Just when the man-child was turning into a man, the child reappeared.
Joel Embiid diminished two years of consistent maturation Wednesday night when he intimated that he’d like to join former teammate Jimmy Butler in Miami. As the Heat were losing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, he tweeted:
“Miami needs another star.”
Embiid later tweeted, “Y’all stupid“ in response to the inevitable, explosive reaction, but we’d have to be stupid to think he didn’t understand that his original tweet was incendiary. Accept no other explanation for this tweet. Embiid knew exactly what he was doing.
Embiid is smart to begin with, but his social media IQ is Mensa-grade. If you could win a Pulitzer for trolling, he’d be the John Updike of Instagram.
This is the second time he has flirted online regarding joining Butler in Miami. In February 2020, in response to fans’ booing him and his shushing them, Embiid pouted on Insta that he was becoming a “villain” in Philadelphia, to which Butler replied, “I know a place where villains are welcome.”
The new tweet comes hard on the heels of their unseemly public pining for each other on the night the Heat knocked the Sixers out of the playoffs.
“I still wish that I was on his team,” Butler said.
“I won’t sit here and say that I didn’t wish he was my teammate. I still don’t know how we let him go, but I wish I could still go to battle with him,” Embiid said.
An odd homage to the man who’d just taken your manhood.
He knows he can deny any indication that he’s displeased after his six healthy years as the Sixers’ centerpiece, but he also knows the tweet will fuel speculation that he wants to be traded.
Further, he knows this sort of behavior sows seeds of discord. He’s being paid to score points, grab rebounds, block shots, and lead a franchise.
This isn’t leadership.
This is the opposite of leadership.
This is petty. This is silly. This is disruptive and, most of all, it’s disrespectful.
It disrespects his employers, who have paid him $102 million for just four playoff series wins in his eight NBA seasons, only one of which he completed uninjured. It disrespects the fans, for whom he is the face of hope -- the crown jewel -- of the nine-year Process. It indicates they don’t matter to him.
Worst, it disrespects the teammates who chose Philadelphia in order to play with Embiid: Tobias Harris, Danny Green, and, most of all, James Harden.
This tweet is all the things that Joel Embiid used to be: petty, silly, disrespectful.
It is the things he seems to be becoming again.
That’s why he can’t get a fair shake.
This is the sort of juvenile behavior that cost Embiid votes in the last two Most Valuable Player races. This is the sort of attention-seeking tomfoolery that put him on the last two All-NBA second teams despite finishing second in MVP voting each year, a feat never before achieved.
The tweet entrenches an anti-Sixers bias that pervades the NBA, whose roots lie in the The Process. Nine years ago, second-year owner Josh Harris let first-time GM Sam Hinkie dismantle the Sixers and lose on purpose for three years before the NBA stepped in and rescued a rudderless, leaderless franchise. It takes a long time to wash off that kind of stink.
Embiid spent years making what was foul positively rotten:
He initiated long-running feuds with players such as Hassan Whiteside and Karl-Anthony Towns both on-court, where things got physical, and online, where things got vulgar.
He trademarked his self-imposed nickname, “The Process,” which diminished the importance of the team and even sued the team for the rights to the phrase.
He shows up to every training camp out of shape (but he’s getting closer every year!).
He produces less in the playoffs than he does in the regular season -- exactly the opposite of true greats such as Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Tim Duncan.
He was the league’s biggest clown, sacrificing respect for fame and marketability. He finally had begun to change his image.
Bur now, he fired off this tweet -- the sort of missive that will fuel speculation about his discontent for years.
One aspect of the tweet that has largely gone unaddressed: It mocked the Heat, who not only bullied the Charmin-soft Sixers out of the second round two weeks ago, but who are just two years removed from the NBA Finals. The Sixers haven’t reached the Finals since Embiid was 7 years old. Maybe another star would help, but they’re doing OK as-is. Friday, in Boston, they forced a Game 7, and they did it without another star.
Embiid seemed to be moving past all of these issues. The arrival of his son, Arthur, in 2020, combined with his MVP quest, spurred him to focus his energies. He slimmed down his body, he ramped up his game, and he kept his mouth shut and his fingers off the keyboard.
He was growing up.