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Joel Embiid continued his ongoing efforts to establish himself as the NBA’s foremost troll and trash-talk enthusiast on Monday night, rejecting a layup attempt by Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell and enthusiastically letting him hear about it:
After the Philadelphia 76ers center erased Mitchell’s shot, stared him down and told the rookie guard to “get that s*** out of here,” Mitchell responded by getting up and shoving Embiid, who flopped his way to the floor, prompting the refs to hit Mitchell with a technical foul as Embiid smiled and incited the Philadelphia crowd. After the game, Embiid noted that he and Mitchell later shook hands, and said the play and its aftermath were “just about having fun.”
And it was fun! It was a display of the sort of personality that, in concert with remarkable physical gifts and a borderline terrifying skill set, has made Embiid an Internet darling and an emerging star. As these sorts of moments pile up, though, it seems reasonable to wonder whether, one of these days, a bigger, stronger, angrier opponent than the 6-foot-3 Mitchell will take exception to Embiid’s one-man show and decide to take a run at the Sixers’ main man.
ESPN’s Jemele Hill posed that very question to Embiid during his appearance on Wednesday evening’s episode of “SC6.” You’re not going to believe this, but JoJo isn’t overly concerned about suffering any physical consequences from his taunts and trolls:
“Are you at all concerned that your constant trolling of other players, that that’s going to encourage people that when they get that opportunity to take off on you — kind of almost like Kyle Kuzma did — that they’re going to make it worth their while?” Hill asked. “Are you concerned that you’re kind of poking the bear a little bit?”
“Oh, no,” Embiid quickly answered. “I’m not worried about that. I mean, if those guys, they want to get their feelings hurt, if they’re not strong mentally, that’s not my fault. I think when it comes down to it, if we’ve all got to square up, I mean, I’m 7-foot-2 and I’m a big dude. So I don’t think you want to try me. And I’m African, too.”
That last bit harkens back to a story that Embiid told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins last year:
Embiid was raised in an upper middle class home in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde. His parents made him wash his own clothes by hand, but they employed a maid. His mother drove a Mercedes. He ate omelettes for breakfast. He was not allowed to play sports until he had memorized all the notes he jotted throughout the day’s classes. “I was a little soft,” Embiid says, “but the Americans had no idea about any of that. They just knew I was from Africa. They thought I grew up poor, in the jungle, killing lions. I was like, If that’s how they think of me, I’m going to use it.”
I’m not so sure that particular flavor of fear induction’s going to play in a league packed with professionals who’ve all got their own stories of hardscrabble come-ups, but hey, old habits die hard. If he wants to dissuade opponents from testing him, Embiid’s probably better served sticking with his first approach: leaning on the fact that he’s a freaking mountain. That’ll probably work better … until the day he says the wrong thing to the wrong guy on the wrong night, anyway.
Embiid, for his part, doesn’t seem inclined to tone down his trash talk in fear of that comeuppance coming. On the contrary: the league’s most must-watch young monster sees it as just part of the full-fledged entertainment package that “The Process” provides to the fans of Philadelphia, and the broader NBA-watching world.
“That’s the whole point of playing basketball,” Embiid told Hill. “Having fun. Go out there, have fun, kick someone’s ass and just play basketball.”
It’s an awfully good and clean mission statement, Joel. We wish you the best of luck in adhering to it and also avoiding takedown attempts from the smaller people you’re sure to infuriate in the weeks, months and years to come.
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