Over the last several NBA seasons, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has established himself as one of the most versatile big men. His offensive game comes so easily that many assume Embiid has hooped since he was a child. Yet Embiid didn’t hit a court until he was 15 years old — an advanced age for a player like him.
In the aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, Embiid took to Twitter to express his sorrow. He also dropped an interesting tidbit about his original decision to play basketball. Let’s look at Embiid’s early years and Bryant’s influence on his decision to play basketball.
Joel Embiid’s early years
Embiid was born and raised in the central African nation of Cameroon to a military colonel, Thomas, and his wife Christine. Embiid was the eldest child, with two younger siblings: brother Arthur and sister Muriel. Tragically, 13-year-old Arthur passed away in a car accident in 2014.
Embiid grew up in a well-structured home. His parents were strict about his school work. But they also encouraged his athletic gifts. For most of his childhood, Embiid applied his talent to volleyball. As late as 2011, when he was 15 years old, he was still serious about volleyball and considered training for Cameroon’s national team in Europe, reports ESPN.
Embiid’s family, particularly his father, strongly encouraged him to stick with volleyball. Thomas even told him that nobody in Cameroon played basketball. Volleyball was a popular sport with a competitive standing in the country. At that point, Embiid had only played basketball for three months.
Joel Embiid’s move to basketball
From the outside, it seemed Embiid’s choice was simple: stick with the game he knew rather than gamble on making it in the little-known sport of basketball. The only problem was, Embiid had fallen in love with hoops. Although his talent was raw, his aptitude for the game had not gone unnoticed, and Embiid was soon invited to participate in the camp organized by NBA veteran and fellow Cameroon native Luc Mbah a Moute.
At the camp, Embiid’s gifts quickly became apparent. Soon after, Embiid was invited to participate in the next summer’s Basketball Without Borders program. From there, with Mbah a Moute acting as his mentor, Embiid’s career quickly blossomed. At age 16, he moving to Florida in order to put himself on the fast track to becoming a professional NBA player.
What Joel Embiid said about Kobe Bryant
At this point, you’re probably wondering why Embiid chose to forsake his volleyball career in favor of basketball. By all accounts, the talented volleyball player would’ve succeeded professionally. So what convinced Embiid to switch to hoops? According to Embiid, it was Kobe Bryant.
Embiid identified the 2010 NBA Finals — particularly, Bryant’s performance — as the defining moment of his future career. Without Mamba’s long-distance influence, Embiid might’ve become a volleyball player or even a doctor. Instead, watching Bryant was the “turning point” in the 76ers’ life.
So, it was natural for Embiid to want to honor his hero in his first NBA game after Bryant’s death. The young athlete paid tribute to Bryant by ditching his usual No. 21 jersey in favor of Bryant’s No. 24.
First, Embiid had to ask permission of former 76ers legend Bobby Jones, whose No. 24 jersey was retired by the team. Once Jones heard Embiid’s reasoning, he quickly agreed.
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