CLEVELAND — Joel Embiid is back in his element at All-Star Weekend, and it appears more enjoyable than ever.
The 76ers center was all smiles leading up to Sunday night’s All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse one season after being prohibited to partake in All-Star festivities due to COVID-19 contract tracing.
Embiid, voted an Eastern Conference All-Star starter for the fifth straight season, will play for Team Durant in the 71st edition of the game.
But during Saturday’s Media Day practice, Embiid was in a joyous mood while partaking in a corner three-point shooting contest with Team Durant teammates Zach LaVine and Dejounte Murray. He paused for a moment to do an interview. After the competition was over, Embiid shared laughs with members of the Miami Heat coaching staff, who will coach Team Durant. And he joked with former Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins, who became a first-time All-Star this season with the Golden State Warriors.
“You went to Golden State, and you turned into a splash brother, too,” Embiid said “... You just be spotting up threes.”
But his most enjoyable moment came when he walked over to his fiancée Anne de Paula and their 1-year-old son, Arthur.
Embiid’s already huge smile grew wider as he took Arthur from de Paula’s lap. With Arthur in his arms, the 27-year-old stood on the baseline while the other Team Durant All-Stars partook in a half-court shooting contest. Afterward, he took his baby son to center court to meet the All-Stars.
Around 15 or so minutes later, Embiid was three questions into his press conference before Arthur cried out to him. The proud pop paused the interview session to bring his son up to the dias. Embiid gladly shared the spotlight with his adorable toddler, who sat on his lap, for several questions before Arthur left the stage.
Sharing this moment with his family is something Embiid cherishes.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “Always coming in here, you can never take it for granted. I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible and obviously having my family here with Arthur, him being a part of it, is huge for me because that’s really the reason why I’m here and doing so well. So it’s always exciting, especially for me.”
Embiid isn’t taking this moment for granted in part because of his inability to partake in last season’s game in Atlanta.
Before arriving in Atlanta, Embiid and former Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons were exposed to a Philadelphia-area barber who tested positive for COVID. As a result, they were prohibited from coming in contact with people in Atlanta because of the league’s health and safety protocols. Simmons and Embiid both tested negative and were back in the Philadelphia area by the time the game was played.
“I was pissed off,” Embiid said. “I really wanted to be here. I always live for these moments. You don’t know how long you are going to do this for. I got about 10 or 13 years that I can do this at a high level. So I just want to enjoy this as much as possible.
“The reason for really having a kid this early in my life was for him to also experience that. So last year was unfortunate, but I’m glad to be here this year.”
It is far from surprising that Embiid was voted an All-Star starter for the fifth consecutive season.
Arthur’s father is having an MVP-caliber season and is the main reason the Sixers (35-23) are in third place in the Eastern Conference standings despite the only recently resolved Simmons saga. The disgruntled point guard, who refused to play for the Sixers, was traded along with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks to the Brooklyn Nets for 10-time All-Star James Harden and Paul Millsap on Feb. 10.
Embiid is averaging a league-best 29.6 points per game and is eighth in rebounding at 11.2.
Kevin Durant, the East’s leading All-Star vote-getter and Team Durant captain, selected Embiid with his first pick during the All-Star draft. Durant will miss the game as he is sidelined with a left knee MCL sprain.
As a result, Jayson Tatum will take his spot in the starting lineup. Embiid and Tatum will be joined by Trae Young, Ja Morant, and Andrew Wiggins.
LeBron James, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokić will start for Team LeBron. Harden, picked by Team LeBron, will miss the game with a left hamstring strain. He was replaced by Jarrett Allen.
You may be hard pressed to find a player enjoying this experience more than Embiid.
“I got my family [here] to enjoy this moment,” he said. “I’m going out there to really compete. I want to be against some of the best and show that I’m the best.
“So it’s not about having fun. It’s about enjoying the moment, because there’s only a few guys that get to be in this situation.”