Joel Embiid has all the tools to be a perennial MVP candidate, but every year we talk about the same thing with Embiid – will he get in shape? With him on the floor, the Sixers are one of the best teams in the NBA. If they want to win, they need him out there for 35+ minutes in the playoffs.
Staying in shape is mostly about discipline and dedication. If a player fails at that, we assume he doesn’t care enough. Teams provide nutritionists, personal trainers, and food at the practice facility – eat right most of the time, have a cheat meal once in a while and you’re good. Embiid started to go into the Shaq category – supremely talented, personality larger than life with a lot of other activities outside the court. Then Game 7 happened. Kawhi hit one of the greatest shots in NBA history and Joel couldn’t hold it in.
The video of him sobbing on the court and in the tunnel got as much attention as the shot did. You’d expect a lot of irony and sarcasm on social media, but the instant reaction was quite the opposite. The prevailing sentiment was positive – we finally saw how much Embiid cares, something most players today don’t do. Where did it come from?
“I really couldn’t believe how much Philly had my back. For the last few years, people have given me so much support through so many ups and downs, through so many surgeries and setbacks, through me breaking my damn face before the 2018 playoffs. It’s way bigger than basketball.”Joel Embiid, The Player’s Tribune
In his Plyer’s Tribune piece, Embiid talks about the fear he felt before his first game. He had missed his first two years rehabbing, with a lot of speculation and setbacks about the date of his first game. Fans in Philly were frustrated and exhausted. Embiid was prepared for a lot of boos and hate when he runs out on that court. When he scored his first bucked and swatted Westbrook’s attempt on the other side of the court, the crowd went wild. It was all love for Embiid.
“After everything I’d had to fight through to get there, that’s still probably one of the best moments of my life.”Joel Embiid, The Player’s Tribune
Will Embiid be ready come playoff time? How’s his body and cardio? All reports indicated he lost weight and got in better shape. Most players say that in training camp, but you could see it just by looking at Embiid. Veterans will tell you getting in shape during the summer isn’t the issue – keeping the weight through the regular season is the challenge. Embiid found ways to keep himself motivated.
“All summer, every time someone posted that picture of me and Kawhi staring at the ball hanging on the rim, I didn’t even click away. I wanted it to be burned into my brain as motivation.”Joel Embiid, The Player’s Tribune
The way he sees it, Toronto played harder than they did. Every possession, every loose ball, the Raptors had a purpose the 76ers couldn’t match. That’s a lesson the 76ers needed to learn and according to Embiid “I think we’re still learning it.”