Africa: What You Need to Know About Joel Embiid, the Cameroonian Basketball Star and 2023 NBA League MVP

Joel Embiid (file photo).
9 June 2023

Harare — The highest level of professional basketball is without a doubt the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States, which has hundreds of players from all over the world, including Africa. Given that many of the current stars have African ancestry, the continent has unquestionably had a ripple effect on the NBA.

The association as we know it now was shaped by legendary basketball players with African descent like Hakeem Olajuwon, and there are several new African stars emerging. The NBA rosters boasted 16 African-born players at the start of the 2022–2023 season, and 35 players had at least one African parent. In this series, AllAfrica presents some of the top performing NBA players, all of whom were born in Africa or have African-born parents, who are currently creating plays on the court. These include Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jonathan Kuminga, Pascal Siakam, Victor Oladipo, Serge Ibaka.

Joel Embiid is a Cameroonian professional basketball player who currently plays for the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association. Embiid is a dual French and American citizen who played collegiate basketball for the Kansas Jayhawks before being taken third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Personal Life

Born in Cameroon's Yaoundé, Embiid is the oldest of military officer Thomas Embiid and Christine Embiid's three children. His parents wanted young Embiid to be a doctor but he grew up playing soccer and volleyball. Though Embiid aspired to play volleyball in Europe, he began playing basketball at the age of 15, emulating NBA Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon. A fellow Yaoundé native and NBA star named Luc Mbah a Moute found Embiid at a basketball camp.

At age 16, Embiid went to the U.S. to focus on becoming a professional basketball player, with Mbah a Mouthe serving as his mentor. Embiid spent a year studying at the University of Kansas and was chosen as one of the 30 finalists for the Naismith College Player of the Year in 2014.

He grew up with two younger siblings, a brother named Arthur and a sister named Muriel. Unfortunately, Arthur passed away in a car accident in 2014 at the age of 16. Embiid is a native speaker of Basaa and French, in addition to English. Since 2018, he's been dating Brazilian model Anne de Paula. Their first child together, a son they named Arthur in memory of Embiid's late sibling, was born in September 2020.

Embiid is well-known for his jovial demeanor, as well as for his fun trolling on social media, especially with 2.1 million+ followers on Twitter, 7 million+ followers on Instagram, and 848,000+ followers on Facebook.

He doesn't drink alcohol, and is a practising Catholic.

Real Madrid CF has a devoted fan in Embiid, who routinely tweets about the team's games.

Professional life

On April 9, 2014, Embiid announced his intention to forgo his remaining three years of collegiate eligibility and enter the 2014 NBA Draft. He then had surgery on his right foot's shattered navicular bone and was subsequently sidelined for four to six months. He was chosen by the Philadelphia 76ers with the third overall pick - barely a week later. He was the most highly chosen player from Cameroon and the third NBA player born in Cameroon after Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje and Luc Mbah a Moute.

Embiid signed his rookie scale deal with the 76ers on August 26, 2014. Due to the broken navicular bone in his foot, it was eventually determined that he would not be able to play at all in the 2014–15 season. This delayed his debut for two seasons, until 2016-17, when he was nominated to the NBA All-Rookie First Team despite playing only 31 games. On October 4, 2016, Embiid started at center in the 76ers' first preseason game against the Boston Celtics.

A year later, Embiid signed a five-year, U.S.$148 million contract deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. In a 123-108 defeat against the Milwaukee Bucks on October 24, 2018, Embiid had 30 points and 19 rebounds, becoming the first player in team history to do so since Charles Barkley in November 1991.

When the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls 112-105 on February 20, 2021, Embiid notched a double-double with a then-career-high 50 points and 17 rebounds. Embiid led the Sixers to the best record in the Eastern Conference by finishing the regular season with a then-career-high 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 51 games played. In the NBA Most Valuable Player Award vote, he came in second.

In August 2021, Embiid signed a four-year, U.S.$196 million extension with the 76ers. In a 105-98 victory over the Utah Jazz on November 13, 2022, Embiid notched a career-high 59 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, and 7 blocks. 26 of those points and 5 of those blocks came in the fourth quarter. Since the 1973–74 season, when blocks became an official stat, he became the only player in NBA history to have 50 points, 10 boards, five assists, and five blocks in a single game.

He gave U.S.$100,000 of his earnings from the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in March 2021 to help end homelessness in Philadelphia. For this, he was honored with the NBA Cares Community Assist Award in April 2021.

In 2023, he won the NBA MVP title for the first time, upsetting two-time champion Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. The 29-year-old Yaoundé native averaged 33.1 points per game, 10.2 rebounds per game, and 4.2 assists per game to earn his second straight scoring title. Embiid is the first 76ers player to earn league MVP since Allen Iverson in 2001.

In response to the 76ers supporters' mantra being "trust the process" during the Sam Hinkie era, he gave himself the moniker The Process. As the first center to do so since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000, and the first to average more than 30 points per game since Moses Malone in 1982, Embiid was the NBA's top scorer throughout the 2021–22 and 2022–23 seasons. He was also the league's first overseas player.

Embiid appeared in 66 games, the second-most of his career, but was again sidelined by injuries during the ongoing 2023 NBA playoffs. He missed one game in the playoff sweep of the Brooklyn Nets and the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics due to a damaged right knee.

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