The most high-profile recruiting battle in sports right now has nothing to do with college basketball or football. Instead, it involves international basketball, where the Cameroon, France, and the United States are jostling to secure a commitment from Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Paris. Embiid, who has never played international basketball, is a native of Cameroon, but received citizenship in France and the U.S. over the last few months.
It’s a race between an African side with other NBA talents, a European team that might have the best chance of unseating the Americans at the Olympics, and the long-running kings of international hoops (well, until recently). And in a recent conversation with Joe Vardon of The Athletic, France’s most prominent player made clear that he only wants Embiid to join their ranks “if Joel’s heart is with us.”
“For me the most important thing is if his heart tells him to be a part of Team France,” Rudy Gobert said. “I want him to do it for the right reasons. As long as he understands that the French national team is different than the NBA. We have rules, we have things that we do. Sometimes we all have lunch and dinner together — it’s not everybody doing their own thing. These are two different teams.
“But I think the main thing for us, for him and for me is that I want to make sure that he does it from his heart,” Gobert continued. “And if he does that, I think he would be an amazing addition for our team.”
The biggest weakness for the U.S. is in its frontcourt — at the 2020 Olympics, where they won gold, the only recognized centers on the roster were Bam Adebayo and JaVale McGee. It is not hard to see how adding Embiid to the mix would be a gigantic boost, particularly as France heads into the next few years with both Gobert and up-and-coming star Victor Wembanyama.
If he were to join the French, however, Gobert — who stressed that “the international game is not about getting the best players on paper” — has a pretty simple answer to how opposing teams can match up against that frontcourt: “they can’t.”