Sixers’ Joel Embiid reflects on journey, overcoming hurdles to win MVP

BOSTON–Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid has finally earned his moment. After finishing as the runner-up for the MVP award for two seasons in a row, the big fella was able to win the award in 2023 following one impressive season.

Embiid averaged 33.1 points and led the league in scoring for the second consecutive season, with 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.7 blocks in a spectacular season on the floor. He scored 50-plus in a game three different times and he made sure the Sixers were winning games as they move forward with their title plans.

This has been a long time coming. Embiid has had to battle through devastating injuries, losses off the court, having to come from a different country, and not even playing basketball until the age of 15. He has had to go through his GM having burner accounts on Twitter criticizing the team and countless other problems.

This is an achievement that shows the willpower that Embiid has had to have to battle and overcome a lot of hurdles in his life. He reflected on the journey and what the award means to him:

Embiid on winning the award

“Thank you. It’s amazing. It feels good, obviously. That’s something that I dreamed of and I always wanted, especially when I started playing basketball. That was always the goal. Obviously, there’s other goals, but this is just one step to what I want to accomplish, which is to win championships. We’re right there. So it felt pretty good.”

On almost quitting basketball

“I’ve always said it: I feel like my life is a movie. Obviously, starting basketball at 15…the whole goal when I got a chance to come to the US was really to come get a degree and find a way to get a job, because I didn’t think basketball would take me anywhere. Obviously, losing my brother was a big part of almost leading me to quitting basketball, not wanting to come back because I felt like it was kind of my fault — because I left Cameroon, I left my family, and I felt like I should’ve been there to do something.

That was also the period where there were a lot of dark times. Missing two years because of the foot, and everything going on around the organization outside of basketball, it was tough. But I’m just glad that I pushed through it and I’m here sitting in front of you guys having accomplished something a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to. It’s hard. It’s hard to win in this league. It’s hard to be successful in this league. There’s a reason why these are the best basketball players in the league. To be sitting here and feel like I won something as far as the Most Valuable Player, it’s great. But then again, it’s also part of my story because I’ve always felt like I was a role model, especially to my Cameroonian people and my African people. And I feel like, just looking at my story, they can look at it and be like, ‘Wow, he did it.’ Probably the probability of someone like me, starting playing basketball at 15, to get the chance to be the MVP of the league…I’d say it’s probably negative zero. We don’t have a lot of opportunities back in Africa, in general, to get to this point, but improbable doesn’t mean impossible. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. As long as you believe in it and you keep working hard, anything can happen.”

On why winning the award means so much to him

“I think a lot of people have this misconception of the difference between being competitive and wanting to win everything possible. I don’t want to win this award because it’s just the MVP. I want to win it because it means a lot to me. Like I said, I went through a lot, and that’s just a validation that the sacrifices and everything you went through, it’s paying off in some ways. Obviously, wanting a championship is going to be way better, and we have that opportunity, but I’m just competitive. I want it all. I want to win everything that I can get my hands on, and everybody around me knows that. It doesn’t matter if it’s about basketball or if we’re playing a game in life or whatever. I want to win everything, I want to be first. I know I’ve always said I don’t care (about MVP), but it was just for you guys to leave me alone and not ask me questions about it, but I do care in the way that it validates all the work that you put in. And just to be sitting here, it’s amazing.”

On growing as a person through the dark times

“I’d say the biggest key of it is obviously, I’m all about family. I don’t talk about it a lot. My son, I would say, is probably the biggest part of it. My parents, they’ve been here from the beginning. I’m still kind of pissed at my dad because he didn’t let me start playing basketball until 15. Who knows what I could’ve been if I had started earlier, but he made the right decision. Everything happens for a reason. My mom, she doesn’t really care about all of this. She just wants me to be healthy and be able to do what I love. So they’ve been a big part of it. Then, obviously, my family — my fiancé. Arthur (his son), losing my brother and then giving his name to my son meant a lot. My son is the reason why I’m really sitting here. When I found out we were having a kid, I just remember I was like, ‘I’ve got to be a great role model and I’ve got to set a good example. I want him to understand that his dad not only was pretty good, but he also worked hard and he went and took everything he wanted.’

My whole mindset just changed. Everything about me just changed. The way I went about my business, my life, everything just changed because I wanted to be a great father, set a good example. And then obviously, there’s been a lot of people along the way. If I started going through names, we’d be sitting here for a long time, but they know who they are. Drew (Hanlen)…the Tellem family, they were a big part of my rehab when I got to the league. They really took care of me. There’s a lot of people. It seems like I don’t have a lot of friends, but I do have a lot of friends. Like I said, they know who they are. My guys from LA…I won’t go through names.  A lot of people have helped me get here. It would not be possible without those people. They’ve sacrificed a lot for me, but the story’s not over. I don’t want to say, but it’s baby steps to get where you want. We went through all these years of The Process to try to get these opportunities. I think a lot of credit goes to the fans also, because they’ve been so supportive from the beginning, showing up to games even though there were seasons where we won 10 games and EB (Elton Brand) hanging the banner in the locker room. I remember being pissed about it because my name was up there and I had nothing to do with it, because I’m just not a loser. I hate losing, but we went through a lot, whether it’s the burner accounts, my guy Sam Hinkie getting kicked out. There’s a lot that has happened that we had to go through, and I think the fans are a big part of it. They’ve always been supportive. Like I said yesterday, this is not just for me. My teammates, the whole organization, the fans, everybody played a big part in it.”

On being the first MVP to come from the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program

“Oh man, I didn’t even know. That’s pretty crazy. Like I said, improbable doesn’t mean impossible. A lot of us don’t get those opportunities to come to the US, get to go to high school, go to college, and have a chance to be on an NBA roster, let alone being an All-Star. I was talking to Luc (Mbah a Moute). Luc is another big part of why I’m sitting here because he gave me those opportunities.

It’s crazy. We were just talking about the whole journey of what it took for me to be here. It just feels amazing. Like I said, being a role model, mainly to my African people, that’s the best of all because I want us to succeed. For us to usually achieve something, we have to work twice as hard as everybody else, and I want them to understand that yeah, we can do it. It’s possible. You’ve just got to be a little lucky, but it’s possible. If you get these opportunities, you’ve got to just keep going and believe in your goals, and it’s going to happen.”

On when he knew he was going to be an NBA star

“I think the most memorable one is probably my first game. I know before that, a lot of people were always telling me, and it goes back to probably college when coach (Bill) Self used to tell me that I was going to be the No. 1 pick. For a kid like me, I was coming to college. I was supposed to be there for four years. I remember I wanted to redshirt and probably be there for five years because I just had no idea that I had the opportunity to go to the league. He used to tell me ‘You’re going to be the No. 1 pick’ and I’ve always been told these coaches lie and they’re gonna tell you want to hear and that’s not what they believe and that ended up happening and then obviously, the coaches that I’ve had whether it’s coach (Brett) Brown, Billy Lange, all those guys telling me about how good I could be. In the back of my mind, I kinda believed it, but I didn’t, but I believe it because I wanted to also push myself to kinda also not prove those people wrong and to make sure they can say they were right when they say all that stuff, but when I first played. My first bucket. I remember the turnaround fadeaway jumper, that’s when I knew I was like ‘Oh man, it’s on. It’s about to be scary for everybody else’ because I remember calling Drew after the game like ‘Man, that was easy’. My first game I’m like playing against Steven Adams who’s a strong dude and these guys have been in the league for a long time and I was on minutes restrictions, 20-point outing, I was like ‘It’s pretty easy’, but I got a long way to go, but that was when I probably knew I could do something special.”

On the support of his teammates and excitement of his current team

“We just care about each other. We care about each other’s success. We want everybody to be successful and I think we also have a lot of veterans. If you got the right combination and you got guys start to understand that for everybody to be successful, you gotta win and to be able to win, everybody has to do their job and they have to understand what their job is and they gotta go out and do it. I think that’s the key. Obviously, adding PJ (Tucker) has been a huge part of it. Tyrese (Maxey) has taken another step. D-Melt (De’Anthony Melton) has been great. I know Furk (Korkmaz) is not getting a lot of minutes, but he’s working hard to make sure that he’s always ready. I’ve been with him for a long time. He can play, but it just so happens that coaches have to make decisions and that’s just the way it is sometimes. Shake (Milton), all those guys, Tobias (Harris), we’ve been through a lot so I’m just happy that those guys are able to go out and do something like they did Game 1. That’s something they can do every single night so I just believe in them and they know how much I care about them, how much I believe in them, so I’m just excited to be able to just come back whenever that is add whatever I can.”

On the emotions of winning the award

“Honestly, I don’t know what was going on in that moment. I told myself that if I’m gonna win, I’m not gonna have any emotions. I’m not gonna cry. I’m just gonna be happy and have a straight face, but I ended up doing the opposite which is unexpected, but I wanted all the guys to be there because they’re a part of it. They’re one of the reasons why I was sitting there and getting that accomplishment.”

On the love he's received for winning the award

“Obviously, my people, my friends, I haven’t gone through my phone and whenever I get the time, I’ll go through it all and make sure I thank all of them. I also gotta thank all of you guys (the media) for voting for me, but I’ve just been overwhelmed with the love and how much people have been supporting me over the years. Like I said, if I go through the names, we’re gonna be sitting here for a long time. I’m just so appreciative of everything everybody has done for me and the support they’ve given me over the years.”

On the Sixers being three wins away from the Eastern Conference finals

“I told the guys yesterday (Tuesday), we had about 5-to-10 minutes to celebrate and then move on to Game 2. I think that’s what I’m focused on and that’s what everybody’s focused on. Game 1 is over, it’s a great win, but we understand. One game at a time and that was a great win, but we move on. Tonight, it’s gonna be a whole different game, they’re gonna come at us, and everybody’s got to be ready to respond and also punch back. We’re focused on tonight and like James was saying, this is like a Game 7. We have to find ways to try and win this game. We gotta do whatever it takes, whatever is possible to make sure we put ourselves in position to win this game and that’s what we’re focused on and tonight (Wednesday), we’re gonna do whatever it takes to make it happen.”

On if he can return from injury and make an impact in the semifinals against the Boston Celtics

“At some point, I’ll add what I can and be as 100% as I can be, but I’m sure I can make a difference. I’m just gonna have to figure it out where I can help and that’s gonna be the easy part because we know how to play with each other with or without me so it’s gonna be easy to get back into it. For myself, I just gotta let the game come to me whenever I come back. I haven’t really done anything the last two weeks so I think the biggest key for me is not pushing anything and letting the game come to me.”

Story originally appeared on Sixers Wire