In the spring of 2019, writer Giri Nathan asked an editor if he could write a blog about Joel Embiid in the style of writer Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.” The Sixers player was irritable and dealing with various ailments as his team fought a tight playoff series against the Raptors. “Why the hell would anyone read or understand that?” Nathan’s editor asked. The result, “Joel Embiid Has Diarrhea,” became one of the dumbest blogs ever published on Deadspin, a pioneering example of what came to be called Poo Journalism.
Joel Embiid, holding a bottle of electrolytes in one hand and two pills of Immodium in the other, stood in the dark corner of the Toronto Raptors’ arena between two attentive but fading trainers who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been quiet during much of the evening, and much of this series, as he glumly tussled with Marc Gasol in the high post, except now in this quiet facility he seemed even more distant, staring out through the doorway into the visitors’ locker room where his victorious teammates tidied up and got spiffy for the postgame. Embiid felt neither tidy nor spiffy. The two trainers knew, as did Embiid’s teammates who dressed nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, laid low by the doo-doo ass.
Embiid had been playing a series that he now disliked, could not wait to finish; he was tired of all the publicity around his intractable mudbutt; he was angry that he couldn’t enjoy a spell of health in this postseason, after he’d asserted himself as one of the league’s preeminent players in the regular season; he was worried about whether his richly talented but top-heavy Sixers roster could advance past this second round, which would require him to soldier on with a keister that, at this particular moment, midway through the series, was tickled and jittery-buggy and not quite right.
Embiid with diarrhea is like Shaq with a gag order, Gronk with a curfew—only worse. For the gastroenteritis robs Embiid of that uninsurable jewel, his mondo tushy, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic drip from the bums of dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. An Embiid with diarrhea can, in a small way, send vibrations through the sports industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.
For Joel Embiid was now involved with many things involving many people—his own blossoming megastardom, his team’s all-in postseason and impending free agency, his incessant advertisements for a streaming service, his fraying charm, his increasingly unpleasant laundry—which are only a portion of the power he is and has come to represent. He seemed now to be also the embodiment of the fully emancipated big man, perhaps the only one in the NBA, the big who can do anything he wants on both ends, out of both ends, can do it because he has the money, the energy, and no apparent guilt. In an age when the gastrically sound seem to be taking over, shooting and dunking and dishing dimes, Joel Embiid survives as a queasy phenomenon, one of the few. He is the champ who made the big comeback, the man who had everything, pooped it all out, then got it back with a big Game 2 win, letting nothing stand in his way, doing what few men can do, titanic and tyranni—wait, I’m hearing he was puking all night before Game 4? And he’s dealing with knee tendinitis as well as an upper respiratory infection? And the gastroenteritis is highly communicable? Let’s just stick with a write-around. Gay Talese made all that shit up anyway.