By Connor Thomas
Last night, the Sixers took down the shorthanded (and lowly, even when at full strength) Houston Rockets 133-113 at the Wells Fargo Center. Despite trailing by 1 point at halftime, the Sixers second half was relatively comfortable on their way to a blowout win, in large thanks to Joel Embiid. Normally, the big story of the night would be Embiid’s 31/15/10 triple double, a feat that has only been equaled in a Sixers jersey by Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley, Billy Cunningham, and George McGinnis. Unfortunately, thanks to Tobias Harris, that stat line became only one of the main stories that came out of the win over Houston.
Harris has drawn strong criticism this season from Sixers fans for his play, criticism which he addressed back in December and credited partially to his bout with COVID-19 earlier this season. Harris stated then that “It’s a fact; nobody cares what’s going on with you health-wise or at home or whatever.” There may be some truth to that statement, but telling Philadelphia fans how they feel has never been a good strategy. Since that quote came out, Harris’ play has not improved, and the relationship with the fan base has only gotten rockier. In the 7 games since that quote, Harris is shooting 37.6% from the floor and a measly 15.8% from 3 point range. That is awful efficiency for a player on a $180mil max contract, currently out-earning every other player on the Sixers roster, and fairly deserves criticism. Could the fan base be more compassionate considering Harris’ ongoing recovery with COVID-19? Sure, but compassion will not ever replace production. Whatever the reason, Harris’ production will continue to draw the ire of the fan base until he begins to perform up to what his contract and role on the team requires of him.
So, what is the right move if you’re Tobias Harris? Well, the veteran Philadelphian would say to just keep your head down, block out as much noise from the fan base as possible, take ownership of your performance, and weather the storm until your game improves. Last night against the Rockets, Harris seemed instead to take the complete opposite route. After his last miss of a 3/10 first half, Harris received boos from the fan base, to which he responded by gesturing to the fans that he seemingly wanted to hear more boos?
Um, Tobias Harris just heard some loud boos after the last missed shot of a 3-10 half and, at least as it seemed to me, gestured to to the fans that he wanted to hear more. That was odd.
— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) January 4, 2022
It was a very strange move, but was only a precursor to what would come in the 2nd half. With the Sixers up 110-96 midway through the 4th quarter, Harris hit a turnaround post jumper, drawing the usual applause from the home crowd. As he ran back down the court, though, the TV broadcast caught Harris mouthing what seemed to be some curses directed at the Wells Fargo Center crowd:
Was Tobias Harris just yelling “Don’t f****** clap” at the crowd after they cheered him making that shot???
— Connor Thomas (@ConnorThomas975) January 4, 2022
There was immediate outrage from Sixers twitter, who took understandable offense to an underperforming player complaining about the home crowd trying to support him. I’m not sure where Tobias Harris thinks he gets the right to tell the fans when to cheer and when to boo, but apparently he thinks that yelling aimlessly at the crowd is a smart way to try and handle an angry Philadelphia fan base. Well, if that’s his thought process, then he’s dead wrong. Now, in fairness to Harris, there was a theory floating around that Harris was telling the fans not to clap as a way of saying he doesn’t deserve the praise; a sort of self-motivation tactic. Even though that is a possibility, short of a comment from Harris himself on the incident, the only thing to go off of is the video that was seen on the broadcast. In real time, and after multiple replays, my personal opinion is that it was a critique of the fan base; a “stay on that side” type of outburst from a frustrated player. And to that, I would simply say this: Tobias, we’re all frustrated to. You GET paid to play the game; fans PAY to attend the games. Booing or cheering is their right, and at least in Philadelphia, you’ll be better served by focusing on your game rather than interacting with the fan base.