Kobe Bryant’s dogged determination, his competitiveness, and his sheer wizardry on the court enabled him to win five NBA championships and earn 18 All-Star Game appearances. His play influenced so, so many of today’s current stars.
Joel Embiid, 27, is one of those stars who points to Bryant as a major influence in a career that has enabled the 76ers center to earn four consecutive All-Star berths and emerge this season as an MVP candidate.
After Bryant was among nine people killed in the helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. on Jan. 20, 2020, Embiid tweeted out the following:
Many NBA players, including Embiid’s teammate Seth Curry, have stories about how Bryant inspired them. The stories have been more frequent lately since Bryant will be inducted on Saturday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Following Saturday’s 118-104 home win over the Detroit Pistons, when Embiid scored 29 points, he was asked what he remembered about watching his first NBA game, which happened to be the 2010 Finals, as he had tweeted. That season, Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in seven grueling games.
At the time, Embiid was a 16-year-old kid, living in Cameroon..
“It was the Finals, it was actually Lakers-Boston, and it was kind of my first time watching basketball, NBA basketball, and it happened to be the Lakers and all I kept hearing was Kobe,” Embiid said. “And they won that year so that was the first time I watched and that was also when I fell in love with basketball and that’s why he became my favorite player. I mean, I will say that I am probably here because of him.”
That year, the Lakers won their second straight NBA title and Bryant was the Finals MVP both years. Embiid was hooked.
“Even at that stage, at that age I didn’t start playing right away because my dad thought the game was too physical, so he didn’t want to let me play basketball and it took a lot of convincing until I got to a 16 years old to actually let me start playing basketball,” Embiid said. “From there, I went through a lot, but I would say, yeah, Kobe, we miss him a lot, I miss him a lot. He was my favorite player.”
Watching the NBA Finals, with the time difference, was a challenge for Embiid. Cameroon is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, so an NBA game that started at 9 p.m. ET, would begin at 2 a.m. in Cameroon.
Even though the Finals were played in June and Embiid said he was out of school, it wasn’t easy to see Bryant and the rest of the NBA players square off in the championship series.
“Even then , I still had to go to bed, so I would sneak out and go to the big room and turn on the TV and the volume all the way down, just to get to watch it, so it was tough,” he said.
He also didn’t get many chances to view NBA games or highlights via Youtube.
“Even with Youtube it was tough, because my parents were kind of tough when it came to electronics, video games, or TV; we had a time we could be on it, but most of the time we just didn’t because we had to do a bunch of stuff, clean the house and stuff,” Embiid said. “It was hard, but whenever I got the chance, I enjoyed it and tried to learn as much as I can, even though I wasn’t playing.”
Embiid has paid tribute to Bryant on a few occasions. On Jan. 28, 2020 during a 115-104 home win over Golden State, instead of his usual No. 21, Embiid wore the uniform No. 24 -- with permission from Bobby Jones, whose No. 24 jersey has been retired -- in honor of Bryant. During his NBA career, Bryant wore No. 8 and 24. In a bit of irony, Embiid scored 24 points in the win.
For a game this season against the Lakers, Embiid wore sneakers in honor of Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who was also killed in the helicopter crash.
As for playing style, despite the fact that Bryant was a guard and Embiid a center, Embiid says that Bryant still influenced the way he plays the game.
“Even when you watch the way I play basketball, and the moves that I have added, especially when it comes to fadeaways over both shoulders, and that comes from a lot of tapes of Kobe’s games,” Embiid said. “I miss him a lot, wish he was still here with us.”
Notes: The Sixers (47-21), who have won a season-high eight consecutive games, have four regular-season games remaining beginning Tuesday in Indiana against the Pacers. They lead the Eastern Conference by three games over the Brooklyn Nets (44-24) and 3 1/2 over the Milwaukee Bucks (43-24). All three teams were idle on Sunday.