March 14, 2017
On Thursday, Sixers rookie Joel Embiid will turn 23-years old.
While this past year got off to a better start for the 7-foot-2 center from Cameroon than the few that preceded it, his 23rd year will see a familiar end as another injury has left Embiid watching from the bench.
But that hasn't stopped him from continuing to make headlines.
Over the weekend, Embiid was spotted by TMZ Sports while the Sixers were in Los Angeles for back-to-back games against the Clippers and Lakers. And to no one's surprise, he had a message for his celebrity crush, Rihanna:
Embiid's love for Rihanna has been well documented, and although it seemed for a while that he might have moved on to a new celebrity crush (possibly this Canadian model), you apparently never forget your first. If only he had been voted into the NBA All-Star Game ...
Embiid also recently threw his support behind teammate Dario Saric for NBA Rookie of the Year. For much of the season, Embiid was considered a lock to win the award, but the knee injury that ended his season coupled with the emergence of Saric has led to the Croatian forward being the odds-on favorite to take home ROY honors.
Last week, Embiid appeared on the cover of SLAM magazine in a recreation of Allen Iverson's iconic cover from 20 years earlier.
There were more than a few good nuggets in the feature by Adam Figman, but as NFL free agency picked up, so too did my workload. And now that things have calmed down a little, I figured it would be a good idea to pass some of them along.
Better late than never, right?
Embiid's personal trainer, Drew Hanlen, told the story of how he tried to temper the big man's expectations on the drive to the arena for his first NBA game.
“He told me he was gonna average 20 points per game during the season,” Hanlen says now. “I said, Hey Jo, I believe when you’re healthy and when you’re playing you’re gonna be one of the best big guys in the NBA, but averaging a point a minute is absurd. Let’s just go out there and try to help your team win more games and continue to improve throughout this rookie season and get better.” [slamonline.com]
The Sixers lost that game by six points to the Thunder, 103-97, but Embiid finished with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks ... in just 22 minutes.
When Hanlen tracked down the rookie center after the game, his confidence had only grown.
“That was easy, bro,” Embiid reportedly told him. “I could’ve had 30 [points].”
Keep in mind, this is a guy who was playing JV high school basketball five years earlier – not to mention he had just missed his first two seasons as a pro, after missing most of his only year at Kansas – and had barely played basketball before that.
Embiid used Twitter to solicit his former GM's All-Star vote, even though he could've simply texted Hinkie privately. But what's the fun in that?
(The two still text here and there. “[Hinkie] usually talks about basketball,” Embiid says. “If he sees something that I didn’t do, he’ll text me about it.”) [slamonline.com]
During the summer, Embiid dunked on one of his teammates so hard during practice that it haunts Sixers forward Gerald Henderson to this day.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen something so violent,” Henderson says. “It scared me. I was on his team—it was a post-up. I won’t mention who was guarding him because it’s one of my teammates, but it was violent. It shook me up, man. I had never seen something so powerful.” [slamonline.com]
That was early on in training camp, according to the SLAM story, so many of Embiid's teammates had not seen him play yet, at least not in full-speed five-on-five drills.
Perhaps it wasn't totally Embiid's fault that he was seen dancing on stage at the Meek Mill concert last month (while he was out with a pair of knee injuries).
(Also worth noting is that if Meek’s DJ decided to play literally any other song, none of this ever happens. “Wicked” is Embiid’s favorite; Sixers guard Nik Stauskus says “that’s the only song he ever plays” in the team locker room.) [slamonline.com]
When your song comes on, sometimes you just can't help but get up and dance. For me, it's "Here Comes The Hotstepper."
If Embiid winds up being as good as he believes he can be – so far, it's looking good, but he'll need to stay healthy for more than 31 games in a season to get there – then maybe he'll one day be mentioned alongside an NBA legend who recently found a way to make money simply by saying the wrong words, Michael Jordan.
It's not just that Embiid thinks he has room to improve, it's how much potential room for growth he sees.
“I’m not close to where I want to be,” Embiid says. “My nickname is The Process, and in my mind it’s like, something processing, or something loading. I always see that as 100 percent where you want to be. I think I’m about… maybe 5-10 percent. I have a lot to improve on my game to get where I want to be. Sometimes I’ll go on these runs of scoring the ball and playing good defense and I’m like, Here I am!” [slamonline.com]
Given that he posted historic numbers for a rookie, Jordan's "ceiling is the roof" comment might not actually apply. Improving by 90 to 95 percent would mean Embiid's ceiling is actually somewhere closer to Saturn.
Finally, being as plugged in to social media as Embiid is can have a downside, especially when you're as famous as the Sixers rookie.
“I see everything, trust me,” he says.
“I love reading articles and bad stuff they say about me,” he says. “I read what they’re saying bad about me and what I’m not doing on the court, and then the next game going and correcting it, and showing them, yeah, I can do this.” [slamonline.com]
If you're reading this, Jojo, let me be the first to wish you a happy birthday.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin