Joel Embiid: ‘I pretended my way to the NBA'


It’s been a quiet summer by Joel Embiid’s standards.

Yes, he traveled back to Africa to help showcase the NBA abroad and had some fun on the local playgrounds, because why not? We were treated to a brief glimpse of Jojo trash talking the NBA’s next generation at Drew Hanlen’s infamous practice runs out in Los Angeles. Oh, and he dominated some hot wings. But Sixers fans have been missing more regular updates from the most entertaining man in Philly sports.

Joel opted against the brevity of his tweets and Instagram locations for a more lengthy "story time" article on the Players’ Tribune in which he details some of his greatest hits, like learning to shoot from watching regular white people on YouTube, to being a deer in headlights when he first arrived to play basketball in the United States and later again at Kansas.

Embiid starts out by telling the audience how his life is like a movie and honestly it’s tough to argue with him. His life and story really would make a magical movie.

One of the anecdotes from the Players' Tribune piece that I found most interesting was his mother's importance on Joel studying and being a good student. Embiid takes a couple shots at schooling in America and how it’s tougher in Cameroon. To me, it’s a telling anecdote that helps give an understanding of why the Joel we see today is so smart and such a master of social media.

No, the reason I couldn’t watch the NBA is because my mom was super, super strict about school. She didn’t play around. I could never stay up to watch the games. Every single day it was: Wake up, eat, go to school from seven to five, run home and take a nap, wake up and eat dinner, then study until like midnight. I’m telling you — school is too easy in America, man. In Cameroon, it’s crazy. Elementary school is like college. I didn’t even have any friends because all I ever did was sleep and do homework.

I think another thing worth noting about Joel’s story is how much he struggled with the game of basketball at first. He talks about classmates making fun of him in both high school and college and how he wanted to quit and walk away from the game and go back home to Africa. But hard work got him through. Some encouraging words from his idol Kobe Bryant years later surely didn’t hurt. Embiid’s body was a god-given gift, but his skill on the basketball court he had to work for.

I was basically just imagining that I was a good basketball player. The power of the mind is kind of amazing. I mean, I sucked. But somehow, I convinced myself that I was Hakeem. And I started getting better and better. And then I sort of started killing it.

I pretended my way to the NBA. I seriously got to the league by watching YouTube and living in the gym. There’s no other way to explain it.

Finally, Joel Embiid says the first time he saw an NBA game was the 2009 NBA Finals between the Magic and the Lakers. Think about that. I’ve been writing these dumb blog posts since before Joel Embiid had even seen an NBA game. That’s wild. And now he’s the biggest, baddest, most friendly center in the league. Anything is indeed possible.

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