Deep down inside, Processors always knew The Process would one day come back and bite them. They just didn’t realize the rebuke would be so public, and hurt so much.
Sixers fans, disgusted with the team’s four-game losing streak, turned on the team and booed most of the starting lineup when it was introduced for Friday night’s game against Memphis. They again booed Sunday night as Embiid & Co. struggled before beating the abysmal Bulls.
Then, the seminal moment: Embiid dropped a 27-foot bomb with 39 seconds to play that iced the game, turned to the crowd, and placed his finger on his lips.
Shut up, you guys.
It was a delicious moment, delightful both in its impropriety and in its absolute justification on both sides. The Process was reprimanding the legions who have waited so long and who pay him so much (five years, $147.7 million).
Afterward, he lied.
“Just mad at myself,” Embiid said.
When pressed, he added: “I don’t care how it looks.”
That’s true. He doesn’t. Further proof: Monday night, he tweeted the renowned philosopher, Batman:
“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Embiid’s world-weary pose is as phony as the rest of his act. Long enough? He has played 196 NBA games. He’s just 25 years old. He’s won absolutely nothing. What’s heroic about that?
Embiid also posted his complaint on Instagram, where former Sixers teammate Jimmy Butler invited him to come to Miami: “I know a place where villains are welcome,” to which Embiid replied, “Damn right my brother.”
After LeBron James’s public courtship of eventual teammate Anthony Davis last season drew a warning from the league, the Tamper Police probably perked up their ears at that exchange. Tampering — persuading a player under contract to leave his team for yours — applies to players as well as executives.
Within minutes — likely alerted to this potential violation, and likely alarmed at the legion of fans who replied to his posts by questioning his toughness and heart — Embiid pledged his allegiance to Philadelphia, via Twitter: “Made for this... If I can take it then you can too. PHILA TOUGH!!! #AllLove.”
It’s fitting that Embiid’s inspiration is a cartoon. Like Batman, Embiid isn’t real, either.
This is who Embiid is. It is who he always has been: a mercenary millionaire temporarily transplanted to Philadelphia to maximize his revenue stream. He cares as much about Hulu and Under Armour as he does about the franchise and the fans that employ him, but he became beloved nonetheless. How?
Here’s how. Embiid paid Philadelphia an absurd brand of lip service for the two seasons he missed to injury at the beginning of his career. He’s kept shoveling it in the four years since — until Sunday night. Then, he dropped his mask.
On Monday, Brett Brown claimed ignorance:
“I will speak with Joe to learn what actually happened."
Here’s what happened, coach. Joel Embiid showed himself.
He is not the sort of beacon of hope that Philadelphia wanted him to be. He never has been.
Remember those tears wept in the tunnel in Toronto last spring after the four-bounce, Game 7 playoff exit? They’ve been analyzed, and determined to be Cameroonian crocodile.
In the fans’ defense, seven years of the same old empty promises can make people itchy. Embiid’s overhyped Sixers occupy the No. 5 seed in the East with 28 games to play, so they might not even host a playoff series. He is the logical target of their torment.
That’s because he is the centerpiece of the controversial rebuild that now has taken seven seasons, and likely will take several more. At 7-foot-2 and nearly 300 pounds, depending on who does the fast-food run, he christened himself “The Process” three years into the endeavor and before he’d played even one NBA game.
He also is an undisciplined, out-of-shape non-leader, untouchable and uncoachable. He doesn’t post up enough, he complains constantly, his effort is inconsistent, and his attitude, often poor. Oh yeah, he’s hurt all the time.
When his beastly talents flash incandescent — instances that are becoming rarer these days — Embiid stands in the middle of the court at the Wells Fargo Center, arms extended, like a messiah calling his cult to follow.
He is part ringmaster, part clown.
He’s also very bright. He knows his power.
As such, he has leveraged his unprecedented talents and skills to bully the coach, the general manager, and the ownership group to do his bidding. He determines which games he will play and which he will not.
This is not unprecedented. This is today’s NBA. Kobe Bryant created this template, LeBron James perfected it, and Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard subscribe to it. The difference: They are all complete players, driven to excellence, and three of the four won multiple championship rings.
As for the fans:
Come on. You don’t boo one of your own. Period.
I realize that I’m part of a minority of puritanical zealots that discourages booing of anyone at any time. But booing has become part of the fabric of our sports. Worse, it has become part of the arsenal that home fans employ to get their desired result: better play. It is a contradictory behavior. Booing inevitably is more toxic than helpful. It might be dumb, but it sure is entertaining. Especially when the players fight back.
We understand the fans’ frustrations. Since Josh Harris bought the team, he has overseen blunder after blunder: trading for Andrew Bynum at the behest of carpetbagger coach Doug Collins; hiring unqualified general manager Sam Hinkie and ignoring the franchise as Hinkie destroyed it with poor draft picks and poorer management; handing the organization to Jerry and Bryan Colangelo, who, between tweetstorms, amplified the culture of permissiveness that has created the entitled and uncontrollable monsters that Ben “Won’t Shoot” Simmons and Joel “Won’t Diet” Embiid have become.
Embiid’s gesture wasn’t even original. Al Horford did the same thing Friday. But then, Embiid has always been more mimic than artist.
Where does this go from here?
It should be noted that Horford followed his shushing gesture Friday with zero points Sunday, the first scoreless game of his 835-game career.
The Clippers will visit Tuesday night. It goes without saying that Embiid will be roundly booed upon introductions.
Imagine the boos if Embiid doesn’t score.