FOR ALL the moving forward that the 76ers organization is trying to do as far as player development and growing the program, it understandably took a halt yesterday.
As much as coach Brett Brown tried to keep the day as normal as possible, with practiced jump shots and criticism from the previous night's performance in a lopsided loss to the Boston Celtics, basketball was much more an afterthought as the team went through a short practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Their 20-year-old rookie teammate and newfound friend, Joel Embiid, was still suffering from the news that his younger brother had died in a vehicle accident Thursday in Cameroon. Arthur Embiid was struck down by a vehicle that had rolled down a hill, according to sources.
Brown confirmed that Embiid flew to Africa yesterday to be with his parents.
"We're just trying to make sure that he's got a team and people to care for him," Brown said. "It's a horrific tragedy in his family and, for him to be away from his country and to be away from his family in a time like this, you just try to do your best to help him to get through this. Only time will have a chance to heal it. [Thursday] was a long day."
Embiid attended the team's shootaround Thursday morning in preparation for that night's game against the Celtics. Sometime between then and game time came word of the tragedy. Brown, general manager Sam Hinkie and fellow Cameroonian Luc Richard Mbah a Moute skipped the game be with Embiid.
The rookie's sister, Muriel, plays volleyball for Rochester College in Michigan, and the Sixers were able to unite her with her brother Thursday evening.
"We were able to bring his sister in with him late [Thursday]," Brown said. "As a group, we're trying to do everything we should do to help him navigate through this."
Brown said that Embiid left for Cameroon yesterday and that "we'll do whatever it takes to support him."
"The motive is to just do the right thing. It's just trying to help him in a terrible time," Brown said. "To see a young man have to go through that and to be with him while he was having to go through that initial news, there are no words that you can choose to describe that. We just try to do the right thing.
"He's with his sister and he's going back home to see his mom and dad, and they'll deal with this as a family."
Yesterday, Joel Embiid tweeted a picture of his brother and these words: "RIP for my brother who died at the age of 13. The bad thing is that I hadn't seen [him] since I left Cameroon 4 years ago and all these days I was just thinking about next summer so I have a chance to finally see him again. GOD has a plan for all of us. We just gotta pray. HES GONNA BE MISSED."
The team released a statement from Hinkie yesterday that read, in part: "We are poorly designed for that kind of loss. To receive that news while 6,000 miles away from your family is more than any of us are equipped to handle alone. Joel is not alone."
While Brown didn't watch the full video of Thursday's ugly loss to Boston, he briefly addressed it yesterday, knowing that a poor basketball performance paled in comparison with what a teammate was going through.
"You start talking about the bottom line and the important thing, which put what happened [in Thurday's 111-91 loss] into the proportion that it should be viewed, given that what has gone," he said. "You explain to the team that you have a teammate that has just gone through a personal tragedy, and we need to find whatever way people feel comfortable within a situation like this. There is no road map to how it should or shouldn't be handled, that everybody on their own terms can find a way to reach out to a friend and a teammate."