Within the limited minutes he’s allowed, Joel Embiid has proven himself one of the finest two-way rookies in recent memory, but it bears remembering why he’s a rookie at all. Embiid was already hurt when the Sixers drafted him with the third pick in 2014, and he continued to struggle with right foot injuries for two and a half years, undergoing two major surgeries. While it’s tempting to envision him plumping up and drowning his sorrows in grenadine syrup—and laugh—he also lost his younger brother during that span and was very far from his home, Cameroon.
In an interview with ESPN, Embiid explained how close he was to leaving the sport he might soon dominate:
You know, the two and a half years that I missed. I missed that, and I also lost my brother, so I was such in a bad place. I wanted to quit basketball. I just wanted go home, go back home, and just leave everything behind.
But coming into this season, one thing I told myself is come and have fun. It’s all about having fun. So all the dark days that I had back then, for me now, it’s my time to have fun.
Nowadays Embiid is having fun everywhere, both on court and on stage with Meek Mill, maybe to the detriment of his recovery—from what exactly? Embiid says it’s a bone bruise, parroting the Sixers’ party line that his recently revealed torn meniscus isn’t keeping him off the court. He wants to return and win Rookie of the Year, which he said would validate all his sacrifices, and he offered a bright-eyed rationale for showing up to New Orleans hurt: “I think in the future I might have a chance to be an All-Star, so I just want to come and see and get acclimated.”
The only way Embiid fails to lock up the ROY vote is if he simply doesn’t log enough minutes to warrant it. Embiid has played 31 games, and the Sixers have 26 games left in their schedule, five of which will be back-to-backs. So far the center hasn’t been allowed to play the back end of those, though he noted in the interview that “I wouldn’t want to come into next season without having seeing what it’s like playing back-to-backs.” While that’s unlikely to persuade any of his higher-ups, especially after this new injury, we wish him a speedy recovery. Ben Simmons probably isn’t showing up to entertain us in the meantime.