After the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls on the back of Joel Embiid’s first career 50-point game, Marc Zumoff asked Tobias Harris to give a “different description” of Embiid’s play, one “we haven’t heard before.”
Tobias initially says “dominant,” a word everyone already uses to describe Embiid, before switching to the word “determined,” which does give some good insight on Embiid’s mindset this season.
This got me thinking about the word I would use to describe the feeling of watching Joel Embiid play this season, and the best word I can come up with is “appreciation.”
I’ve written before about how Joel Embiid embodies the spite of The Process. His success has always felt like success for the fanbase. But this season is different. He’s truly making a case to be the best player in the league, and as a Sixers fan, it’s made this the most enjoyable season I’ve ever seen.
Wednesday’s win over the Utah Jazz had everything. Embiid went for 40 points for the second time in three games and hit a 3 with a hand in his face and just six seconds to go in order to force overtime against one of the NBA’s best (and most annoying) teams. And like we’ve said many times this season, the Sixers won a game it felt like they would have lost in the past. As it turns out, having an MVP candidate who can hit clutch shots is useful for winning close games.
Throughout this season, Joel has used every opportunity to let Philadelphians know how much he loves them.
Embiid on raising his arms triumphantly after the dagger in the fourth quarter. “The fans are always there for me...I play for the fans, I play for the city, and all my goals related to basketball are for the city of Philadelphia”— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) February 20, 2021
And of course, Joel puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to his love for the city (not just the people who can afford to buy tickets and jerseys, but also the people of the city who are struggling the most). Joel has made numerous charitable gestures in the past year, and he made another incredible one on Saturday morning.
Sixers MVP candidate @JoelEmbiid has committed to donate his $100,000 in winnings on All-Star Weekend to three homeless shelters in the Philadelphia-area, providing meals, clothing, COVID treatment, health care, summer camp and essential care for teens.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 6, 2021
Embiid gives us countless reasons to love him, both on and off the court, and so far, he is the MVP. The season is only halfway through, but right now, it has to be considered his award to lose.
Sure, there are other great players in the conversation. Joel is tied with LeBron James for best MVP odds, and a huge portion of the media seems desperate to give the award to James. LeBron is an incredible player, and maybe by the end of the year he’ll deserve MVP. But right now, the fact that any argument made on his behalf points out his age is proof that Embiid is having the better season.
The Sixers are on pace to finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the 2000-01 season, not-so-coincidentally the last time the team had a player win the MVP award. With a week off for the All-Star break, now is the perfect time to pause and appreciate just how rarely we’ve gotten to see a Sixers team play this well and how few individual seasons in the franchise’s history compare to what Embiid has done this season.
The Sixers were the laughing stock of the league for years. The best way to get back at all the Process-haters in the national media will always be to win a championship, which may or may not happen with a roster that can still be reasonably tied back to Sam Hinkie. But if we never get to see Joel Embiid holding the Larry O’Brien trophy, getting to see him hold the MVP trophy would be the (distant) next best thing.
No one knows how the rest of the season will play out for the Sixers, Embiid, or the other top MVP candidates. But right now, Joel Embiid is the MVP, and we love him.