Oh Right, Joel Embiid Is All That Matters
It all comes down to the big guy.
Andrew Unterberger is a famous writer who invented the nickname 'Sauce Castillo' and is now writing for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez, as part of the 'If Not, Pick Will Convey As Two Second-Rounders' section of the site. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AUGetoffmygold and can also read him at Billboard.
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I gotta say, I really wasn’t prepared to hear Joel Embiid’s voice again. Aside from a couple snatched seconds in vacation Instagrams here and there, the sound of his playfully debonair baritone hadn’t properly graced my ears since Kawhi’s four-bouncer reduced him, along with the rest of us, to a silent sob. But then there it was, chopping it up with Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post podcast, once again composed, deliberate, imposing but not (yet) intimidating, and very much in control of the situation. It was like picking up the phone and hearing an old friend you haven’t talked to in years on the other line -- except infinitely better, since catching up with old friends over the phone actually kinda sucks after the first ten seconds.
It made me realize that I’d forgotten about Joel Embiid. I mean, not really: Process Trusters are about as likely to forget about Joel Embiid as astronauts are to forget about the Earth -- sentiment and gravity will always just naturally bind us inextricably to him. But in the thick of the long desert wandering of the offseason, I’d let him get back of mind, something of a secondary consideration. I’d forgotten that Joel Embiid was everything.
It’s mostly forgivable, I think. The offseason is for wandering eyes and hearts, the natural curiosity of “What’s going on over here now?” The Sixers acquired a lot of new players, and with them, a lot of new questions. Can Josh Richardson run the offense down the stretch? Is Trey Burke or Raul Neto in line for the primary backup point guard minutes? Will work insurance cover therapy over the emotional aconfusion caused by Al Horford being a Sixer? And then, we still had to see Zhaire and Matisse off to Summer School. We had to check our bank balance for the first time after the Tobias Harris contract cleared. We had to mount our legal defense over the footage of Ben Simmons hitting pick-up jumpers meaning everything, while prosecuting the footage of Markelle Fultz’s gym shooting to the full extent of the law.
In the midst of all this, where was Joel? We didn’t know, and for the time being, we didn’t particularly care.
Well, now it’s a week before the Sixers’ preseason opener, and Joel Embiid is back. Like, “I’ve got cornrows now, don’t worry about why” back. Like, lost 25 pounds over the summer, gained five of it back in muscle back. Like, singing the entirety of “Fly Eagles Fly” just to prove that he (mostly) can back. Like… well, you’ve seen and heard the guy again by now, you get the idea.
And what’s he been doing while he’s been out of sight and out of mind? Well, aside from his physical transformation, he certainly seems to have rediscovered whatever swagger he may have been temporarily robbed of in a tough-luck, injury-stricken Raptors series that seemed to end in personal apocalypse. He’s already setting the regular-season mark for the Sixers at a 60-win minimum, and his own games played at a cool 70 -- the better with which to become the third player to ever win both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. (Yes, he can name who the other two are.) And of course, he’s resumed the shading of Bryan Colangelo at every given opportunity -- at this point, Anne de Paula is probably already rolling her eyes in oh my God he’s gonna make a 91 joke again isn’t he anticipation every time he talks to a bartender or tips an Uber driver.
Maybe this is the real reason why this NBA summer felt so goddamn interminable. The Sixers felt like they had enough going on to stay juicy over the long dead season -- new faces, new storylines, new hype, and a whole lot of Mike Scott unwittingly auditioning for his inevitable Philly-area Travel Channel starring vehicle. But with Joel on leave, it’s a whole lot of trimmings and no turkey. He’s the heart, he’s the soul, he’s the five extra pounds of muscle. He’s both our greatest link with the past, and our greatest hope for the future. He’s the reason a championship is attainable, if you care about that sort of thing. The machine can still function in his absence, but it’s hollow without him.
But now his long media blackout makes sense. As brutal as August and September have been, and as much as they’ve sapped my energy and enthusiasm for this team that I love nine months out of the year, Embiid’s return flipped the switch for me instantaneously. By the time he and Lowe were done exchanging pleasantries, I was ready to renounce the Phillies, the Eagles and the $25 I bet on the Washington Mystics two months ago to win the WNBA Championship, and resume my full-time Sixers emotional symbiosis. Frankly I see no potential downside to this plan of action; if Joel requests that I abandon my (non-existent) wife and family in order to tour with the band for the entire preseason, I will take it under strong advisement.
It’s true that I come to some version of this revelation roughly every 3-6 months with the Sixers, regardless of what is or isn’t going on with Joel or the rest of the team. There’s a better than small chance that I write this exact column again next October, and the October after that, and again until the season inexplicably balloons to 108 games and then I have to write it the next July. But that’s fine. It’s something that really can’t be epiphanied enough, and something that I still wanted to shout throughout that entire Lowe Post pod: JOEL EMBIID IS STILL A SIXER. I won’t promise that I’ll never forget it again, because it always feels so goddamn good to remember.