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February 11, 2020

Joel Embiid addresses Instagram controversy: 'It's all love...this is still my city'

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Joel-Embiid_020320_usat Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

Center Joel Embiid reacts during the Sixers' blowout loss to the Heat on Monday night.

Less than 24 hours after Joel Embiid shook up the Philadelphia area with a simple Instagram comment, his head coach had the opportunity to weigh in on the impact of Embiid's social media use. Brett Brown, who has repeatedly and publicly made it a point to claim he avoids social media, sees it as the cost of doing business with his star player.

"It's Joel. Is it ideal? Maybe not. Is it Joel? Yes," Brown said before Tuesday's game vs. the Clippers. "Is there a maverick in a lot of really good players? Yes. And there's this sort of side of Jo that has always been there that it's a — playful is probably not the word that best suits this, but it's that, some phrasing of that. We move on, I don't really have much more to add to that."

If you have been under a rock for the last 24 hours, Embiid kickstarted this "controversy" with an Instagram post making fun of the debate over his shush of the home crowd in Sunday night's game against the Chicago Bulls. Embiid, who explained that shush as a more about himself than the crowd when asked on Sunday, probably would have been able to skate and move on if he left it at that.

And then, with two comments from Embiid and former Sixers player Jimmy Butler, we were off to the races.

If the Sixers were in a better place as a team, and if Embiid was playing up to his reputation as a walking potential MVP candidate, this would have been written off as some light trolling. And Embiid tried to lean into that himself, adding a tweet later in the evening to poke fun at the situation again — this time with a photo taken from Miami's American Airlines Arena.

Embiid, as you might expect after a big win over the Clippers on Tuesday night, was all smiles during his postgame availability. And when the subject of his Instagram madness was broached by reporters, he said he believes that if the fans want to give it to him, they should be prepared to get it back from time-to-time as well.

They've been going at me, I went back at them. We're all human beings, if I can take it, everybody else can take it to. We move on, we learn from it and move on. I got to do a better job, they got to do a better job, I understand where they come from. But then again, if you dish it, you got to be able to take it back. At the end of the day, like I said in my location last night, it's all love. I love my city, I've been here for a long time now. We have a special relationship, I'm happy to be here. I can't wait for the future, especially this year, I think we can accomplish something great.

I could have shushed them again, but it was all about having fun again, getting back to myself. Like I said after last game, I'm back to doing whatever I want and saying whatever I want. That's how I used to be and I was dominating that way. This year I made a decision to change and I guess it hasn't worked out, so it comes with good and bad. If it helps us win, and if it helps me help the team in a better way to win games, then I'm going to be that's all love, I understand where they're coming from, but I do know that they got my back. Through the injuries and what we been through, I'm still here. This is still my city, this is still our city, so we're going to try to keep pushing and bring a championship.

But with the Sixers sputtering in fifth place, Embiid not playing up to the standard he set in years prior, and his frustration over the construction of the team a matter of public record, this set off a lot of alarm bells locally. Not so for the head coach, at least not that he's sharing with us.

"I've got so much more that I'm thinking about than that," Brown said. "I'll go back to my original comment: is it ideal? No. Am I reading too much into it, will I overreact? Absolutely not. The people who have been around Jo for all of our time should get what motivates him, and I think we'd all be quite surprised if there isn't a level that we see from Jo tonight. The Philly fans, they bring out the best of him, of us, they keep it very much at a real level. I look forward to seeing him play tonight."

The Sixers, as you might imagine, would be happy to let this story die, as this is a distraction they didn't need heading into a game against one of the league's elite teams. A normal team would have everyone focused on the return of Kawhi Leonard, who tore their hearts out in the playoffs, or how they stack up with one of the best in the West.

Questions, however, continue to swirl about Embiid. When he has been engaged this season — and in fairness, when he has been given lineups that make sense around him — Embiid has shown flashes of the man who won over the hearts of even the most cynical Sixers fans. Their defense is still best with him on the floor, and in a league with less post-up centers than ever, he is the king.

The lapses in concentration, however, have not been exclusive to Embiid this season. Philadelphia has struggled on the road, lost a handful of games to bad teams, and underwhelmed expectations that they would be in the league's top tier. Embiid has been at the center of that, the most obviously apathetic player on a team so offensively challenged that they can't afford anything less than maximum effort.

Brown sees him differently than the public does. And perhaps that is fair, given that he's aware of who Embiid is and the work he puts in more than the rest of us on the outside. On Tuesday night, he gave a full-throated endorsement when asked if Embiid takes his leadership role on the Sixers seriously enough, and named several examples of how he has set himself apart this season. 

I do, and let me double down in a way you all wouldn't see. If you were the security camera at our practice facility, you're going to see him there at 12 at night, 12:30 at night repetitively. Not so long ago, we see his finger swinging on national TV, and a few weeks later he comes back and has that thing. All of us would be quite naive and maybe never played a lot of basketball to think that doesn't affect his game. 

Does he step out of bounds with this instance? It's not ideal, I concede that. Could he be better? We all could. I feel like there's a little bit of fairness that needs to be extended to him, the ones who know really what has gone on behind closed doors at 12 midnight. Team meetings where things are spoken and said that nobody really is aware of. 

I always want more from myself, from Ben, from Jo, it's not something that when you asked the question the way you have asked it, that I would answer it any other way than the way I just did. I feel confident and comfortable saying what I just said.

And now, we all turn our focus where it should have been all along — the pursuit of a championship.

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