February 13, 2017
Sidelined Sixers sensation Joel Embiid might have been a volleyball player had his father, a Cameroonian colonel, held firm on reservations about his son's late-blooming basketball obsession.
The people of Philadelphia, the NBA and Twitter are undoubtedly thankful that the colonel had a change of heart.
Despite growing up in the capital city of a soccer-first nation, Embiid's natural physical gifts caught the attention of Cameroon's devoted clique of coaches and aspiring players, who make the most of their scarce gym facilities and decrepit outdoor courts to pursue a distant dream.
The reality is that about 40 percent of Cameroon's population, around 23 million people, is directly affected by poverty, particularly those in the rural communities of the central African nation. Persistent starvation and limited access to safe drinking water are compounded by high unemployment and systemic corruption under President Paul Biya, who has controlled the country since 1982.
Just this week, United Nations special rapporteur David Kaye called on Cameroon to restore internet service to English-speaking parts of the country in the southwest and northwest. Biya's government has not publicly explained its decision to selectively cut internet access in these areas, which have gone without it since January.
And yet, offhand, the most prominent fact most of us know about Cameroon is that Joel Embiid grew up there. In a video for The Players' Tribune, the Sixers star takes on the misconceptions that many people hold about those who come from African nations.
The video is a rare look at the more serious side of the 22-year-old star in the making. For what it's worth, his message seems to be that people should take the time to look beyond a few simplified notions about life in foreign countries, all the more so when they learn of a celebrity whose roots are elsewhere in the world.
For the record, though, Embiid has more than once told the story about how he actually did kill a lion as a rite of passage. He just wants you to take the time to learn a little bit more than that.