Joel Embiid: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

Ode to Joel. The GOATs discussing their master plan. Chris Szagola/AP

By: Chad Berman & Alex Pacione

Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Theresa, the Pope, and Joel Embiid…three of these don’t belong.

Is he the best thing to happen to the world since the polio vaccine? We can neither confirm nor deny, but we’re leaning toward the former.

So what does one say about Joel Embiid that Joel Embiid hasn’t already said about himself?

That is the question we hope to answer in this meditation on the greatest Philadelphia 76er to never actually play for the team.

To us, this article represents what is, what could be, and what may never be. We write this for the perpetually maligned and disrespected Sixers’ faithful, who have been the laughingstock of the NBA for too long. We also write this article for our larger-than-life subject. Never has an article meant this much to us, and never have we been so excited to write about someone. We hope you enjoy this emotional and spiritual unpacking of Joel Embiid, the man, the myth, and the legend.

The Man

Perhaps the most salient personification of our savior Sam Hinkie’s “The Process,” Joel Embiid defies description more than any figure in the history of sports. He is a dark chocolate thunder god amongst mere mortals. With every tweet and each soundbite, Embiid renders Sixers and sports fans alike collectively speechless. With a mere 140 characters, he effortlessly and unintentionally adds to the depths of human consciousness. Embiid is undoubtedly the most polarizing athlete to never play a game of the sport in which he was drafted to take part.

The No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Embiid was the consensus No. 1 before a foot injury caused him to fall to the Philadelphia 76ers. Many people—albeit ignorant, uniformed, and decidedly anti-Process—denigrated the pick as the ultimate representation of tanking: a wealth of potential, yet no guarantee of it ever amounting to anything. However, after two long years, the wait for Sixers fans may finally be over: Embiid is on track to play in the 2016 season opener.

Please excuse us while we go change our underwear.

So, who exactly is Joel Embiid the man?

He’s a 7-foot, 250-pound beast who just might be amazing at basketball.

But even if he never steps on the court, Embiid has already won over a plethora of fans and teammates with his eccentric personality and absurd off-court antics. Whether it be arm-wrestling Justin Bieber, calling Vampire Diaries his favorite TV show, or most recently, making this savage block against the top prospect on Chad Ford’s 2025 big board, Embiid has become a divisive figure even though he’s never even played a single game in the NBA.

Feeding the frenzy are the few videos that have surfaced of Embiid playing what is technically considered basketball. The brouhaha isn’t unfounded, though. If this video, in particular, doesn’t take you from six to midnight, nothing will. We understand it’s an assistant coach who’s about a foot shorter than Embiid, but those moves are sexy enough to get every woman in the surrounding area pregnant.

Through the above tactics, Embiid has amassed over 414,000 followers on Twitter. To put that number into perspective, Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls superstar and recent gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympic games, has just 402,000 followers. Both players joined Twitter back in 2011.

Butler simply doesn’t understand how to use the site to its full potential, unlike Embiid, who milks Twitter like it’s his personal cow. Embiid’s Twitter fame really gained traction in 2014, when he tried to pick up Kim Kardashian by asking her to “slide in his DM’s.” (For those over 30, “DM” is short for direct message.) We aren’t sure if Embiid himself knew what he meant by “slide in his DM’s,” but a legend was born that fateful day.

Shortly thereafter, it was brought to his attention by another Twitter user that Kimmy K was already married to Kanye West, so, with a palpable respect for the institution of marriage, Embiid immediately and unsentimentally shifted his focus to a different celebrity: Rihanna.

Embiid asked Ri-Ri on a date and even photo-shopped a picture of her in his jersey (never mind the fact that he himself had never actually worn said jersey). Regrettably, Rihanna broke his and the world’s hearts as nothing ever became of Embiid’s possibly romantic-in-certain-circles, yet definitely creepy-in-all-circles proposal.

However, while he may have been unsuccessful with the date, Embiid at least planted the seed as Rihanna ended up following him on Twitter. Baby steps. Embiid clearly appreciates the long-game, understanding that it’s about the war, not the battle. Once he becomes a superstar and 15-time NBA champion, we’re sure Rihanna will regret her decision more than Ryan Lochte’s mother has undoubtedly come to regret giving birth to him.

Furthermore, demonstrating the businessman sechel of a seasoned marketer, Embiid has also used his Twitter account as a recruiting tool, trying to lure both Lebron and Kevin Durant to the Sixers. Although he has thus far been unsuccessful, utilizing recruiting techniques more unorthodox than Michael Jackson’s babysitting methods, Sixers brass has to be pleased with his willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to make the Sixers great again. They also must be relieved that he hasn’t been diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome given all the tweeting he does and his propensity for strange injury causes.

Ultimately, there is no question that Embiid is well-liked among his teammates and other NBA players, so should he become a dominant force in the league, his affable personality, and rare skill-set could eventually help lure free agents to Philadelphia. Even if the sky should fall and Philly’s very own 7-foot Chicken Little never sets foot on the court of the Wells Fargo Center, we are supremely confident that that won’t be the last we hear of Joel Embiid.

The Myth

At this point in time, Joel Embiid is equivalent to the business idea that you just invested your entire life savings into: you’ll either become a self-made multi-millionaire or you’ll become Mike Tyson— biting a chunk out of someone’s ear like it’s a ribeye steak, declaring bankruptcy, tattooing a tribal symbol over your eye, and appearing in the Hangover film series, not to gain notoriety, but to simply make ends meet.

Embiid has an incredible skill-set with the potential to be the greatest two-way player of all time.

Yes, we said it; we meant it, and we’re here to represent it.

Before his foot injuries, Embiid flew up the draft boards and was the consensus No. 1 pick in what was already thought to be an extremely stacked draft class. He climbed ahead of Kansas teammate and teen phenom Andrew Wiggins and Duke superstar Jabari Parker. He was advertised as a 19-year-old with Hakeem-like footwork, a fluid jump shot, and elite defense and athleticism. How many 7-foot players can do THIS and make it look so effortless?

While the potential is clearly there, the million-dollar question is whether or not Embiid will be able to stay healthy enough for the world to witness his greatness. In the wake of his two navicular bone surgeries and the Sixers’ drafting of Jahlil Okafor after Nerlens Noel and Embiid, many have questioned “The Process” (and yes, that phrase will continue to appear in quotes because it’s a mystical concept not of this world that will lead the Sixers to 15 straight championships.) However, the bottom line is that former general manager Sam Hinkie took the best player available in each individual draft, and the Okafor/Noel center combination has been a good insurance policy if Embiid is ultimately unable to play basketball.

However, despite these health concerns, there is no question that the Sixers are heavily invested in Embiid and believe he can live up to the hype. This past season, he took two separate trips to Aspetar, a sports medicine hospital in Qatar, to receive treatment on his foot.

Why Qatar? Well, you wouldn’t send gam-gam to a black market organ dealer for a new kidney, would you?

Aspetar is as avant-garde as it gets in the field of sports science, and many star athletes, including many European league soccer players, have visited to rehabilitate and receive treatment. While it now appears as though the Sixers were just being cautious and trying to provide their big man with access to some of the best physicians and treatments in the world, many members of the media questioned the timing of the visits, hypothesizing that it meant another setback had occurred. But recent practice footage and news that Embiid has been cleared for 5-on-5 scrimmaging has effectively put that rumor to bed. Embiid himself has said he is 100% ready to play. But despite his reassurances, from now until the end of his career, whether that be in 15 years or 15 days, he will be surrounded by a perpetual looming question mark regarding his health.

The Legend

When Embiid had his first setback, many questioned his commitment to the game. There were reports that he ballooned from 250 to 300 pounds and was drinking Shirley Temples (his favorite drink) by the pitcher. Many also thought that he was becoming a distraction over social media and not taking his rehabilitation seriously. In typical sensationalist fashion, the media jumped all over these stories, again declaring “The Process” a failure. But those accusations and misgivings didn’t stop Embiid from becoming the 7-foot wrecking machine he currently is. He has come back after his second rehabilitation stint looking like an absolute monster. He poked fun at the Shirley Temple reports, posting this ripped picture of himself complete with the hashtag “#ShirleyTempleDidThis.” He also paid homage to his favorite former GM and our very own Penguin Jesus, Samuel Blake Hinkie, recently, by posting this to Instagram.

RIP Sam, you died for our sins and will be reborn as a majestic phoenix when the Sixers hoist their first of 15 Larry O’Brien Trophies. You were the hero we needed, but not the one we deserved.

Once Embiid steps on the court this season, we will finally be witnesses to his greatness.

For years, scholars all over the world have wondered, “Where did Jesus go after the Resurrection?” Well, ladies and gentlemen, we found him, and he’s going to play basketball for the Philadelphia 76ers. At this point, it’s not a question of if Embiid will become the greatest ever; it’s a question of when.

When all is said and done, when the chickens have come home to roost, when the history books have been written, and after the Sixers have hung 15 championship banners in the Wells Fargo Center and Embiid has won 15 NBA Finals MVP awards, explorers will find Sam Hinkie smirking inside the Antarctic cave from whence he came screaming, “I told you so.”

And in the coming centuries, when scholars look back through the annals of basketball history and debate the greatest rivalries, they’re not going to think of Magic/Bird, Russell/Chamberlain or even Kobe/LeBron.


They’ll remember that the greatest NBA rivalry was between Joel Embiid and Joel Embiid.

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