Some athletes say that they don’t read the stories about them, that they don’t worry about the outside noise. The 76ers seem very attuned to that outside noise, and even the noise in the building.
Joel Embiid has received national attention for the gesture that he made to shush the crowd after his three-pointer with 39 seconds left that gave the Sixers a 117-109 lead en route to Sunday’s 118-111 win over the Chicago Bulls at the Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid put his right index finger over his mouth, a move construed as a signal for the cheering crowd to be silent, an apparent shot at the fans for earlier booing the Sixers.
Embiid denied after the game that he was directing any venom at the crowd, saying he was angry at his play.
Yes, he has been frustrated by his inconsistent play and his role since returning after missing nine games with a torn ligament in his left ring finger. Yet it appears the fans also might have gotten the best of him.
Embiid wasn’t available for comment after practice Monday. Neither was Al Horford, who also declined to speak after Sunday’s game. Horford, among the most cooperative athletes, had the first scoreless game in his 13-year career Sunday against the Bulls. On Monday night, Embiid tweeted a photo with a quote from Batman: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Within minutes, Embiid pledged his allegiance to Philadelphia, via Twitter: “Made for this... If I can take it then you can too. PHILA TOUGH!!! #AllLove.”
Brett Brown, who has received a firestorm of criticism in his seven years coaching the Sixers, said after practice that he had just learned about the Embiid incident and had yet to talk to his three-time All-Star center.
Brown did talk about athletes and coaches and the scrutiny they face especially in Philadelphia, though.
“This city is a uniquely, and we love it, an aggressive city,” Brown said. “Look how they handle their stars from Carson Wentz to [Bryce] Harper to Joel Embiid, their own coaches. And some of it is we just have to play better and coach better.”
Brown has repeatedly cited the fans for their role in the team’s success. The Sixers, who will host the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday in their final game before the All-Star break, have the NBA’s best home record, 24-2.
“You actually have to give them credit,” Brown said. “Our dominant home-court record is also extended in part to the support that we get.”
Brown has said several times, a line repeated on Monday, that he has been fired (by the media and fans) in each of his seven seasons in Philadelphia.
Tobias Harris, who on Monday was named as one of 44 finalists for the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, was asked about the Embiid incident.
“It is what it is,” Harris said. “We won a basketball game. He had a great game, stepped up big for us in the fourth quarter.”
Embiid scored 12 of his 28 points in the final period.
“He is a great player, he brings it, he has battled through like being healthy all year, and he is our guy,” Harris said. “... What I worry about is when I talk to him, his spirits are in a good place. That is what I go by, not necessarily the other stuff.”