A Global Impact | Embiid's Ascent Inspirational for African Basketball
Joel Embiid first picked up a basketball about 10 years ago.
Take as long as you need to wrap your mind around that.
His origin story with the sport is just as incredible as the skills he displays on the floor.
To mark Africa Day, we thought it would be fitting to publish a previously unreleased interview with Luc Mbah a Moute about Embiid's beginnings in basketball.
Not only are Mbah a Moute and Embiid fellow countrymen, both hailing from Cameroon, but former teammates with the 76ers as well.
And while injuries to Embiid during the early stages of his NBA career prevented the duo from ever sharing the court together, Mbah a Moute will always represent a key figure in Embiid's journey.
It was at one of Mbah a Moute's camps in Cameroon, after all, that Embiid really put himself on the map.
Check out the chat with Mbah a Moute here, or listen on the 76ers Podcast Network wherever you get your pods. Excerpts from the interview can be found below.
Brian Seltzer: You've often been cited as one of the first people to "discover" Joel. What was your first encounter with him?
Luc Mbah a Moute: We always do camps back in Cameroon, in Yaoundé, at the arena there. Two indoor courts and two outdoor courts. Pretty simple, basic camp. Just trying to help these kids grow the game in Cameroon and give back to the community that helped me. Joel was one of the campers, and that year was the year we had the most talent. Joel stood out, obviously from being one of the tallest, but definitely from being one of the guys with the most potential. He probably wasn't the best player at the camp, but if you had eyes for talent - even if you didn't - it would jump right out that this kid was great. I knew he was playing volleyball because I was following him from afar through some of the coaches we work with. He already had good footwork. His dad was a handball player. But his ability to grow, and seeing...flashes, it was like, 'Wow. How did he do that?' I had asked one of the coaches, 'Did you say this kid has been playing for six months?' He said, 'Yeah, only six months.' That just tells you how impressive he was at that time already. What he's doing now is just a continuation of how special he's been every since he picked up a basketball.
BS: Your only season with Joel in the pros was with the Sixers, in 2014-15. What do you remember about Joel and his frame of mind back then?
LMAM: That was a tough season [for him] . Obviously, being injured coming in and having all those expectations and wanting to play, but then having to sit and wait. Then, you get the news from back home about Arthur [Embiid's brother, who was killed in a car accident]. That was really tough on him. I think he did a good job. That actually motivated him to be better, do good, and look forward to playing, because Arthur was big for him. That kind of put things in perspective for him to continue to push hard because he had someone else to play for. I think his parents did a good job of being there for him, even though it was tough for them as well. He pulled through. I know it's still tough for him, but I think that really got him going, fueled his motivation. I think he used that time to get better, and really watch and observe, have a feel for what was going to be there. I think that extra year was great for him.
BS: What would Joel winning MVP mean for Cameroon, and African basketball?
LMAM: It would be great for him to win MVP. It really helps those of us who have been striving to push the game and help grow the game back in the continent, having Joel do what he's doing only helps. You see the Basketball Africa League, the NBA putting more effort into it - I think it's all due to guys like Joel because now you have a [potential] MVP from Africa who grew up there. I think he represents a lot of hope too for a lot of kids. For [my generation], it was just about playing in the NBA. For kids now in Africa, it's not playing in the NBA, but also being an NBA MVP. That's how far the hope is because he's in a position where he could do it. Now, kids in Africa are looking at it like, 'That's somebody who walked in my shoes, who's been where I've been, who came from where I came from. If he can do it, I can do it.' Anytime you have that impact on a generation of kids, that's an unbelievable impact. We're just proud, I'm sure that's how the whole country feels.