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Let’s Talk about Joel Embiid’s Maturity

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... because apparently we have to.

Philadelphia 76ers v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Wednesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers lost their second game in a row on their road trip. After Furkan’s game-winner defeated the Trail Blazers in Portland, the Sixers lost to the Phoenix Suns behind a 40-point game from Devin Booker. They followed that up with a 106-104 loss in Utah against the Jazz.

The Sixers were without Joel Embiid in both Portland and Phoenix, and he returned to action Wednesday night. Embiid dropped 27 points and 16 rebounds, but Bojan Bogdanović continues to haunt this team for reasons I can’t figure out. His 3 with 1:39 to go put the Jazz up five after Tobias Harris sunk one of two free throws ten seconds before to cut a once 13-point lead to two.

I wish I could talk about Josh Richardson’s best offensive performance as a Sixer: 24 points on 13 shots, plus/minus of plus-11.

I wish I could talk about Ben Simmons’ shoulder injury and how that particular part of the body causes PTSD-triggering among Sixers fans.

Nope. I can’t do any of that because as I walked out of my local Wawa with an old-fashioned glazed donut and a pack of Peanut Chews (breakfast of champions), I saw the back of the Philadelphia Daily News. Of course, it came complete with a column featuring the following headline:

Joel Embiid can grow up and reboot his Sixers image after suspension. Will he?”

Jesus Christ. This again!?!

Of course, I had to read the column. You can by clicking here if you really want to. (I wouldn’t recommend it without at least 30 minutes of preemptive meditation.)

Hayes’ column stems from the two-game suspension Embiid received after his fight (or whatever that was) with Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns last week. You know the story. Embiid and Towns tangle. Towns swings (even though Hayes says he flails). Sorry, Marcus. That was a swing, my guy. In most parts of Philadelphia, that’s a swing. Embiid goes for the Ric Flair thumb-in-the-eye move. Simmons wrestles Towns to the ground. Towns taps out.

After the game, Embiid quoted fellow teammate Mike Scott beautifully, but what followed was a middle of the night Tweet-storm back-and-forth that was childish. This is the one part of Marcus’ point with which I agree. Some (SOME!) of the Twitter stuff can be a bit much. Embiid won the fight. His team won the game (by 20-plus mind you), and he won the post-game press conference. The Twitter and Instagram back-and-forth was unnecessary spiking of the ball.

The NBA said the suspension was for the fighting AND the social media — one game for each, I suppose. Again, I agree with the Tweeting aspect of this scenario, but here’s where there’s disagreement:

“He’s [Embiid] become the face and the voice of self-indulgent buffoonery.”

Ok. Settle down a little bit. You made an interesting point, but the wheels, suddenly, just fell off completely there.

Yes, Embiid is a bit of a character. We’ve known this for a while now. He jokes with his teammates. His post-game press conferences are sometimes the stuff of legend — as was the case last week. His social media game is pretty flawless – much to his detriment, sometimes. When he’s not calling opposing players another noun for a cat, he’s actually pretty tame. (He comments way too much about Manchester City, and that doesn’t fly with me, a Liverpool fan, but that’s a discussion for another day).

If you want to call out Embiid for his maturity, you can, but just note that word “maturity” is meaningless. A colleague of mine, Andrew Patton, explains it in greater detail:

“Maturity and toughness are two of the worst words in sports. They don’t actually mean anything. It’s what people say when they want to sound like they have insight, but don’t. Hayes doesn’t care about Joel Embiid’s “maturity” because what in the hell does that mean?”

Who knows?

Maybe it’s coming from the classic, nonsensical place of “I’m an older journalist, and I don’t agree with how these ‘new dudes’ carry themselves.”

Embiid is 25 and being critiqued by an older journalist that remembers the “good old days” of basketball players. (Never mind the fact that this particular journalist was also here during the days of Iverson — who was also a bit of a character. Did Embiid say he was going to mature last year and before this season began? Yes. If you want to be mad for lying, that’s fine. I don’t like being lied to, but to be honest, I was hoping that wasn’t the case. I love Embiid for who he is. (Most fans do, too, actually).

Times change.

People change.

Sports leagues and their players … change.

I’m not going to say “adapt or die” because I believe there’s some grey area: “attempt to adapt”, I guess? What’s the point behind this column, then? Well, if you ask Hayes, it’s because Embiid should be the new NBA logo or something:

“He returned … with the chance to remake himself. The chance to change from selfish bully-boy to what he should be: the international face and voice of the National Basketball Association.”

Whoa, dude. The international face and voice of the NBA. Let’s make one thing painfully clear. Right now, that face and voice is LeBron James. Until he retires, it is Lebron James. When LeBron James retires … it may STILL BE Lebron James. It doesn’t matter that Embiid is a “brilliant, polylingual Cameroonian” and a “citizen of the world”. He’s not LeBron James.

I would also argue that until Embiid wins a ring or an MVP, that’s not happening anytime soon. (Don’t even try to equate that he’s not a champion or an MVP because he’s not some measure of “mature”. Just don’t do it.) If I was the commissioner of the NBA (and God help you all if I’m ever appointed), my choice would probably be Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is as charming as Embiid is, but he’s also a league MVP and taps into the European market a tad bit better.

Embiid is the rare combination of insane talent and great personality. Can he sometimes put his foot in his mouth (on or off Twitter)? Sure. Let’s be honest with ourselves, though, it could be worse.

He could be the type of guy that runs into the crowd citing an unprecedented brawl on national TV.

He could be the type of guy that CHOKES HIS HEAD COACH.

He could be the type of guy that body slams a guy a foot shorter than he is (during a playoff game, mind you) — also on national TV.

At worst, he has an itchy Twitter trigger finger and talks a little trash. He’s not out here brawling people left and right. We praise Gary Payton for his trash talk. What’s the difference?

It could be much worse. Let’s all take a chill.