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Joel Embiid is the Future, But Demands Your Attention Now

His rookie campaign is momentous. Take notice while you can.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

11 years ago, a past-his-commercial-peak Adam Sandler starred in a movie entitled Click. Here’s the gist of it: Sandler, a workaholic father and husband, receives a magical universal remote that can fast-forward and rewind his reality. He uses it for dumb things one would imagine happen over the course of an Adam Sandler movie in 2006. There’s a bunch of slapstick hijinks where Sandler’s character skips over seemingly trivial family time, dinners, chores, etc., in the hopes of getting his architectural work done sooner. It’s pretty forgettable, however, but the movie progresses and takes a dark turn.

The remote starts fast-forwarding uncontrollably, to the point where he’s skipping over years of times with his two children, his wife and his father. He’s physically present for these events, ones that eventually lead to his wife divorcing him, his children becoming unattached to him and his father passing away, but mentally skips over them. He’s achieved all that he’s wanted in his professional life, but he’s lost his wife, the love of his children and his father in the process. Sandler’s character realizes that it’s the seemingly insignificant parts of family life that make it so worthwhile. He eventually dies as the remote keeps skipping forward, but not before he can relay to his neglected loved ones that family should always be their top priority. This movie was marketed towards kids for some reason.

The 76ers community is always so focused on the future: What prospects are at the top of your big board? When’s the lottery party? When does the Lakers pick convey? When’s Furkan Korkmaz coming over? When’s Ben Simmons going to make his debut? What will the starting five be on their first playoff team? It’s been like this for almost four years now. Even in the wayward decade that preceded that, including Allen Iverson at the very end of his prime and various misfires at contention, there was no hope for those Sixers. Hope has been the only thing keeping the team’s fans afloat since that fateful draft night in 2013 where everything about the franchise’s direction flipped.

Philadelphia was sold upon a plan that would bring the city a franchise-altering superstar, one who would lift the city to heights unseen since Julius Erving was flying around the court during a run that saw the Sixers make four NBA Finals in a seven-year period after the ABA-NBA merger of 1976, culminating in Erving and Moses Malone driving down Broad Street in a parade float in 1983. The team has now found their best two-way player since Malone’s “Fo, Fo, Fo”-filled MVP campaign that season in Joel Embiid.

While Embiid has looked phenomenal just 25 games into his career, the focus is still on the future with the Cameroonian. Will he make the All-Star team? Will he be named Rookie of the Year? Is he the next David Robinson? Hakeem Olajuwon? A mixture of both? Potential seems limitless for a 7’2”, 280-pound man with the deft footwork of a soccer player whose offensive arsenal seems equal parts Admiral and Dream, but with a consistent three-point stroke as “the cherry on the cake.”

I have what would be categorized as an overactive imagination. Countless scenarios have consumed my daydreaming with this team over the years and especially recently with Embiid’s transformative play. I think of Ben Simmons and Embiid running a pick-and-roll that results in a crunch time alley-oop slam that sends the Sixers to their first Finals since 2001, much like Kobe Bryant’s iconic lob to Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. My head’s filled with visions of Simmons feeding Embiid in this high-post, as he shakes Karl-Anthony Towns all the way to Manayunk before hitting a Finals-winning jumper just over Towns’ outstretched fingers.

This imaginative fun is awesome, but it takes away from how fun the Sixers are with Embiid at this very moment. He barely plays half of each game, but every movement around the court seems to revolve around him once he steps on it. People go to medical school for a time longer than Embiid has spent playing basketball in his life, but it’s as if he gets exponentially better at the sport by the game. And he’s already destroying worlds. Right now. The Sixers play the Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis tonight. It could be the most fun game of the year in a season that’s already done wonders to erase the countless losses of the last few years from my mind.

Joel Embiid will never be as pure as he is right now. The Sixers are (positively) at the center of the basketball universe for the first time in over a decade because of his otherworldly array of talents. His hilarious antics are still fresh: his goofy faces during post-game interviews, his very public courting of one of the biggest pop stars in the world in Rihanna, his fake Donald Trump endorsement tweet, his motions to pump up the crowd as tens of thousands of people chant, “Trust the Process!” as he steps to the free throw line.

He’s on pace to be the most self-aware superstar of the era. His social media presence, from his soliciting All-Star votes from Sam Hinkie (and getting them!) to Instagram Live videos where he lives streams team bowling outings and calls both Simmons and Chandler Parsons virgins, is unparalleled for a player of his caliber.

Someday, however, people will ruin Embiid’s outsized personality. The talking heads will spit fire about how he should focus more on winning, more on refining his game, more on being a better teammate than being a 7’2” fun-loving goofball. Some abrasive prick looking to fill a segment of his daily TV show will start questioning Embiid’s game. Is he really that good? What has he won so far in his career? Will he ever win a championship? He’ll be torn down, built up and torn right back down ad nauseam, as every great player is when he’s trying to make the jump from elite to immortal.

One critique of The Process, one that I agreed with given some perspective, is that a fan couldn’t simply plop down on their couch and watch the Sixers on any given night and root for a win. The plan was designed for the opposite to happen. They were built to lose. I get that. Imagine a parent coming home from a long, arduous day at work who puts the kids to bed early and tries to watch some basketball for two-and-a-half hours as liberation from the world. Or maybe someone’s personal life has gone to shit and they’re looking for just a momentary release from their troubles. Sixers teams for the last few years and, really, for even longer than that, couldn’t provide such escapist delights.

Joel Embiid, in all of his dream-shaking, constant-tweeting magic, can be all of that now, not next year, nor the one after, but tonight, when he takes the floor for the Sixers. There’s no need to fast-forward to whatever acclaim Embiid’s future holds for him when the world is already his for the taking.

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