When the Sixers selected Joel Embiid number three overall in 2014, they thought, when healthy, he would develop into a special player. Four and a half years later, with just over 100 career NBA games under his belt, the seven-footer is an early-season candidate for MVP. It’s been said that stating one’s goals out loud is a powerful step towards making them come true. Embiid did just that before the start of his third NBA season.
“My goal going into the offseason was to get better,” Embiid stated in September at the team’s media day. “I want to win the MVP. I feel like at the end of the day it might be an individual award, but when I play better, the team also does. I feel like if I’m an MVP candidate or if I win the MVP, that means we are on another level.”
Embiid went a step further saying he wanted to win the Defensive Player of the Year award as well. His goals are lofty. Only two previous players have ever won both awards in the same NBA season; Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. Moreover, like those two Hall of Famers, Embiid has not only the statistics but also the innate qualities that allow for someone to win such prestigious awards. His former agent, Arn Tellem, saw early on his client was one for the ages.
“I always thought from the time I met him he could be a star,” Tellem, now Chairman of the Detroit Pistons, said when the Sixers played the Pistons in early November. “First, on the talent side, he had enormous talent. We have represented Kobe, [Tracy] McGrady, Derrick Rose, [Russell] Westbrook, Anthony Davis, but when he stepped in the gym right out of college and started working out I never saw anyone with his ability—anyone—and then when you factor in his size you said, ‘Wow, this guy could be incredible.’
“And then as I got to know him well, I saw he had the drive to be a star; he wanted it. Only a few at that age have it. Kobe clearly had it. Kobe had it like no one I had ever seen, but Joel had it also. Kobe came into the league with a game plan and a package whereas Joel was finding himself. Joel knew where he wanted to go, and very few players have that.”
That fierce competitiveness manifests itself on a daily basis. In a game against the Orlando Magic earlier this season Embiid made his first three three-point attempts and scored 11 of the team’s first 13 points. The Sixers center envisioned a possible record night only to be substituted for at the 6:49 mark. Embiid was none too pleased.
“I am used to it; those are the rotations, but I am pissed,” Embiid admitted postgame. “I was hot. I made three threes to start the game, and I felt like I was going to beat Klay’s record tonight. Then I got cold. It’s fine. It’s basketball. At the end of the day, I am the one controlling if I make shots or not. I have to make sure I play harder. I know we have those minutes and when we are supposed to come out of the game, but I thought it wasn’t a good idea.”
Golden State’s Klay Thompson set a record in late October with 14 made three-pointers in a game. Embiid saw an opportunity to add his name to that conversation had he been allowed to stay in the game. Instead, he went to the bench, cooled off and proceeded to make only 2 of 14 field goal attempts over the final three quarters. Still, at game’s end, Embiid had notched his first career triple-double with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and ten assists.
“He is our crown jewel. He is the centerpiece of everything we do, defensively and offensively,” Coach Brett Brown said. “It is throwback stuff. It is atypical NBA; he is very different from anyone in our league. He needs the ball.”
Embiid appears different than anyone in the league when it comes to his use of social media too. He is clever. He is perceptive. He is funny, and he is engaging. However, best of all, he is himself. Embiid’s creativity on social media is his authentic work.
“I just want them to follow my journey and know what I’m doing. I want them to know what I like to do, and what I don’t like to do.”
And what you see on social media is the work of Joel.
“Joel’s style is incredibly unique,” Jessica Holtz, Embiid’s marketing agent shared.
“He reacts creatively and real-time to what is going on with “NBA Twitter” and Twitter at large. There have been some articles trying to guess who actually runs Joel Embiid’s Twitter and there is no ghostwriter or paid expert behind the scenes—it is ALL HIM.”
Embiid appreciates his relationship with Philly fans in particular, both on and off the court. This past summer it was a regular occurrence to see Embiid walking through the city, and stopping at a playground to participate in a few possessions of a neighborhood pick-up game. He has a personality comparable in size to his imposing physique.
“His love to interact with people has not changed,” Tellem shared. “He understands who he is. He loves being with people and interacting with people, and that is what makes him so unique. Many people, as their stardom grows, they withdraw, but he likes to engage.
“I enjoy it, [Embiid’s social media] because some of his messages are so good, and so on point. He has good people around him to help him, but he has excellent instincts on how to engage with people.”