Boy, the 2017-2018 Philadelphia 76ers season was fun.
You know what was really fun? The Joel Embiid/Russell Westbrook Beef.
“Every search for a hero must begin with something every hero needs, a villain.” - Rade Šerbedžija as Dr. Nekhorvich in “Mission: Impossible 2”
(Admittedly, I could’ve chose a better quote, but I’m actually really excited for “Mission: Impossible - Fallout”, so judge me if you must.)
For the last two seasons, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook hasn’t been too popular with Sixers faithful. In researching this piece, not one thing really stood out as a moment where Sixers fans collectively should have responded with “Eff that guy.”
Theoretically, you could point to the October 27, 2016 game where Westbrook was flipped the bird by a fan in the first few rows of the Wells Fargo Center. This led to one of my favorite “Who’s mans is this” memes of the last five years:
During that game -- a 103-97 loss -- Joel Embiid had 20 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes of play. Nothing special except it being his first game in a Sixers uniform, but for whatever reason, Embiid became the hero we both needed and deserved against Russell Westbrook.
Embiid didn’t face Westbrook again until December 15th of this season. His rookie season ended after 31 games, and he was absent during the Sixers 122-97 loss at Oklahoma City on March 22, 2017. The fireworks started towards the end of the game.
The Sixers center was having a dominant night against the Thunder finishing with 34 points, eight rebounds, and six assists shooting 11/20 from the field. With the Thunder up two with two minutes to go, center Steven Adams picked up his sixth foul. Embiid had some funzies at Adams’s expense with a little waving to the crowd. That’s totally harmless, right?
Not when Russell Westbrook plays for the same team and ranks pretty high on the “Is that player petty?” scale. Remember when Oklahoma City faced Golden State for the first time after Kevin Durant left to join the Warriors? In a 121-100 loss, teams were exchanging pleasantries after the game when Enes Kanter walked over to give dap to Durant. Westbrook put the kibosh on that right away saying “Don’t say what’s up to that female dog, butt, unflattering word for an African-American.” (This is a PG-rated blog, after all, folks. I won’t get TOO precise. If you want the full transcript, just Google it.)
Yeah, Westbrook is a little petty. His response?
After the Thunder eventually won that three overtime affair 119-117, Westbrook waved to Embiid as he went back to the locker room. What happened next was pretty glorious as it was the birth of the beef.
When asked what Westbrook was waving about, he explained that he was telling Embiid to “go home” -- which is a little funny to do considering the Sixers were at home, already. Embiid’s response to Westbrook’s antics was simple, poignant, and hilarious all at the same time:
“He (Westbrook) shot like 10-33. I wish I would’ve shot 33 times.”
Fasten your seatbelts, folks. We’ve got beef. The next time these two see each other will be World War 3, 4, and 5 all wrapped up in one must-see TV experience. Thankfully, everyone only had to wait a month.
The Sixers played the Thunder in Oklahoma City on January 28th. It didn’t take long for the Embiid/Westbrook beef to take on a new shape:
That is Joel Embiid “Hammer of Thor”-dunking on Russell Westbrook splitting his atoms across multiple galaxies and dimensions. This happened before “Avengers: Infinity War” came out, but I believe that Westbrook went to the bench after that thinking, “I don’t feel so good.”
The whole thing was incredible. The dunk was legendary. The stare-down by Embiid as Westbrook contemplated the meaning of life on the floor of the Chesapeake Energy Arena was A++. What followed was fun to watch as it seems like Westbrook had a bounty on Embiid like Buddy Ryan in 1989.
Westbrook got a bounty on Embiid for posterizing him ALL HANDS ON DECK WE GOT A WAR pic.twitter.com/SwP3xAhIJM— Sherwob Holmes (@World_Wide_Wob) January 28, 2018
Embiid and the Sixers lost that game in Oklahoma City 122-112, but the next phase of this beef had begun. The next chapter came a few weeks later at the NBA All-Star game. There was a new format in the All-Star Game -- which can be amazing if they televise who gets picked by which captains. This year it was “Team Lebron James” vs. “Team Steph Curry”. Embiid and Westbrook were on opposing teams.
The basketball gods have shined on us, once again.
With four minutes to go in the first half, Embiid received a pass about 26 feet from the basket. Westbrook was guarding him. Did Embiid pass? No. Did Embiid try to take Westbrook to the hole? Nope. Embiid decided to launch it from that distance rainbow style and drained a three pointer in Westbrook’s eye cavities.
In transition, Westbrook decided to challenge Embiid at the rim on the other end. That didn’t end well for Westbrook, either as Embiid swatted his lay-up attempt.
Embiid takes the Westbrook feud very seriously, even in the All-Star Game. pic.twitter.com/uhkGshhCYf— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) February 19, 2018
Here’s a side note on the block that I never noticed until now. Embiid STARED DOWN Westbrook after blocking him! This beef is incredible.
Embiid was asked about what his favorite moment was during the All-Star Game, and Embiid joked:
“Blocking Westbrook’s shot. I’m just kidding.”
Westbrook was asked what he thought of Embiid’s first All-Star Game appearance, and Westbrook said, “I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Ok, Russ. Sure.
Oklahoma City and the Sixers had their seasons ended in different ways. The Thunder lost in the first round to the Utah Jazz four games to two, and everyone knows how the Sixers finished (second round bouncing at the hands of the Boston Celtics).
This Embiid/Westbrook beef is real, and it’s real fun. The obvious next evolution in the rivalry is if free agent forward Paul George leaves Oklahoma City and Westbrook to join Embiid, Simmons, and the Sixers.
Now that this whole meshugenah Bryan Colangelo situation is over, we can look forward to the possibility of seeing the next stage in this beef. If that happens, the first Thunder/Sixers game is going to be the equivalent of any well-hyped boxing, wrestling, or MMA match. It’s going to be incredible.