PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid calmly stepped up to the free throw line. For a big man, he’s a really good free throw shooter — he connected on 78.3 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe during his rookie campaign, which was seventh-best among centers on the year.
He was just fouled by Nene, and drilling his first attempt while being serenaded with “Trust The Process” chants, something happens. Embiid steps away from the free throw line and begins walking towards half court, his arm flying in the air to signify that, if anything, the already raucous crowd in Philaelphia is not being loud enough.
In a way, it’s like watching a conductor lead an orchestra. Embiid’s magnetic personality had drawn in Sixers fans from the day he was drafted, and once he finally saw the floor after two years of rehabilitating foot injuries and showed he could back up his general silliness with his game, it was over. He was suddenly a star, the kind of player Sixers fans had badly wanted since a man defined by his initials was crossing people over and leaving a trail of broken angles in his wake.
“It’s insane man,” said Valentin, my Uber driver on the ride over to the game. “It reminds me of when Allen Iverson used to play. You want to go to the game.”
“He knows we’re hungry,” Valentin added. “He knows it.”
It’s fascinating to watch. Embiid is in his early-20s, seriously took up basketball when he was 15, and came to America a year later. Fast forward a few years and he is sort of the manifestation the hopes and dreams of one of basketball’s most historic franchises 31 games into his professional career.
Embiid, a 23-year-old native of Cameroon, is proof that crazy things happen when you trust the process.