If there’s one thing we can all say about Joel Embiid it’s that he’s unlike any athlete we’ve ever seen in Philadelphia. Both on and off the court, Embiid is incredibly unique.
From almost not being in the NBA to his injury struggles to the criticism he’s faced to his desire to win, Embiid broached many subjects in an expansive piece he penned for the Players’ Tribune Wednesday.
The piece starts with Embiid discussing his brother Arthur, who was tragically killed at the age of 13 in his native Cameroon in 2014, just months after Joel was drafted by the Sixers. Arthur’s death had a profound impact on Joel.
Embiid famously was discovered when he went to fellow countrymen Luc Mbah a Moute’s camp. According to Embiid, that almost didn’t happen.
The day that I was supposed to get my big break, when I was 16, I almost messed it all up because all I wanted to do was chill with my brother. When I got invited to Luc Mbah a Moute’s basketball camp — the thing that everybody writes about when they tell my story? They always leave one part out.
I didn’t even show up on the first day of camp. I was way too scared. I actually skipped it so I could sit at home and play FIFA with Arthur.
Luckily for Sixers fans, Embiid’s father got his “a-- to the camp” the next day.
Embiid details how difficult it was dealing with Arthur’s death and being so far away from home. He admitted that he contemplated retiring before even playing a game. Not because of the injuries but because of the trouble he was having coping with the loss of his brother.
Instead, he persevered. He got through all the rehab and was able to make his NBA debut on Oct. 26, 2016. After missing his first two NBA seasons, he was expecting to get booed. Instead, he delighted the crowd and gave them flashes of what was to come.
Since that night, Embiid is a two-time All-Star, has led the Sixers to back-to-back 50-win seasons and consecutive playoff series wins.
And the support the Philadelphia fans have given him hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s part of the reason he took last season’s playoff loss to Toronto so hard. He felt like he was letting people down.
All summer, every time someone posted that picture of me and Kawhi [Leonard] staring at the ball hanging on the rim, I didn’t even click away. I wanted it to be burned into my brain as motivation. And you know what? In the end, those guys deserved the title. They played harder than everybody else — period. Every single guy on their squad did all the little things they had to do to win. It was a lesson that we needed to learn as a team, and I think we’re still learning it this season.
Embiid acknowledges the Sixers aren’t off to the start he would’ve liked, but said things will be different once he returns from his injury and the team has a chance to click.
He also talked about some of the criticism he’s dealt with for not dominating every night and for not spending all his time on the block. He knows he can’t be a pure post player like Shaquille O’Neal or his hero Hakeem Olajuwon. While he accepts the criticism of Hall of Famers like O’Neal and former Sixer Charles Barkley, he said, “This isn’t 1995. This is 2020.”
It’s a fair point that gets lost at times. Embiid leads the NBA in post touches and is nearly unstoppable 1-on-1 down there. But the opportunities simply aren’t there as teams pack the paint and double team him constantly.
But none of that is on the charismatic Cameroonian’s mind. He has a singular focus. Instead of ending the piece with his typical “Trust the Process,” Embiid’s closing was much more earnest.
I’m done with the trash talking and the memes and all that. Once I’m holding that trophy in my hands, maybe I’ll be back to my charming self. For now, I got one thing on my mind.
“I’m not trying to win a debate.
“I’m trying to win a f------ title.
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