Joel Embiid continues to cement his legacy as one of the greatest Sixers of all time.
On Wednesday night, he reached the 10,000-point mark faster than any Sixer had done before him. Embiid accomplished the feat in 373 games, edging out the incomparable Allen Iverson as the franchise record-holder.
After missing the first two years of his NBA career because of a navicular bone fracture and numerous games over years of load management, Embiid lamented that he probably could’ve done it sooner.
“I mean, I can only think that what if I didn’t miss all these games,” Embiid said postgame. “So I guess it’s a good thing, but that’s not where the focus is. I just focus about what I can do to help the team. If it’s scoring a lot, passing, defensively then I’m going to do it.”
The Sixers went into the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak after narrowly escaping with a win over the Cavaliers, who sit right behind them in the East standings.
Most of the players scattered quickly for the break, but Embiid and third-year guard Tyrese Maxey were still in the locker room in full uniform. The big man still drenched in sweat from a postgame workout, wearing the team’s “Big Energy” chain which has resurfaced recently.
While both players were certainly ready to wrap this joint media availability (Embiid’s choice, hoping Maxey would talk more. Spoiler alert: he did not) and be on their way, they still provided us with thoughtful answers and a couple laughs as two of the more charismatic players on the roster.
The session took a little bit of a sobering turn as Embiid began talking about the “left foot soreness” he’s been dealing with for roughly a month and discussed his status for Sunday’s All-Star Game.
“I’m not sure [if I’ll play],” Embiid said. “I’m not healthy. I haven’t been healthy for the past three weeks or month. I was just trying to get to the All-Star break without missing games and stuff. But I feel like I’ve reached the point where I really need to follow the doctor’s advice and miss [time]. Back then he said I should have been sitting for two weeks...we’ll see how the next few days go, and go from there.”
Throughout the availability, Embiid didn’t sound super optimistic about playing in the All-Star Game.
And if he decides to sit out, for his own health and the benefit of the Sixers, good for him. He’s playing through a legitimate injury and doesn’t owe anyone a damn thing.
Embiid has carried around the injury prone label since his days at Kansas. He missed his first two NBA seasons, has missed a bunch of regular-season time and suffered numerous freak injuries during or just before the postseason. He missed out on at least one MVP award for not having perfect attendance and his playoff ailments evoke so many what ifs.
So, how could anyone blame him for skipping an exhibition game? Sure, he could go there and dominate, but they’ll probably give the MVP award to Nikola Jokic anyway (mostly joking). The game is for the fans and the fans didn’t even consider Embiid a starter, as he finished fourth in the voting among frontcourt players. He was third in the player and media voting.
And for a player that always has it held against him that he’s incurred so many injuries and missed time, why risk missing more regular-season games for a meaningless game?
Frankly, it’s disappointing that the national narrative around Embiid hasn’t changed much. As Embiid himself will tell you, he had maturity issues when he first came into the league. Pretty understandable for a guy that moved to the United States from Cameroon, away from his friends and family, to play basketball and then became a 20-year-old millionaire.
But Embiid isn’t the same kid who didn’t take his physical fitness seriously and trolled his nemeses on Twitter (well, there was that one time last year).
After the Sixers were swept out of the bubble by the Celtics — a series in which Embiid averaged 30 points and 12.3 rebounds — the big man knew he had to take his fitness and diet more seriously. He enlisted the help of renowned sports dietician Louis Burke to develop a program that made sense for Embiid. The results speak for themselves. Embiid has averaged over 30 points game on 62.9 true shooting over the last two-plus seasons. He also played in a career-high 68 games last season while looking like the best version of himself physically.
As for his beefs with other NBA players, he seems to have squashed all of them (well, except for maybe one).
Remember when he got into a literal fight with Karl-Anthony Towns back in 2019? It was pretty ugly. The league probably did not enjoy the Rocky Balboa-style celebration, either. Even uglier was the social media back and forth postgame.
But things softened between the two star big men when Towns’ mother was placed into a medically-induced coma because of complications from COVID-19. Embiid shared a message of support. Sadly, Towns’ mom would pass soon after.
Things completely blew over last season after Embiid’s bout with COVID. The two talked and moved on. Embiid even introduced his son, Arthur, to KAT and other members of Team Durant during last year’s All-Star Game.
That growth has allowed him to even be teammates with other big men he’s had spats with like Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell. And while Russell Westbrook might still dislike him — and might still be whining about not getting a foul call from a month ago — Embiid has long since moved on.
Embiid still has his share of haters and doubters. Many will point to the injury or social media history, but a lack of playoff success has also haunted Embiid.
But really, that’s all the more reason Embiid should sit out the All-Star Game. With 25 games remaining in the regular season, the Sixers sit three games behind the Celtics for the top spot and 2.5 games behind the Bucks for the second seed. They also have the toughest remaining schedule, per Tankathon. They’ll need Embiid at full strength to get the highest seed possible — and without a healthy Embiid they have virtually no chance at getting over the second-round hump.
Sixers fans don’t need to see Embiid play in an exhibition game amongst stars to know how special he is. They see it every night.
“Joel is gonna Joel,” Maxey said. “It’s funny, I tell you all the time, I try not to take it for granted because some of the things that he does on the basketball court I’ve never seen before. And for him to do it at his size and his speed and do it at the high level that he does that every single night, it’s remarkable.”
There might not be a team more reliant on a player’s two-way impact on a basketball game than the Sixers with Joel Embiid. Everything crumbles if Embiid is out or severely compromised.
Embiid should trust the process (and the doctors) and take the time off. He owes it to himself and the team.