Over the last few days, we’ve seen Joel Embiid be his unabashed and charismatic self. Whether it was his blunt assessment of the Disney World bubble, the hazmat suit he showed up to the airport in or his social media antics, this has been quintessential Embiid.
But that’s not the person we’ve seen all season. In an effort to be more mature, Embiid has cut down the trash talk and kept his social media activity at a minimum. It could be partly to blame to for an uneven season from the All-Star center.
The catalyst for Embiid’s new way of thinking seemed to be his fight with Karl-Anthony Towns back in October. You’ll recall Embiid was ejected and left the court shadowboxing to the delight of the crowd. He then got into a profane social media battle with Towns. It resulted in a two-game suspension as the Sixers were headed out for a tough West Coast swing.
After that, Embiid vowed to never get suspended again. That also led to a funky 17-game stretch where Embiid averaged 21.7 points and was held scoreless in a game for the first time in his NBA career. Embiid seemed off.
He confirmed that notion on Dec. 10 after a home win against the Nuggets. Embiid admitted that he wasn’t having fun and was trying to be more mature. He also had his effort level called out by Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.
Embiid agreed with them and then went out and had a dominant 38-point performance in a rare road win for the Sixers in Boston. Outside of a stellar Christmas Day performance and a big night in an OT loss in Miami, Embiid was still in a bit of a funk. He then tore a ligament in his left ring finger which caused him to miss nine games.
As Embiid recovered from that injury, he played with a splint on his hand that clearly affected him. Then there was the odd moment where he shushed the Wells Fargo Center crowd during a sleepy Sunday night win over the Bulls. After that game, Embiid claimed he was just being a “good a—hole.”
After a strong All-Star Game performance and a couple dominant efforts over the Nets and Hawks, Embiid seemed to be finding his groove and managing his duality of being mature and having fun. Injury struck again in Cleveland as Embiid hurt his shoulder and missed five games before returning in the last game before play was suspended.
That brings us to this week. In his first meeting with local reporters since the hiatus, Embiid was blunt and honest when talking about the NBA’s bubble at Disney World.
I hated the idea,” Embiid said Tuesday. “I feel like with everything that has been going on, it’s unfortunate what’s been going on in the world. Obviously people look at it in a different way. There might be some other reasons behind everything going on. To me, that part never mattered. To me, all I want is to stay healthy and stay safe, keep the people around me safe. I want to make sure I’m able to live for a long time and not have any sort of consequences in the future from this if I were to be in a situation where I was getting the virus.
“Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.
In a way to perhaps use laughter as a coping mechanism, Embiid showed up for the team’s flight to Florida in a hazmat suit, gloves and mask.
He posted pictures of himself in the ensemble on Instagram with the caption, “Get rich or die trying!!!” paying homage to the 50 Cent album.
Embiid then had a little fun with the food situation while in quarantine, joking that he’s “definitely losing 50 pounds” while in the bubble.
But that is Embiid. That is the player Sixers fans have grown to love and see develop into one of the most dominant two-way forces in the NBA. While we shouldn’t condone getting into fights and flipping the bird to opponents, some of these things are fundamental Embiid.
That's not to say this is the only factor. Embiid's multiple injuries have set him back up. His fit next to Al Horford and the general construction of the roster have hindered him at times. And despite a drop in traditional stats, Embiid did play at a high level for most of the season.
But the guy who tells opponents they can’t bleeping guard him, talks about being the best player in the world to the press and then talks more smack on Instagram should be the one they want.
Because that’s the real Joel Embiid and the one that gives them the best chance of prolonging their stay at Disney World.
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