He’s massive. He can shoot. He’s all but mastered Hakeem’s Dream Shake (seven years after he started playing). He’s better at Twitter than even the coolest of teens. And if he can stay healthy, you’re going to be watching him run the NBA for a long time.
Joel Embiid is one of the 10 athletes who’ve got next: doing damage already, but biding their time to fill the shoes of the 50 Greatest Living Athletes.
Three weeks before the 2017 NBA season starts, Joel Embiid, potential savior of the Philadelphia 76ers’, trustee of The Process, and noted lover of Shirley Temples, has traded his favorite sugary drink for a healthier snack. He holds an apple in his hand—one of three he brings to this interview—which looks more like an egg or a walnut. If he tweeted out a picture of him palming this Red Delicious—“An apple a day #trusttheprocess”—it’d probably go viral, since just about everything Joel Embiid does goes viral: the stone cold stoicism when he got drafted third overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, thanks to a tape delay; his courting of Rihanna—a saga that belongs in whatever museum we build for Best Tweets; more recently, poking fun at Kevin Durant’s burner accounts, running through the streets of Philadelphia, Rocky-style, and starting a very fun beef with Hassan Whiteside.
And though it’s remarkable that a Cameroonian kid who didn’t know much English seven years ago is now better at the Internet than anyone in the NBA, it’s not quite as remarkable as the fact that a Cameroonian kid who didn’t play organized basketball until seven years ago is the future of the NBA. But if we know him for the former that’s because, unfortunately, Embiid’s career has been more Internet gold than basketball majesty. Drafted out of Kansas in 2014, he was the crown jewel of then-GM Sam Hinkie’s “Trust the Process” rebuilding program (translated, it means: Trust that the best way to go from .500ish Team to Playoff Contender is a multi-year stop at NBA Doormat, to accumulate draft picks). But Embiid had to sit out the first two seasons with injuries. Last season, his third, he finally played thirty-one games and looked magnificent. So magnificent it made the punchline Sixers a must-watch team, and made The Process look….genius. Then Embiid got hurt again, done for the season.
But man, those 31 games! And then this preseason! He showed why he’s the most mythical of all the unicorns in the NBA’s stable. He’s a seven-footer—he claims he’s 6’11”—who’s bulky enough to dominate in the post, smooth enough to shoot the elbow jumper (or the deep three), and somehow coordinated enough to have developed a lethal Dirk Nowitzki impression. Oh, and this bears repeating: He’s only been doing this for seven years—four, really, discounting the time lost to injury.
When you—and fans on League Pass accounts the world over—watch him in tomorrow’s 76ers home opener, it’ll be with that voice in the back of your head: This is incredible. And this could end at any second—again. Which makes basketball’s most unique talent all that more breathtaking. Joel Embiid will be one of the NBA’s greats, unless he’s one of its great what-ifs.
So, while waiting for—and trusting—The Process to work its magic, we should really just sit back and appreciate this phenom budding before our eyes.
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