(Full disclosure: This interview was conducted on Feb. 10, but was unable to be released at the time due to an agreement with Jolly Ranchers to wait until the ad went public.)
Joel Embiid took part in just 31 games in his rookie season, and while his production on the floor brought him plenty of acclaim, his off the court hijinks have certainly played just as big a role in making him one of the NBA’s biggest names.
His social media accounts display a personality that exceeds his seven-foot-two frame, one that makes him a mainstay in the limelight.
But under the bright lights of his Jolly Ranchers’ commercial shoot (which was also Embiid’s first ever commercial) he struggled to channel the jovial side most Sixers fans typically see from the 22-year-old. Ten hours after the shoot ends, he’ll be dancing shirtless on stage to Future’s Wicked at the Meek Mill concert while Meek and 15,000 spectators cheer him on. But for the time being, he’s having a hard time letting loose.
Embiid is the second athlete (Todd Gurley was the first) to take part in Jolly Ranchers’ "Being A Rookie Sucks" ad spot as a part of their "Keep On Sucking" campaign. Needless to say, he’s been through a lot of sucky situations, a torn meniscus in his right knee presenting a new challenge in what has been a young career filled with unfortunate ailments.
He has heard about his laundry list of injuries for four years now, and this shoot is no different. The original idea was for Embiid to be introduced into a game by a faux public address announcer who instead of just providing the typical player information also riddles off his history of foot problems, to which Embiid is supposed to physically express his displeasure. A few weeks after the shooting, the Sixers announced he would miss the rest of the season, so the Jolly Ranchers’ team chose to adapt the commercial to his latest injury.
For whatever reason, Embiid’s struggled to get into character early on. After 15 or so takes and some coaching from the director, something finally clicked.
"And now, hailing from Cameroon," the P.A. announcer hollered. "Drafted in 2014 but didn’t play that year because his big gigantic foot had a big gigantic owie!"
At this point, Embiid began to gesticulate wildly, limbs flailing from side to side as he attempted to get the announcer to knock it off.
"Only to miss his entire second year with more foot related boo-boos..."
Raw emotion took over for Embiid, who under his breath (accidentally) murmured, "shut up!"
"The center with a rookie season that lasted longer than a Jolly Rancher candy...number 21...Joel ‘The Process’ Embiid!"
Embiid shot the announcer a cold glare, and then stood up from his seat like he was going to enter the game. At the scene’s conclusion, he plopped back in his chair, immediately bursting into laughter over the ridiculousness of both the situation and his acting. The goofy fan favorite had finally emerged from the shadows of Widener University’s gym. From that point on, the rest of the day was a breeze.
"I thought I did great today," Embiid said when asked if he saw more acting in his future. "I want to get into that part of the business more."
Seeing how his first on-screen appearance went, there should be more acting opportunities for him down the line, hopefully after an elongated basketball career. Despite having his season cut short due to injury, Embiid discussed how important just being able to get on the court was for him.
"One thing I said to myself when I was finally able to play was just go out there and have fun. That’s the main thing I’ve been able to do -- have fun, and embrace the fans and the city."
Having fun has also translated to his Twitter and Instagram accounts, and his activities have ranged from clowning supermodels and Chandler Parsons to putting together a legendary recruiting pitch to become an NBA All-Star starter. One could call him a loose cannon on social media, but it’s part of what makes him so special, and he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.
"One of these days it’s gonna backfire. Until that day comes I’m gonna keep on going," he said.
Embiid did note that nobody from the coaching staff or the front office has approached him about toning it down a little bit, but even if they wanted him to, it wouldn’t be smart to try and censor him.
"One thing you don’t want to do is change me," he said. "I know what my limits are, I know where I gotta stop and where I can keep going. I think that’s where I’ve grown mentally over the past two or three years."
Embiid in his purest form is also a damn good basketball player. Although the sample size isn’t as big as the typical first-year player, he’s the only rookie in NBA history to average over 20 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, two assists and shoot over 35 percent from three. That’s an elite level talent, and one that is probably deserving of the Rookie of the Year crown, despite being pushed for the award by Malcolm Brogdon and teammate Dario Saric.
Embiid would obviously be honored to win the award, but he acknowledged that his impressive campaign wouldn’t be possible without the help of those around him.
"Being Rookie of the Year -- one of the best new comers in the league -- is always great, but we got to give it to my teammates. The coaches and my teammates make sure I’m being put in a great situation to succeed," he said.
Embiid’s last game of the season was quite the way to go out. He returned after a three game absence to take on James Harden’s Houston Rockets on national television, and went off for 33 points (4-6 from three), seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and three steals. Harden sung Embiid’s praises after the game, labeling him the NBA’s "most skilled big man", and after the Cameroonian youngster posterized the Brazilian Nenê to start his evening, the 14-year veteran also had kind things to say.
"[Nenê] was just talking to me the whole game, just telling me to keep working and stay humble telling me how special I can be," Embiid recalled.
"So it’s just about staying humble and keep working."
While he rehabs his injured knee, Embiid will have plenty of time to admire his work for Jolly Ranchers, and get in some extra tweets. Once October comes around, his attention will certainly turn to staying healthy, and continuing his domination of the NBA.
(Thanks to Luke Beebe and Ponder Films for their assistance in shooting/editing the video.)