Embiid's Latest Trip Home Underscored by Sense of Appreciation, Obligation

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

In his relatively brief NBA career, Joel Embiid has never passed up the opportunity to speak fondly about his native Africa, and the genuine desire he has to grow the sport there.

Earlier this week, the budding superstar was back on the continent, returning to participate in his second straight NBA Africa Game, being held this year at Sun Arena at Time Square in Pretoria.

Unlike last August, when Embiid was still rehabbing his left knee, the big man is listed as an active member of the Team Africa roster. The group on Saturday will face a club made up of players from around the rest of the world.

Born in Cameroon, and a resident of the country until his teenage years, Embiid got one of his first introductions to hoops in 2011, through the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program. Before that year, he had never played the game.

“Being around other guys that were obviously much better than me, it was tough,” Embiid said this week on a conference call.

By the end of that weekend, though, the now fun-loving, outgoing 7-footer felt comfortable.

“I had a great time. I ended up showing my potential.”

That potential would prove to be Embiid’s ticket to a high school scholarship in the United States. His stock, of course, continued to skyrocket after that.

Come the 2014 draft, Embiid had cemented his status as a consensus top-three prospect.

Four years later, the 24-year old was not only tabbed an All-Star starter, but selected to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams. He finished his second season with averages of 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 3.2 assists, while hitting 66 3-pointers.

Between the heads Embiid has turned with his on-court dominance, and the more than four and a half million combined followers he’s aggregated on Instagram and Twitter, Embiid is very much cognizant of his swelling stature, and the responsibility tied to it.

He views his involvement in the NBA Africa Game 2018, and the community outreach activities surrounding it, as a means of paying things forward, especially for future generations.

“I feel [it’s] a way for me to kind of give back, and show them how it’s done,” said Embiid, who hopes to continue making annual visits to Africa for as long as he can. “At the same time, it’s also a way for me to grow the game of basketball in Africa. I feel like we have a lot of talent, undiscovered talent, that can have a chance just like I did. They just need an opportunity.”

Embiid, for certain, has gripped his own opportunity by the throat. The ability he’s displayed in 102 career appearances has been undeniable.

In addition to doing some traveling, the center has spent a good portion of the summer in Los Angeles, where, along with other NBA peers, he’s focused on fine-tuning his transformative skill set.

Despite his impressive 2017-2018 campaign, Embiid believes he’s capable of doing more. 

“I feel like I have everything, I just need to be more consistent,” he said, when asked about his off-season work.

For the first time since turning pro, Embiid has been healthy in the summer.

“I’ve already gotten so much better. It’s just about working on everything, perfecting everything, like my 3-point shot or ball handling.

“You can also say I’m kind of new to the game. I’m still learning a lot. I feel like I have a lot of potential, a lot of stuff to show.”

Nearly three months have passed since the 76ers’ playoff run ended with a second-round loss to the Boston Celtics. Embiid still maintains one of his goals for next season is to be named the top player in the league.

His personal ambition comes with collective interests in mind.

“I want to win the MVP. I feel like at the end of the day, it might be an individual award, but when I play better, the team also does. I feel like if I’m an MVP candidate or if I win the MVP, that means we’re on another level.”

With the days before training camp beginning to dwindle, Embiid seems confident the Sixers did enough this summer to build off their breakthrough 52-win season.

During last year’s stretch run, which featured a record-setting 16-game win streak, the club started to believe it had a chance to reach the Finals.  

“I feel we had the right pieces,” said Embiid.

Moving forward, the Sixers’ mindset is going to stay the same. Confident, and aspirational. 

“The approach doesn’t change,” he said. “Still the same. We’re just going to do our thing.”

Saturday’s NBA Africa Game is scheduled to tip at 11:00 AM EST, and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

Pictures courtesy of Getty Images.