Joel Embiid’s basketball career has had it’s shares of ups and downs, he has yet to reach a Conference Finals and his tenure in Philadelphia is somewhat odd. For years he escaped criticism due to playing alongside former Sixer Ben Simmons and being that he has always been more aggressive on offense than Ben when the Sixers flopped in the playoffs it was never on Joel. Even though Ben Simmons held Hawks guard Trae Young to a 5-24 shooting night in a crucial Game 7 in Philadelphia not too long ego Sixers fans pretty much boycotted Ben out of Philadelphia after passing up a go ahead shot under the rim to a cutting Matisse Thybulle who ended up gettting fouled on a dunk attempt. We leave out that the game was still within reach and Joel Embiid turned the ball over with approximately 45 seconds left in the game hampering the Sixers hopes even more on a isolation opportunity.
He cried on his way to the Sixers locker room after Kawhi Leonard eliminated them in the 2019 NBA Playoffs with a go-ahead jumper and lost in the first round in The Bubble in a gentlemen’s sweep while Ben Simmons was out for the series the following season. So where does Joel Embiid correlate with former legends Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan? Well one he has been with the Sixers his entire career and when we think of the Philadelphia 76ers Joel Embiid has ingrained himself as a possible Sixer lifetimer the same way Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan were ingrained with their respective franchises. Kobe Bryant airballed jumper after jumper versus Utah in the playoffs but his confidence never wavered, what Jerry West told Shaquille O’Neal came true. In the words of Jerry West, “I drafted a kid you will be winning championships with”, Kobe Bryant had his growing pains but he climbed to the top of the NBA with perseverance and will.
Michael Jordan’s path was a bit different, he was famous and at the top of the NBA world before ever winning his 1st championship 1991. He faced adversity year after year losing to legends Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas repeatedly in the 1980’s but eventually he got over the hump. Joel Embiid’s playstyle even resembles Kobe and Jordan’s, he’s got every trick in the book in the post and is a knockdown shooter whether he is falling away and taking you off the dribble while going into a two dribble pull-up. The time has come for Joel Embiid to deliver in Philadelphia, the pressure on him to deliver a championship decreased after negotiations between the Sixers and Jimmy Butler went south years ago and it was just him and Ben but with James Harden in town now it’s now or never. I understand James Harden underperforms come playoff time but he played well down the stretch of their series against Miami this past season and hit timely shots for the Sixers in the 4th quarter which is a rare sight.
Even if James Harden can’t score 40-50 at will like he used to in Houston to say he can’t be the second option on a championship team is ridiculous. James Harden helped the Brooklyn Nets come from 28 points down in the 4th quarter to help beat the Phoenix Suns without co-stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving the 2020-2021 season in what was a very short-lived tenure. Even if he lost a step athletically he is not on the wrong side of 30 yet at only 33 years of age and at worst can still play at an elite level 2 more seasons before a steep decline occurs which means he is good enough to help Joel Embiid bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to Philadelphia for the first time in well over 40 years. We compare Joel Embiid often to Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon but both hose centers won multiple championships and I believe a prime Shaq or Hakeem on the Sixers in place of Embiid makes them the favorite for the title this coming season.
Joel has felt slighted the past few seasons watching Nikola Jokic win back to back MVP’s on his watch and I’m sure he can’t stomach the fact that some people feel Jokic is the best center in the NBA and not himself. I believe it’s a draw between the two but one way Joel can separate himself from Jokic and put the debate to rest is to at least carry the Sixers to the Finals this coming season. I was always a big Ben Simmons supporter, I felt he did a lot for the Sixers despite never establishing himself as a legitimate second option behind Joel. He did so much on the defensive side of the ball and orchestrated so many shots for everyone on the floor that although he was a inconsistent scorer you felt his impact on the game night in night out. We always told ourselves boy if only Joel could play with someone who could help attract enough attention up top to free up the paint for him and serve as a shooting threat the Sixers would win the championship, well you have him now in James Harden Philadelphia.
I haven’t brought up Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris who are the Sixers best offensive weapons beyond Harden and Embiid because we shouldn’t expect either to ever be good enough to be a second option on a championship team. The key is James Harden and Joel Embiid, if both are locked in on the prize from the get go this coming season a championship could be within sight. Let’s just hope James Harden is locked in on basketball this coming season and that rapper Lil’Baby understands that they can go throw money at strippers next summer. Harden and Embiid have proved themselves to be future hall-of-famers but a championship alludes them, hopefully they don’t end up like Stockton and Malone years from now getting close but never reaching the finish line. Ultimately it will come down to Joel Embiid, can he channel his inner Michael and Kobe and make sure Harden is where he needs to be mentally and physically?
Shaquille O’Neal never needed Kobe Bryant to mold him but Pau Gasol needed that direction from Kobe in order to help him standup to Kevin Garnett in the 2010 NBA Finals after Garnett bullied him in th epaint in the 2008 NBA Finals. Michael Jordan also needed to get sidekick Scottie Pippen right mentally and physically in order to standup to his long-time nemesis The Bad Boy PIstons, it got so bad for Pippen at one point early on in his career that former Knicks center Charles Oakley was putting him in headlocks treating him with absolutely no respect as if Pippen was his puppet. Embiid will just have to lead by example, Harden asked out of Brooklyn because he had no clue who was in charge between Nash,Irving, and Durant. In Philadelphia Joel Embiid is in charge, and if he wants to win that elusive title he will have to show James Harden he is serious about winning the same way Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan showed Pau Gasol and Scottie Pippen.