Sonny Hill

Sonny Hill: Joel Embiid can be 'young Wilt Chamberlain'

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Sonny Hill: Joel Embiid can be 'young Wilt Chamberlain'

After nearly every home game, it's common to see Joel Embiid having a conversation at his locker. Sonny Hill, a fixture in Philadelphia basketball for nearly 60 years, is seated next to the Sixers' star center and chatting away. 

Hill recognized the immense potential in Embiid early on and he is staying closely involved in the big man’s journey through the NBA. 

“I mentioned to Joel before he started playing — I could see the beautiful shot, the rotation, how soft it is — I said to him, ‘You’ve got a chance to be a young Wilt Chamberlain,’” Hill said. “I’ve never, ever told that to anybody before. What he is doing right now, I kind of saw that before he even got healthy.”

Embiid is averaging 23.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 blocks in his first 19 games this season. He has career averages of 21.3 points, 9.1 boards, 2.5 assists and 2.2 blocks in only 50 games played. Embiid is on pace to dominate for years to come and poised to set statistical marks along the way.

Chamberlain posted 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists while playing 45.8 minutes in over 1,000 NBA games. The Hall of Famer was a two-time champion, four-time MVP and one-time NBA Finals MVP. A reference to Chamberlain is not to be taken likely, especially since Embiid got a late start playing basketball. And especially not from someone as closely associated with Chamberlain as Hill was.

“It’s the most phenomenal thing that I’ve ever seen in basketball, and I’ve seen just about everything,” Hill said of Embiid. “On all sides, not just in the NBA but the history of the game of basketball. I have never ever seen anyone with the limited amount of playing time being involved in the game that has developed his skills at the level that Joel Embiid’s skills are at this point. And with the horizon, the best is yet to come. Not just for him, but for the Philadelphia 76ers.”

The Sixers celebrated Hill on Saturday for his contributions to basketball in Philadelphia. They announced the Sonny Hill Legacy Award, created to recognize youth with high character on and off the court, in his honor. Allen Iverson was in attendance to participate in the ceremony.

“It’s beyond my wildest dream,” Hill said. “You have to understand that when I was born in 1936, none of this could have been even thought about. To be on the journey that I’ve been on is phenomenal.” 

Baker League movie chronicles history of Philly summer hoops scene

Baker League movie chronicles history of Philly summer hoops scene

Growing up in Philly, you only need to walk by a basketball court and you will probably see or hear something about the storied hoops history in the City of Brotherly Love. 

On May 22, many of the people who helped build that tradition were all in one place, laughing uninhibitedly, reliving old stories and relishing in the camaraderie born from hard-fought battles on the hardwood. 

The Baker League movie gives the viewer a capsule in the time of an era when local NBA, semi-pro, college and select high school players helped mold their own games in a crucible of summertime roundball battles that simultaneously shaped and defined what Philadelphia basketball is all about.

After starring in the same backcourt at Northeast High in the 1950s, Sonny Hill and James "Tee" Parham helped found the Charles Baker Memorial League in 1960. The Baker League began at 25th and Diamond Streets before moving to Bright Hope Baptist Church until its final home at McGonigle Hall at Temple University. 

It was surreal seeing and shaking hands with some of the names and faces in attendance at the movie premiere. La Salle legend Lionel Simmons was just one of the former players who reflected on his unparalleled experience with the Baker League. The "L-Train" put it simply, saying that there were no "nights off." 

Players showed up with something to prove because this was the epicenter of earning your name among the Philly basketball elite. The games were tough and tightly contested. Seeing Earl Monroe show up at halftime and go for 50 points was not uncommon. Neither was the presence of Wilt Chamberlain, or later on, 76ers like Charles Barkley and Maurice Cheeks.  

It may be a popular saying now, but the Baker League movie premiere proved ball is life for many of the people who put Philly basketball on the map.

It debuts on CSN on Thursday at 9 p.m. and also will air Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (TCN), Friday June 9 at 6:30 p.m. (CSN) and Saturday June 10 at 6 p.m. (TCN).