BOSTON — Literal, physical growth was not possible for Joel Embiid, who’s joked that he’s “7-foot-2, 600 pounds.”
Personal development was doable, though.
On the morning after he was announced as the NBA’s MVP for the 2022-23 season, Embiid spoke at length about how he ascended to that honor over his nine seasons as a Sixer. And the name “Arthur” was central to the story he told.
In 2014, Embiid’s brother Arthur died after being struck by a truck while walking home from school in Cameroon.
In 2020, Embiid and his partner Anne de Paula named their first child Arthur. He launched the In Memory of Arthur initiative last year to support Philadelphia-area nonprofit organizations.
“I’d say the biggest key of it is obviously, I’m all about family,” Embiid said Wednesday. “I don’t talk about it a lot. My son I would say is probably the biggest part of it. My parents, they’ve been here from the beginning. I’m still kind of pissed at my dad because he didn’t let me start playing basketball until 15. Who knows what I could’ve been if I had started earlier. But he made the right decision. Everything happens for a reason. My mom, she doesn’t really care about all of this. She just wants me to be healthy and be able to do what I love. So they’ve been a big part of it.
“And then, obviously, my family — my fiancé. Arthur … losing my brother and then giving his name to my son meant a lot. My son is the reason why I’m really sitting here. When I found out we were having a kid, I just remember I was like, ‘I’ve got to be a great role model and I’ve got to set a good example. I want him to understand that his dad not only was pretty good, but he also worked hard and he went and took everything he wanted.’
“My whole mindset just changed. Everything about me just changed. The way I went about my business, my life, everything changed because I wanted to be a great father, set a good example.”
Embiid also expressed gratitude for many others who supported his unconventional route to MVP, including his teammates, coaches, and Luc Mbah a Moute, who invited a promising basketball novice to his camp 12 years ago.
“Improbable doesn’t mean impossible,” Embiid said. “A lot of us don’t get those opportunities to come to the US, get to go to high school, go to college, and have a chance to be on an NBA roster, let alone being an All-Star.
“I was talking to Luc. Luc is another big part of why I’m sitting here because he gave me those opportunities. It’s crazy. We were just talking about the whole journey of what it took for me to be here. It just feels amazing. Being a role model, mainly to my African people, that’s the best of all because I want us to succeed.
“For us to usually achieve something, we have to work twice as hard as everybody else. And I want them to understand that yeah, we can do it. It’s possible. You’ve just got to be a little lucky, but it’s possible. If you get these opportunities, you’ve got to just keep going and believe in your goals, and it’s going to happen.”
Embiid did not neglect “The Process,” too.
He made sure to mention former Sixers general manger Sam Hinkie, who drafted Embiid third overall in 2014 and focused on maximizing the team’s chances for long-term playoff success. The six-time All-Star also referenced the surreal scandal involving burner Twitter accounts that led Bryan Colangelo to resign as Sixers president of basketball operations in 2018.
Current Sixers general manager and former Process-era veteran power forward Elton Brand was in attendance Wednesday and got a shoutout as well.
“I think a lot of credit goes to the fans also,” Embiid said, “because they’ve been so supportive from the beginning, showing up to games even though there were seasons where we won 10 games. And E.B. hanging the banner in the locker room. I remember being pissed about it because my name was up there and I had nothing to do with it, because I’m just not a loser. I hate losing.
“But we went through a lot, whether it’s the burner accounts, my guy Sam Hinkie getting kicked out. There’s a lot that has happened that we had to go through, and I think the fans are a big part of it. They’ve always been supportive. … This is not just for me. My teammates, the whole organization, the fans, everybody played a big part in it.”
It was not surprising to hear Embiid (publicly) acknowledge that yes, regardless of whatever comments he’d previously made to the contrary, winning MVP was very meaningful to him.
“I went through a lot, and that’s just a validation that the sacrifices and everything you went through, it’s paying off in some ways,” he said. “Obviously, winning a championship is going to be way better, and we have that opportunity. But I’m just competitive.
“I want it all. I want to win everything that I can get my hands on, and everybody around me knows that. … I know I’ve always said I don’t care (about MVP), but it was just for you guys to leave me alone and not ask me questions about it. But I do care in the way that it validates all the work that you put in. And just to be sitting here, it’s amazing.”
Embiid on Wednesday repeated a favorite line when recalling his path to professional basketball: “My life is a movie.”
Clearly, Arthur plays a giant role in it.