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Casting the Joel Embiid Biopic

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It’s about time.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Over the years, Joel Embiid has made no bones about it: he feels his life is like a movie. He has opined on the topic consistently, most recently in the lede to his firsthand look through the rearview mirror for The Players’ Tribune. He’s been saying it for years:

It’s hard to argue with him. From playing volleyball in Cameroon, to playing basketball at 16 years old under the stewardship of Luc Mbah a Moute, to Montverde, to Kansas, to Twitter, to Philadelphia, to Rihanna’s DMs, to breaking his back, to breaking his foot, to breaking his foot again, to Qatar, to the All-Star game — listen, there’s a lot. One movie might not be enough. We may need a Lord of the Rings-esque series of films to truly and properly tell the story. But for the purpose of this exercise, let’s plan for one.

Let’s take a look at some key casting options and plot points for the wholly inevitable Joel Embiid Biopic.


Young Joel Embiid

While the final product of this movie could end up having a nonlinear, 500-Days-of-Summer sort of storytelling conceit, it’s best we start at the beginning for this casting Process. The beginning, for our purposes, figures to feature a tall, lanky, teenaged Joel Embiid.

For this role, we need a young actor who can believably play volleyball very well and play basketball not very well. The actor must have the range to dominate on the volleyball court, grow excited by the prospect of a new sport in scenes with LMAM (stay tuned), and regale his new American classmates with tall tales of lion slaying. He needs a glint in his eye, a charm, a joie de vivre, so to speak.


The Verdict: Kwame Boateng

He would need to ‘play younger,’ but Boateng has the range to pull off all of the aforementioned prerequisites. Take a look at the ‘Scott’s Tots’ episode of The Office to see the young actor show off an impressive combination of comedy and poignancy.

Luc Mbah a Moute

For this role, we need an actor both compassionate enough to be the Berry Gordy to our Diana Ross, while being athletic enough to bear a passing resemblance to an early-2000s NBA wing. While not being a huge part (somewhere between 10-15 on the call sheet, probably), this is a pivotal role that heavily impacts the hero’s journey of our Joel.


The Verdict: Winston Duke

Coming off his star-making role as M’Baku in Black Panther, Duke’s profile is rising by the day, so it’s best we reach out sooner rather than later. Obviously a highly skilled actor, he also fits the physical profile we’re looking for (standing 6’5”) and is young enough to pass for Luc circa 2010.

Present-Day Joel Embiid


The Verdict: Joel Embiid

C’mon.

Sam Hinkie

This, as you can imagine, is as loaded as casting decision as we’ll have to make. Like, how did they cast Jesus in movies about Jesus? Maybe that’s extreme. Maybe it’s not? I digress. For this role we need someone analytical, yet endearing. Someone who can depict a man pursuing a clear vision so divisive that it fractures the collective groupthink of the majority of his constituents. Someone to play the smartest person in the room with a slight southern drawl. We need someone Marcus Hayes would hate.


The Verdict: Bob Odenkirk

Odenkirk, along with having the right look, seems to have the unassuming quality we’re looking for in this role. He can obviously handle the lighter fare (digging at Howard Eskin when the opportunity strikes), but he can also play it straight. I, for one, could buy a reclusive Bob Odenkirk taking part in a post-credits, surreptitious meeting with Joel to tease movie-goers into salivating over a sequel. Will Sam be back for part II after his ouster? I should get a real job.

Brett Brown

For Brett, we need a middle-aged man who can pull off silver hair, a New England accent, and likability in droves. He needs to have the latitude to time and again charm the media in the midst of impossible situations, while being compassionate enough to drape himself in a hood the day the Sixers trade Nerlens Noel, as a means to hide his tears.


The Verdict: John Slattery

Slattery fits the bill pretty seamlessly here. He’s an accomplished actor with a breadth of diverse roles from which to draw. He’s got the hair, he’s done the accent (in 2015’s Spotlight) and seems congenial enough to pull it off.

Ben Simmons

Once we reach the denouement of our epic, it will be imperative to join our hero with his running mate, as they help each other ascend to unexpected heights in the spring of 2018. Enter Ben Simmons. To play the 6’10” virtuoso point guard, we’ll need an actor with an ‘eff you’ attitude on the court accompanied with a sly smile when confronted physically. Sadly, those with thick Australian accents need not apply.


The Verdict: Mehcad Brooks

So, unfortunately, most of my favorites for this role (Common, Rick Fox) have aged out of the opportunity to play a 20-year-old NBA rookie. Brooks isn’t much different (he’s 38), but we’ll have to make do. He’s got plenty of experience playing an athlete, as he did on USA’s Necessary Roughness. Also, according to this website I’d never heard of, Brooks was an all-state high school basketball standout in Texas. He also played a basketball player in the 2006 feature Glory Road. Enough experience and acumen for me. Sign him up.

Hassan Whiteside

In addition to unrelenting injuries and the ravenous Philadelphia sports media, our hero needs a villain personified. Maybe someone who has bumped heads with Joel both on and off the court? Someone his size. Someone polarizing. Someone Joel must conquer in his first playoff series. Hassan Whiteside is the villain for our story.


The Verdict: Sidney Faison

What may be an unfamiliar name to most should ring a bell once the proper context is supplied: Faison played the infamous Ty Crain in 2005’s Coach Carter. And sure, he hasn’t done much acting before or since that role — but no matter. Faison has experience playing an infuriating, antagonizing big man in a basketball movie. That’s good enough for me.


So that’s our main cast: Embiid, Boateng, Duke, Odenkirk, Slattery, Brooks, and Faison.

Some bonus casting decisions:

  • Anne de Paula as Anne de Paula
  • Jason Momoa as Steven Adams (for Jo’s first pro game)
  • Laura Dern as Barbara Bottini.

Somebody get A24 on the horn.