Africa Leaders Magazine

JOEL EMBIID – The Only Way Is Through

JOEL EMBIID - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

To anybody who is going through something right now…. To anybody who is struggling….

I got a little story for you.

I actually don’t know how many people know this, but right after I got drafted, back in 2014, I thought about walking away from the game. I’m not exaggerating at all. I seriously considered retiring from the NBA before I’d even played one game.

It actually had nothing to do with my injuries. Your body, it heals. It always heals. All that pain is just temporary. Your heart, though? Man — that’s different. It’s a lot more complicated.

JOEL EMBIID - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

When you talk about my life, you have to talk about my brother Arthur. There’s no telling my story without him.

I think we all got that one person in our life who is just always giving off positive energy. That person who is just fun to be around, you know? And who is always rooting for you, no matter what. For me, that was Arthur. Everything always comes back to him. Even if you asked me to go back to the very beginning of this crazy journey from Cameroon to the NBA, it would start with Arthur.

The day that I was supposed to get my big break, when I was 16, I almost messed it all up because all I wanted to do was chill with my brother. When I got invited to Luc Mbah a Moute’s basketball camp — the thing that everybody writes about when they tell my story? They always leave one part out.

JOEL EMBIID - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

I didn’t even show up on the first day of camp. I was way too scared. I actually skipped it so I could sit at home and play FFA with Arthur. Our mom was away on vacation, and she was always so strict about homework, so we had to take that opportunity to just chill and play video games. For me, that was the most fun thing in the world. And it wasn’t like I thought I had any chance of going to the NBA, or even going to college in the States. That wasn’t even a dream. I had no idea that I could even play organized basketball.

So, I hid inside my house, and we played FFA all day.

The next day, after my dad found out what happened, he made sure I got my ass to the camp — and then basically my whole life changed.

But for that one day me and Arthur just had fun. And you know what? I could probably remember that afternoon better than I can remember a lot of the biggest basketball moments in my life.

JOEL EMBIID - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

 

After the camp, things just started happening. I got the chance to come to America for high school — which was a blessing, except it meant that I couldn’t go back home to Cameroon for a long, long time. By the time I was about to get drafted in 2014, I hadn’t seen Arthur in three years. But he was following my whole journey, and when I was about to get drafted, he was just so proud of me.

Unfortunately, I had to get surgery on my foot right before the draft. Arthur flew out to the east coast to see me, but my surgery was in California, and the doctors were too worried about blood clots to let me fly across the country. So, I stayed out on the west coast recovering, and Arthur stayed on the east coast with our family friends. At the time, it felt like we were going to have plenty more opportunities to get together.

We talked about what it was going to be like when I got healthy and he could come back to America to see me play in the league — against Kobe, against Steph, against KD. He was only 13. He had all the time in the world to come back and see me.

By the time I was about to get drafted in 2014, I hadn’t seen Arthur in three years. He was only 13. He had all the time in the world to come back and see me. Courtesy of Joel Embiid

JOEL EMBIID - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

Then, four months later, I got a phone call.

Arthur was involved in an accident back home.

He was walking back home from school with some of his classmates when he was struck by a truck.

Just like that, my brother was gone.

He was so full of life, and somehow, he was just gone.

Nobody could believe it.

It was a shock to our whole family, and honestly, it’s something we’re still dealing with.

I was only able to go back home for a few weeks for his funeral. When I came back to Philly, I kept rehabbing, trying to get better … but I was in a really bad place. With Arthur gone, I felt like I had lost my purpose in life. I really just wanted to quit the game and go back home to Cameroon to be with my family. And, you know, it’s not like a movie where someone sat me down and had some conversation with me, or I picked up a basketball and all of a sudden everything was O.K.

I really had to look inside myself to find that joy again. Every single morning, when I woke up, I would tell myself that I had a choice. I could give up, or I could keep trying to take another step forward. I really had to remind myself why I loved the game in the first place.

JOEL EMBIID - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

Not that long ago, we were just some skinny kids messing around at the park in the middle of Cameroon — hiding from our mom, trying not to do our homework.

It wasn’t serious. It wasn’t even a dream. We were just having fun.

So, I just pushed on. A lot of days, it sucked. A lot of days, I just wanted to get on a flight back home. I wanted to quit, but I just kept putting in the work every day for two years to try to get healthy, to try to get better, to try to take one step onto an NBA court. I felt like if I did that, then my brother would be really proud of me.

Every day, I’d just take one small step forward.

There was no cheating it. When you’re faced with adversity, there are no shortcuts. You can’t go around it. You just have to go thought, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much it sucks.

To anybody struggling right now, to anybody who feels like giving up, I’m telling you … just take one small step forward.

I just kept putting in the work every day for two years to try to get healthy, to try to get better, to try to take one step onto an NBA court.

The night I finally got to play for real in front of the Philly crowd, after two years of waiting, I thought I was going to run out of the tunnel and get booed. For real, I thought the 76ers fans were going to boo me since I was out for so long. Then I’ll never forget scoring my first bucket — the half-turnaround at the top of the key. I ran back down the floor and swatted Westbrook in the lane, and the crowd just went crazy. 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 - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

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.

That’s why I got so emotional after Game 7 against Toronto last season.

When Kawhi took that off-balance shot at the buzzer — as soon as it left his hands I thought,

When it bounced off the rim once I thought,

When it bounced twice, three times, I thought,

It bounced a fourth time, and it went in. For whatever reason, it just went in.

I don’t think I’ve ever showed that kind of emotion on a basketball court in my life. The game of basketball, it’s not life or death. But it wasn’t about the game really. I had tears in my eyes walking off the court because of how much I wanted it for the city, and for my family.

I had to live with that regret pretty much all summer. I blamed myself. Maybe I could’ve blocked the shot. Maybe we could’ve been on that podium instead of Kawhi and those guys. We’ll never know, and that sucks.

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. And you know what? In the end, those guys deserved the title. They played harder than everybody else — period. Every single guy on their squad did all the little things they had to do to win. It was a lesson that we needed to learn as a team, and I think we’re still learning it this season.

You know, we all came into this year talking about how bad we want a title. We’re pretty good at talking, myself included. But it’s not enough just to talk it. You gotta walk it. You gotta bring it every single night. And that includes me, too.

JOEL EMBIID - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

Listen, I know it sucks that I’m out. Nobody feels worse than me about it. But it’s just a finger. It’s nothing. Compared to what I’ve been through, it’s nothing man.

I’m going to be back. And we’re going to get this thing right. And we’re going to be a problem in the playoffs, I promise you. But I have to say it now — the one thing I’m not going to do is change who I am as a basketball player.

I got nothing but love for the legends of the game like Shaq and Charles. So I respect what they’re saying about my game. But I’m never going to be the kind of traditional big like Shaq was in the ’90s. You can’t go down to the post every single time down the floor and have success in this league. Not in 2020. Not with the way the game has evolved. Not with the way teams double-team now. You have to be able to spread the floor and pass the ball and get buckets all over the court.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a guard or a 7-footer, you need to be versatile to win in this league. You need to be unpredictable. Yes, I idolized guys like Dream. I watched hours and hours of Dream every single day, literally. Everybody knows that story. But you know who I love watching now? KD, Harden, even point guards like Steph and CP3. For me, that’s where the game is the most interesting right now.

Above everything, I’m a student of the game. That’s the only way I was able to pick it up in such a short amount of time. You can’t just be a Big on the block anymore. You need to be a basketball player.

JOEL EMBIID - NBA SUPERSTAR AND CAMEROONIAN INTERNATIONAL - African Leaders Magazine

If we’re going to win a title, I gotta be a little bit of Dream, and a little bit of Iverson, and a little bit of Kooooobeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

That’s the way I’m always going to see myself.

And I know you guys on TV want me to score 35 on the block every night.

I know it. I hear you.

But I gotta be honest with you. This isn’t 1995. This is 2020. I’m not working every single day to be the next Dream. There’s only one Dream. There’s only one Shaq. I’m not trying to be the best Big ever. I’m trying to be the best basketball player in the league, and I really believe I can be that.

I’m done with the trash talking and the memes and all that. Once I’m holding that trophy in my hands, maybe I’ll be back to my charming self. For now, I got one thing on my mind.

I’m not trying to win a debate.

I’m trying to win a f***** title.

Sincerely,

Joel

Source: theplayerstribune.com

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