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January 09, 2017

Why Joel Embiid – not Carson Wentz – will be the king of Philadelphia

In the spirit of this Twitter age, I will describe today’s column in 140 characters or less:

Two kids emerged as franchise players in 2016, Joel Embiid and Carson Wentz, but only one will rule Philadelphia: Embiid. Why? Social media.

The modern age calls for a new type of sports hero, someone who does more than win games with amazing feats of athleticism. The new superstar has to combine brilliance on the field with a personality that can provide daily amusement for smartphone users everywhere.

Embiid is made for this new twist in sports celebrity; Wentz is not. Just this past week, the Sixers center helped his team win three games with dominant play while creating a social media firestorm by revealing his quest to date pop music star Rihanna.

Actually, Embiid started the process two years ago when he tweeted: 

This is the truth... I was trying to get with this famous girl and she said "Come back when you're a All Star" bruhh.

Later, he acknowledged his crush was Rihanna, and he reinforced the message a few days ago with another tweet:

There is my chance to finally be with my CRUSH so i need your help y'all ha..... Joel Embiid #NBAVote

These social media musings are every bit as brilliant as his play this season. Think about it. With less than 140 characters, Embiid got fan groups scrambling for their phones, forming instant coalitions, in a frenzy to help him land his dream date (and make the All-Star team).

Joel Embiid has two things that are essential in sports celebrity today – talent and personality. Not only is he averaging 19 points in 25 minutes per game, but he also regularly contributes plays worthy of YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and all other forms of highlight dissemination. And then he adds some fun to the mix.

He is Allen Iverson, one generation later. Whether he is able to accomplish what Iverson did in his decade here remains a matter for Embiid and his worrisome feet to decide. But barring another injury like the ones that kept him off the court for two years, he will feel the warm embrace of Philadelphia in a way that Carson Wentz will not.

In no way is this meant to diminish the potential Wentz offers the Eagles on the field, where he passed for more yards as a rookie than any quarterback in NFL history. He will be an honorable face of the franchise, with his powerful arm, sharp intellect and wholesome ways. How can you not like a good ol' boy from North Dakota?

There will always be a place for players like Carson Wentz who want to be judged solely on their play – but that place will be at least one notch below the star like Joel Embiid who gives his fans a lot more, a couple of times a day, in 140 characters or less.

But Wentz already proved in his rookie year that he’s no Embiid in the personality department. His interviews are cliché-riddled yawns, and his social-media presence is more annoying than entertaining. Did he really think tweeting a photo of himself with an eight-point buck would play well in Philadelphia?

Well, it didn’t – for me, at least – nor did his gifting of Beretta shotguns to his offensive linemen just before Christmas. You see, everybody loves Rihanna, but not everybody loves hunting. The only thing that can die during a date with Rihanna is hope for a second date. There will be no second chances for that buck.

A decade ago, before our lives became so entangled with smartphones, a star athlete could win games without worrying about winning followers on social media, too. Those days, for better or worse, are over.

There will always be a place for players like Carson Wentz who want to be judged solely on their play – but that place will be at least one notch below the star like Joel Embiid who gives his fans a lot more, a couple of times a day, in 140 characters or less.


Howie Roseman finally broke the silence of his least-public year with the Eagles last week. Based on what he said, he would have been better off keeping his mouth shut.

While two of his division opponents – the Cowboys and Giants – transformed their rosters in a single year, the reborn GM preached patience, hiding behind a lack of salary-cap space and his obsession with Chip Kelly. The Eagles lost six games this season by a touchdown or less. And Roseman feels no urgency to retool quickly?

A series of ridiculous contracts last winter caused the cap issues, not Kelly. Vinny Curry got five years and $47 million for what? Chase Daniel, the forgotten backup quarterback, still can’t believe he was worth three years and $21 million. And as soon as Fletcher Cox became a $100 million player, he stopped playing like one.

Then there was the trade of 2015 second-round draft pick Eric Rowe to the Patriots for a conditional fourth-rounder. There is no greater need on the Eagles than at cornerback, and yet Roseman chose to dump Rowe with three years left on an affordable contract in favor of a total stiff, Leodis McKelvin.

"When we sat down and discussed the offer, we really started thinking about ... the likelihood that we would sign (Rowe) to an extension," Roseman said. "We felt at that time that we weren't going to sign him to an extension.”

The only thing that comment lacked was a laugh track. The GM wants us to believe the Eagles knew, after a single season, that Rowe would never fit on a defense currently employing not one quality cornerback. Or could it have been that Roseman hated Rowe the moment Kelly picked him? Which is more likely?

Roseman couldn’t stop reminding everybody last week how brilliant he was in trading up – twice – to get Carson Wentz, and that move was undeniably good. So was the trade of Sam Bradford for a first-round pick. The GM wants, and deserves, credit for both those deals.

But they don’t wipe clean all of the other terrible decisions Roseman made last off-season. And two good trades don’t provide a free pass for the next two, three or four seasons. Roseman needs to understand that right now.

The Eagles haven’t won a championship in 57 years, and Howie Roseman has been here for 17 of them. If he’s as smart as he’d like the fans to believe, then he’ll figure out a way to clean up the mess that he – not Chip Kelly – created last winter.

Eagles fans are not known for their short memories, but they seem to be forgetful when it comes to former coach Andy Reid. In fact, based on calls I’ve been getting on my WIP radio show, lots of people in Philadelphia are rooting for Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs.

On the same weekend when Reid secured a first-round bye earlier this month, Brian Dawkins was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What’s the connection? If you have to ask that question, you are the problem.

Dawkins is the most beloved player In Eagles history because of his brilliance at free safety, his punishing style and his winning personality. And yet, Reid somehow felt it was fine to take this defensive leader – one of the main reasons for the coach’s successful run here – and discard him like yesterday’s trash in 2009.

The single darkest moment of Reid’s overrated 14-year tenure here was his announcement that he wouldn’t allow any questions on Dawkins’ abrupt departure to Denver as a free agent because “This is Stacy Andrews’ day.” Remember Andrews? You shouldn’t. He was basically brought here to babysit his basket-case brother, Shawn

Reid (and his equally overrated boss, Joe Banner) let Dawkins go over a $7-million guarantee. Seven million – chump change for an organization that guaranteed $12 million just last year to Chase Daniel. And then the coach refused to discuss Dawkins for months, preferring instead to focus on nobodies like Stacy Andrews.

If Eagles fans can somehow develop amnesia about how Dawkins left here – he went on to play well for three seasons with the Broncos – that’s their right. Not me. And that’s why I’ll be rooting hard for Reid to fail again in the playoffs this season, and in every season to come.

And finally …

     • Apparently, Greg Lewis was no better a coach than he was a wide receiver. The former Eagle – whose lone claim to fame is catching a touchdown pass in the 2005 Super Bowl – was fired this morning, the victim of an untalented receiving corps that regressed under his direction. Next up should be defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, who was every bit as ineffective as his cornerbacks this season.

     • The Eagles are one of a handful of NFL teams under serious consideration for training camp coverage on HBO’s "Hard Knocks" next season. Wouldn’t you love to see the Birds’ vice-president of communications Anne Gordon try to flex her muscles against a TV network the way she did earlier this month with Inquirer reporter Jeff McLane? I’d pay to see that.

     • Jahlil Okafor did not play a single minute in the last two Sixers games even though he was healthy. Former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie drafted Okafor third in the 2015 draft, two years before Nerlens Noel and one year before Joel Embiid. Now, there’s no way to play all of the kids, and their trade value is dropping. Yeah, Hinkie was a genius, all right. A real genius.

    • It’s finally official that Chris Berman is done as a regular contributor at ESPN, after 38 years of tired gimmicks and shameless glad-handing. He will continue on in an emeritus role, basically doing what he does best – ingratiating himself to sports celebrities and acting important. Good riddance to him, the Swami, he-could-go-all-the way ... and back, back, back. His long-overdue departure should be a relief to sports fans everywhere.

     • A word of gratitude is due to the Phillies and GM Matt Klentak for shutting down those pesky rumors that the team might be interested in free-agent slugger Jose Bautista. Whew. For a fleeting moment, I actually was interested in my baseball team again.