TORONTO — Joel Embiid never envisioned becoming the Joel Embiid we’ve come to know.
As a 16-year-old, the Cameroonian arrived in the United States as a newcomer to basketball. His goal was to grow his game enough to get a free education at an American university.
Becoming the face of the 76ers and a global basketball icon with commercials and generational wealth never crossed his mind.
Yet, Embiid reached another milestone while scoring 36 points in Monday’s 117-96 victory over the Washington Wizards at the Capital One Arena.
With his 19th point, Embiid joined Hall of Famer Allen Iverson as one of only two Sixers to reach 7,000 points in their first 300 games. They both reached the record in their 282nd game. Embiid will take 7,017 points into Tuesday’s meeting with the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena.
But this is just one of many franchise accolades.
Embiid has the third-best scoring average in franchise history at 24.9 points behind Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain (27.62) and Iverson (27.60). He’s the franchise leader in defensive rebounds (8.9) ahead of Hall of Famers George McGinnis (7.8), Dikembe Mutombo (7.7), Moses Malone (7.4), Charles Barkley (7.2) and Chris Weber (7.0), who round out the top six.
Embiid also ranks first in free-throws made (7.4), fourth in free-throw attempts (9.1), fifth in field goals made (8.2), ninth in field-goals attempts (16.9), seventh in overall rebounds (11.3) and eighth in blocks (1.7).
Not bad for someone who played volleyball for the majority of his childhood and didn’t consider basketball until he discovered Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon. So he picked up a basketball for the first time as a 15-year-old in Yaoundè, Cameroon.
Unaccustomed to the sport, he often bounced the ball off his foot and had passes slip through his hands.
While he possessed uncanny footwork, quickness and an outside shooting touch, Embiid remained a raw prospect after moving to Florida to first play at Montverde Academy and then The Rock School.
“I mean when you start playing basketball at 16, to me, it was like [you] really never had a chance to make it,” he said. “When I got here, I think the thing that helped me the most is that people believed in me in the beginning. That made me work extremely hard to try to get better.”
But at that point, he wasn’t focused on playing in the NBA.
“I just always thought I wasn’t good enough,” Embiid said. “Even when I got to college, I always thought there was no chance I was making it.”
But just like in high school, the coaches believed in him at Kansas. That motivated him to get an NBA career.
So after his lone season as a Jayhawk, the Sixers selected Embiid third in the 2014 NBA draft.
The 27-year-old sat out his first two seasons because of two foot surgeries. He only played in 31 games because of season-ending surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee during the 2016-17 campaign. However, he showed glimpses of what he could do, averaging 20.2 points and 25.4 minutes that season.
Since then, Embiid has been voted an NBA All-Star Game starter in each of the past four seasons. With that, he joined Iverson on another record list. He became the franchise’s first player to do that since Iverson did it seven straight times between the 2000-2006 seasons.
In addition, Embiid became a three-time All-NBA and three-time All-Defensive selection.
“It’s crazy,” he said of his successful career following Sunday’s game in D.C. “I was actually out there talking to one of my cousins who just got here [to the United States]. I was basically telling him that I was about the same age … 16 when I came to the States.
“My goal really was to use this opportunity to get some sort of scholarship and some sort of degree so I could go back home and make something out of it.”
Shake Milton, Andre Drummond, and Danny Green remain in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the Sixers (17-16) and will miss Tuesday’s matchup against the Raptors (14-16). Meanwhile, Ben Simmons still has yet to play this season while requesting a trade.
Toronto’s in worse shape than the Sixers.
Precious Achiuwa, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Isaac Bonga, Justin Champagnie, Malachi Flynn and Fred VanVleet are all sidelined in COVID-19 protocols. Goran Dragic (not with team) and David Johnson (left calf strain) are also sidelined. Khem Birch, Pascal Siakam and Gary Trent Jr. are questionable with return to competition conditioning.