Stay on Twitter, tweaking Kristaps Porzingas. And on Instagram, cursing out LaVar Ball. Rip off your shirt and dance at Meek Mill concerts. Show up at nightclubs and party in your own Sixers jersey. Grab your I-Phone and publicly proclaim love for your teammates, fans and “The Process” dozens of times a day.
Do it all. Laugh. Mock. Opine. Occasionally, you may look foolish, or get slapped with a $10,000 fine by those humorless drones in the NBA. But don’t let that intimidate you any more than, say, the Toronto Raptors that night back in January when you stuffed a last-ditch Kyle Lowry floater attempt and then sank two free throws to seal a rare win.
This city, this fan base, needs Embiid. Our teams are in a rut. Our superstar roster is tissue-paper thin. Those who get credited as stars are, shall we say, dull as boiled fish – unless you like hunting elk in Dakota. That’s not arguing we can’t rally behind Carson Wentz or Claude Giroux or anyone who steps up. But we haven’t had a compelling sports personality in town since Chip Kelly left – and we hated him anyway.
Embiid can become the guy who combines on-court brilliance with off-court wit, accessibility and an occasional controversy. He has already figured out social media better than any athlete I’ve ever seen. Mavs owner and marketing genius Mark Cuban said last week that sports now belongs to the players who can master that form of communication – which makes Embiid the Emperor.
If you’re not currently following @JoelEmbiid on Twitter, you are missing out on everything from reviews of obscure TV shows, to subtle, clever tributes to Sam Hinkie, to Embiid encouraging teammate Ben Simmons to “dunk on (Lonzo Ball) so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.”
Of course, this only works if Embiid stays healthy and fulfills the promise we saw in 31 games last season. No one can honestly forecast that, most especially, it appears, the Sixers medical staff. And maybe the time will comes when the honeymoon ends, as has before with everyone from Lindros to McNabb to Iverson to Ryan Howard.
Or maybe the love affair doesn’t have to fade. Because maybe Embiid proves to be unique. I can’t think of a local player ever who arrived like him – unguarded, funny, smart, always upbeat. Charles Barkley is probably the closest. But even from the beginning, Charles could demonstrate that sarcastic bite toward fans, teammates and management that seems outside Embiid’s repertoire.
The NBA is the one league built on its stars’ personalities. Tickets are sold because fans want to watch Steph Curry’s pregame warmup routine. Broadcasts don’t promote teams, they promote Westbrook vs. Harden. One of the biggest stories this summer centers on where Lebron James might go next year.
Embiid can be one of those personalities. Here’s raising a Shirley Temple in hopes that he never changes.