As a teenager in Cameroon, basketball was not high on Joel Embiid’s list of sporting interests. Embiid was keen on volleyball, and hoped to make it as a professional spiker some day.
That was until he was spotted at a basketball camp by NBA player Luc Mbah A Moute, who is from Embiid’s home town of Yaounde. Moute convinced Embiid, then only 16, to move to North America to pursue his hoop dreams.
Embiid has since taken to the sport like fish to water. He grabbed the limelight with big performances at his high school and college (Kansas University), before being picked by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2014 NBA auction.
A severe foot injury, however, ruled him out of action in his first two seasons as an NBA athlete. Embiid finally got to step onto the court in the 2016-17 season, and has not looked back since. The centre has consistently put up huge numbers, including an incredible 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 7 blocks haul in a single game, against the Los Angeles Lakers, late last year.
His exploits earned him a starter spot in the 2018 NBA All-Star Game – an honour reserved for the cream of the crop in the league.
Embiid - nicknamed ‘The Process’ - stated that it feels special to be a part of the All-Star weekend, given that he has had to face trials and tribulations both on and off the court.
“You guys (media) called me a bust when I missed my first two seasons,” Embiid said at a media interaction here.
The 23-year-old added that he felt down and out following the death of his younger brother Arthur, in 2014. Arthur was 13; the cause of his death was not disclosed.
“With my injuries, and my brother's death, I wanted to quit basketball. I’m glad that I kept pushing myself to stick with it. It feels more special to be here, because of everything I went through,” Embiid said.
The 7’0” hoopster will not rest until he reaches his full potential. “Last year, I played only 31 games, but I figured that I was one of the best players in the league. So I entered this year with a lot of confidence. I've done well, but I'm nowhere close to where I want to be as a basketball player,” Embiid said.
(The writer is in Los Angeles on invitation from NBA and Sony Six)
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