after the younger Harris was traded to the Orlando Magic. (Torrel has since added Kelly Oubre Jr. as well.) Since then, the duo has continually bet on itself, turning down contract extensions of four years, $32 million and four years, $80 million, only to land more lucrative deals: four years, $64 million with Orlando (2015, restricted) and five years, $180 million with Philadelphia.

“[Torrel] means the world to me,” Tobias said. “He's somebody that put a basketball in my hands at a young age and has guided me through pretty much everything in this game – whether it's on or off the court. He's done a great job of showing me the ropes.”

“Tobias was always focused. He always paid attention. He was always a hard worker, even when I used to yell at him a lot when he was a kid,” Torrel said. “I pushed all my kids to be the best at whatever they did. He kept working on his game because he wanted to be the best. And the results are what we have today.”

Tobias' father is his biggest fan. His most vocal supporter, too.

“I act like I'm at Rucker Park,” Torrel said of his loud antics in the stands. “My wife will tell me to chill, but I always tell my son, 'Bust 'em up.' I'm always rooting for my clients. It's all fun. If he's going against Michael Jordan, ‘Bust his ass up.’”

“He'll yell and scream, everything,” Tobias said. “When I was in high school, he and my mom would be walking through the gym. He'd sit down and she would go to the completely opposite side of the bleachers because he's too crazy during the games, too intense. So that's basically just him in a nutshell. He loves basketball.”

Basketball on hold

Tobias Harris hasn't shot a basketball since the 2019-20 season was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. But he has been working out every day in his garage gym at his Philadelphia home to stay ready should play resume. He's also been talking to his teammates on Zoom.

"Everybody wants to be safe, so that's the key thing,” Harris replied when asked if he has any concerns about a return. “If we can find a venue and it's safe and we have the proper protocols in place for guys to feel comfortable, then I'm fine with it.”

Harris described the idea of playing actual games in an empty gym as, “Kind of like a practice setting. But guys are competitive, so we're always gonna go as hard as we can.”

After being eliminated in devastating fashion on Kawhi Leonard's Game 7 buzzer-beater last season, the 76ers want their shot at redemption.

“That shot was heartbreaking. It was on everywhere like two or three days ago [on the anniversary],” Harris said with a laugh. “I love our team. I definitely think we're well-suited for the playoffs, and hopefully we get a chance to play. We'll be ready for the opportunity.”

Philadelphia has had its share of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid drama. Coach Brett Brown's future has also come into question.

Asked about potential parallels to “The Last Dance” — at least in terms of off-the-court distractions — Harris responded, "It's different because of social media. You'll kind of get ridiculed. Obviously, it's Michael Jordan, so there's a ton of media around him.

“I just think it's a whole different beast with social media now. I think it would be crazy to imagine that era with social media, how that would've been. But it's kind of just the evolution of life.”

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