BOSTON, MA – Tuesday was indeed a momentous day for Joel Embiid and the 76ers, one that was full of congratulatory feelings, plus a sense of accomplishment, pride, and hope.
Early that afternoon, the signing of the 7-foot, 260-pound center to a five-year extension was very much the talk of the Emerson College gymnasium, where the Sixers practiced before flying from Boston to New York for Wednesday’s pre-season game against Brooklyn.
Embiid’s new contract presented a storyline with no shortage of angles, so we’ll recap a few of them here in this edition of the Notebook.
A Leader of a Franchise
The symbolism associated with Joel Embiid’s five-year contract extension was summed up well in a matter of words by Sixers’ Managing General Partner Josh Harris.
“He has solidified himself as a pillar in this franchise, and to this city,” Harris said in a statement.
The designation is one that Embiid is not only comfortable with, but welcomes. Pressure, he said, doesn’t bother him.
“I’m only 23 years old, I got a long way to go, but I want to be a leader,” Embiid said Tuesday.
He’s subsequently come to view himself in such a light, and takes the role seriously.
“That was one of the main things the owners let me know, they want me to grow as a leader, become a franchise player,” said the 2017 Rookie of the Year finalist. “Every time I get on the court, I want to push my teammates to be better as a leader and lead by example.”
In this regard, Embiid seems to be “ticking all the boxes,” to borrow one of his coach’s oft-used phrases.
“He should feel like, ‘This is my program, this is a program that I’m going to steer in the direction I know it needs to be steered,’” Brett Brown said Tuesday.
Brown believes that as a mentor to Embiid, he’s responsible for helping further nurture Embiid’s leadership traits.
“Leadership takes all types of forms,” said Brown. “It’s very organic to the individual. I just see qualities that he’s got the abilities to lead on a court, lead off a court in a very unique skill package that makes him that special.”
“Special” is a word that surfaced a few times again Tuesday as Bryan Colangelo was speaking about Embiid in the context of being a franchise player.
“Joel is a special basketball player, but he’s a special human being, he’s a special person,” said the Sixers President of Basketball Operations. “He is a natural leader. You see just the way that the team responds to him, the fans respond to him. He’s one of these types that don’t come along often.”
All the more reason, the Sixers felt, to make a long-term investment.
An “Incredible” Journey
Just how much can a life and family change in the span of six short years? Joel Embiid’s path paints a fairly dramatic picture.
As a teenager, the Cameroonian played organized hoops for the first time, doing so as a member of his high school’s junior varsity squad.
Not too long after that, he was enrolled at the University of Kansas, home to one of the country’s most prestigious college basketball programs.
From there, Embiid quickly emerged as can’t-miss prospect (it was his raw blend of size, footwork, and instincts, Bryan Colangelo recalled Tuesday, that got NBA scouts buzzing), ultimately chosen third overall by the Sixers in the 2014 draft.
Later that fall, in the midst of his first right foot rehab, his brother, Arthur, passed away in an accident. The next summer, Embiid required another surgery.
Nevertheless, he kept going.
Brett Brown watched the big man’s battle with adversity first-hand, and was thrilled with Tuesday’s news of a contract extension (check out the second photo in this post to see how Brown greeted Embiid in Boston Tuesday).
“To endure what he has endured, and to be rewarded as he just now has been rewarded, that’s an incredible story,” said Brown.
Not once in his time around Embiid did Brown see the former Jayhawk’s spirits sag. Embiid’s passion for the sport, according to Brown, helped him through hard times.
“We can go all over the place on some of the endearing qualities that he has,” said Brown. “There is none more attractive than he really loves basketball. He puts in time to be better at basketball. It’s borne out of a love for the game that really stands out the most.”
Embiid acknowledged Tuesday he’s “been through a lot,” and, as he has before, said he wondered whether to continue with his professional basketball aspirations in the aftermath of his brother’s sudden death.
A large part of his reasoning to stick with the sport was to honor his brother, his family, and his native Africa. Support from the Sixers, and the city of Philadelphia, fueled him, too.
“To be where I’m at,” he said, “kind of shows you the kind of man that I’m making myself.”
That Embiid has managed to clear so many hurdles in such a relatively brief period of time seemed to make Bryan Colangelo all the more happy to put pen to paper on a new deal.
“He means a lot to what this organization has gone through,” Colangelo said. “He’s gone through his own trials, he’s persevered, and I believe he’s going to be better for it. To have him locked up for the foreseeable future, it feels really good, and puts him in a place that he’s now rewarded for all the hard work he’s put in to get to this point.”
Committed to Philadelphia
Joel Embiid spoke from the heart Tuesday throughout his remarks about his contract extension, but did so especially whenever mentioning Sixers fans. He feels he owes them a great deal of thanks for his success.
“The support they showed me, the love they showed me, that pushes me every day,” said Embiid. “Every time I’m on the court, every time a fan cheers for me, I just want to go out and make a play for them to cheer even more.”
Embiid’s new contract will go into effect after this season, and runs through the 2022-2023 campaign.
“I want to be here my whole career,” said Embiid, referring to Philadelphia.
He added that he wants to forge a legacy with the Sixers similar to that of Kobe Bryant’s with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant spent his entire career with the Purple and Gold.
“The city has been amazing to me,” Embiid said. “I love all the love I get when I walk outside, or go places in town. I just love it. I just embrace it.”
The Sixers, as Tuesday’s events clearly indicated, hope to have the center in the picture for a long time.
“This was the right thing to do,” said Bryan Colangelo. “I think that our ownership, and their willingness to commit; our management team and coaching staff all backing this decision and direction; kind of speaks to our collective belief in Joel Embiid.”