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October 10, 2018

Joel Embiid signs sneaker deal with Under Armour: 'I want to help change people’s lives'

Sixers NBA

The worst-kept secret in the sneaker industry has finally been revealed to the masses. Joel Embiid is a free agent no longer and has inked a deal with Under Armour that will make him one of the biggest stars of the brand alongside Warriors guard Steph Curry.

If you've been paying close attention during the preseason, there are no surprises here. Embiid has been spotted rocking Under Armour kicks during practices and games alike, but remained cagey about whether he was jumping ship from adidas. Many fans will only be concerned about his health and performance in these shoes anyway, and neither appears to be suffering after a dominant preseason for the big man.

The significance Embiid will have as an Under Armour athlete should be clear based on the manner in which they are announcing it. Rather than having a standard press release sent out en masse, Embiid sat down and wrote (or at least helped write) a personal letter about his journey to where he is today, reflecting on the years of work it took to get to his current perch.

A lot of it you've heard before, from his stories of being discovered by Luc Mbah a Moute to how pretty he thinks he's going to look in his new shoes. But Embiid opened up about a subject that perhaps has been glossed over a bit too much locally: the tragedy of losing his brother, and the degree to which Arthur Embiid continues to inspire him.

In his own words, here's Joel on the impact left by his brother:

In Cameroon, it’s just different. My parents wanted me to be a doctor, you know? They were proud of me, but they don’t really care about the NBA like that. The one person who was so hyped was Arthur. He started following in my footsteps, playing ball, and he wanted to follow my path to America. 

We grew up very lucky. We weren’t rich, but we had what we needed. But in the neighborhoods around us, a lot of the people were really struggling. Some of the kids we grew up with had nothing. When I used to call home, my dad would tell me how Arthur was taking stuff from our house and giving it to the kids around the neighborhood who needed help. Just small stuff, like food or clothes or whatever they needed. He looked at it like he was just sharing it, you know? 

I mean, he was just 13. That’s the age when most kids are trying to flex on everybody and act cool. But he was different. He was trying to make sure everybody was good. How many kids would think like that? I was really, really proud of him. And I know he was proud of me. 

Arthur was not here on Earth for long enough. A few months after I was drafted, he was killed in a car accident back home. It changed my life forever. That was a very, very hard time for me, especially because I had been gone for so long. After he passed, I kept telling myself that my life had to be about more than just basketball. I got this chance to come to America and play in the NBA and experience all these things, but what my brother was doing back home was actually helping people’s lives. 

When I sat down with Under Armour, one of the first things we talked about was how this can be bigger than just shoes, bigger than just basketball. I want to help change people’s lives like Luc changed my life.

Embiid has had to cope with a lot during his short time in Philadelphia, thousands of miles from the family and country that raised him. His rise to become one of the best and most well-known players in basketball seems impossible when you think on how little he has played compared to his peers, and how much he has gone through on and off the court in a short span of time.

I would encourage you to give Embiid's essay in full a read, especially because you get some tremendous photos of young Embiid with his family, like so:

One of the interesting subplots (at least if you're interested enough in sneakers to be reading about this stuff) will be what impact Embiid can actually have as a product mover. His profile is unique among his big-man peers and he may be the most outsized personality in the paint since Shaquille O'Neal, but big men do not typically move sneakers. 

That's a space usually reserved for guards and forwards, as you can tell by running through the list of athletes with the best-selling signature sneakers of the moment: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Curry, and James Harden.

Honestly, when I came back after being injured for two years... I literally thought y’all were gonna boo me out of the building.

The bet on Embiid is a bet on the lane he has carved out for himself both on social media and on the court. We haven't seen many (if any) other big men openly feud with Russell Westbrook or use Instagram location tags to clown on opponents they've beaten, so maybe Embiid can shatter the mold and give Under Armour the second megastar they're after.

(And maybe he can use this to recruit Curry away from the Warriors. Just a thought, Jo.)

More importantly, maybe Embiid can use this new deal to continue giving back to the city he now calls home. It sounds like that's in the works already:

This city has stood by me through all the injuries and all the pain. For years. Honestly, when I came back after being injured for two years, I thought I was going to get booed when I ran out of the tunnel. I literally thought y’all were gonna boo me out of the building. 

But I didn’t get booed. And then when I scored my first bucket, the whole building cheered for me. That helped me a lot. People say crazy things about Philly, and some of them are kinda true, but the whole city has been behind me from Day 1. (OK, LOL maybe Day 2.) 

Ya’ll trusted The Process. Y’all have had my back. Now I’m gonna do my best to have your back. I’m going to be working on some big things with Under Armour. I got a few surprises coming for the Philly community, and for the rest of the world.

I already know of one special surprise Embiid has planned for the city coming later this afternoon. And given everything he has given to the city in such a short timeframe, I wouldn't doubt he has plenty more for Philadelphia before it's all said and done.

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