It took Joel Embiid two years to suit up for the Philadelphia 76ers after he was selected with the third overall pick of the 2014 NBA draft as a foot injury nearly derailed his entire career. Then, after just 31 games in 2016-2017, the Cameroon native suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee, which ended his official rookie season.
Since then, however, Embiid has remained relatively healthy save a few games here and there and has become one of the most dominant players in the NBA. Since that rookie season in 2016-2017, Embiid has been named an All-Star every year and has put up fantastic numbers while also helping the 76ers become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Still just 26 years of age, Embiid is enjoying the best season of his career in 2020-2021 and currently has the Sixers atop the Eastern Conference standings (at the time of this writing anyway). The two-time All-NBA Second-Team selection is currently averaging a career-high 29.6 points while shooting a career-best 54.3% from the floor while also shooting an impressive 85.1% from the foul line. He’s pulling down 10.8 rebounds per game, dishing out 2.8 assists, and, as always, is also contributing on the defensive end with 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
It’s that kind of stat line that wins players an NBA MVP award and Joel Embiid has put himself in a great position to do just that. He’ll certainly face some stiff competition in the race as the likes of Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will all be right there in the mix.
But if Embiid can keep producing as he has been and the Sixers stay at or close to the top of the Eastern Conference, he’s got a great shot to join the elite list of Philadelphia 76ers that have won NBA MVP, all of whom, by the way, are in the Hall of Fame.
Here’s a quick look back on the four Sixers that Joel Embiid could join as an NBA MVP.
Wilt Chamberlain won three consecutive NBA MVP trophies with the Sixers in the 1960s
First up is the man Joel Embiid actually once chose as the GOAT over Michael Jordan, fellow big man — and arguably the most dominant big man in NBA history — Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain won his first NBA MVP award with the Philadelphia Warriors following the 1959-1960 season — which obviously doesn’t count for anything as it pertains to this discussion — and then won three straight when he returned to Philly to play for the 76ers.
In his first full season with the Sixers in 1965-1966, Chamberlain averaged 33.5 points and 24.6 rebounds and beat out his future LA Lakers teammate, Jerry West, for NBA MVP. The following season, a campaign in which he led the franchise to their first NBA title under the 76ers moniker — the team was known as the Syracuse Nationals when they won the title in 1955 — Wilt won the award in a walk, earning 80 of 105 first-place votes after averaging 24.1 points and 24.2 rebounds.
The future Hall of Famer won the award for a third consecutive time in 1968 with averages of 24.3 points and 23.8 rebounds.
Three-time ABA MVP Julius Erving won the NBA version with the 76ers in 1981
When Julius Erving joined the Philadelphia 76ers ahead of the 1976-1977 season, he did so as a reigning three-time ABA MVP and continued his stellar play in the NBA following the merger.
Always one of the most popular players in the league, there wasn’t one season of Dr. J’s career in which he wasn’t an All-Star. In 1979-1980, Erving finished runner-up to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA MVP vote and the Sixers also lost to Kareem and the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
The following season, however, Dr. J won his lone NBA MVP award after averaging 24.6 points, eight rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.8 blocks while leading Philadelphia to a 62-20 record, which, to this day, is still tied for the third-best mark in franchise history. Erving edged out Larry Bird for MVP but Bird got the last laugh as his Celtics beat the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals and went on to beat the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
Moses Malone won his third NBA MVP and led the 76ers to a championship in 1983
And speaking of the Houston Rockets, that’s who Moses Malone won his first two NBA MVP trophies with in 1979 and 1982.
Following that second MVP win, Malone became a restricted free agent and signed a large offer sheet with the Philadelphia 76ers, which the Rockets surprisingly refused to match. But Houston’s loss was Philly’s gain as Malone had yet another superb season in 1982-1983, averaging 24.5 points, an NBA-best 15.3 rebounds, and two blocks per game, easily winning the award for a third time by earning 69 of 75 first-place votes (Julius Erving got three of the other six).
The Sixers waltzed through the postseason, winning 12 of 13 games en route to their third (and most recent) NBA title.
Allen Iverson won NBA MVP and led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001
If Joel Embiid does go on to win NBA MVP, he’ll be the first Philadelphia 76ers player to do so since Allen Iverson collected the award following the 2000-2001 season. And what a season that was.
Iverson averaged 31.1 points for the Sixers that year, earning the second of four NBA scoring titles, and also led the league in steals for the first of three consecutive seasons with 2.5 per game. Philly posted an Eastern Conference-best 56-26 record, the franchise’s best mark since the 1984-1985 campaign, and made it to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning that title in ’83. But the 76ers unfortunately were matched up with the Shaq & Kobe Lakers that won three straight titles to begin the new millennium and lost the series in five games.
So there you have it. Joel Embiid has put himself in a great position to join these four Hall of Famers in the highly-exclusive club of Philadelphia 76ers to win NBA MVP. Now we just have to wait and see if he can bring it home.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference