Imagine sitting on the floor staring out at video-game controllers and discussing how you intend to dominate the NBA. That’s the scene set by popular NBA trainer Drew Hanlen during a recent ESPN cover story on Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid.
The two were plotting world basketball domination back in 2014 from Embiid’s cramped apartment in Philadelphia. The then-rookie center refused to buy a couch so the player and trainer sat on the “damn floor” and planned how Embiid was going to become one of the greatest players of all time. Hanlen said he recorded those early sessions to use later as motivation and accountability. Wow, to be a fly on that wall.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne takes us back to a more innocent time, one where Embiid was pinching pennies on a rookie contract paying him $4.4 million that first year. The Cameroonian was also rehabbing from surgery on his broken right foot so the future was very much unclear.
The first year they worked together, Hanlen asked Embiid if he could record him talking about his career goals. He knew he would use them for motivation and accountability, but also to remind Embiid where they started.
Embiid was quite a bit skinnier than he is now. He lived alone in an apartment, where the only signs of life were some well-worn video game controllers.
“He didn’t even have a couch at the time because he’s a cheap ass, so we’re sitting on the damn floor talking about how he wants to be one of the greatest of all time,” Hanlen says. “This was before he ever played a game.”
Joel Embiid thought his season was over when he hurt his knee on March 12. Instead, he and the Sixers caught a break. Is this the year they finally complete the Process? https://t.co/I3ccHEg2NL
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) May 13, 2021
Now Embiid is arguably the best player in the league. He would be the hands-down choice for MVP if a freak knee injury — “My season is over,” recalled Embiid — didn’t cause him to miss 19 games. The 7-footer still might win the award over Nikola Jokic, but he’s fine either way. Embiid has much bigger goals this year.
“Coming into the season our goal was to win the championship,” Embiid told reporters on April 28. “There are a lot of steps to get there. But we have everything we need to make it happen.”
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Embiid Wanted ‘Clean Sweep’ of Top Awards
Another notable topic addressed was Embiid’s desire for a “clean sweep” of the NBA’s three major awards: All-Star MVP, NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP. He missed out on the first one after his barber tested positive for COVID-19 in March prior to the All-Star Game in Atlanta. Embiid didn’t contract the virus but he was sent home on a private flight and told to quarantine anyway.
Doc Rivers knows the @sixers would collectively celebrate a Joel Embiid MVP title:
“Nobody does anything by themselves. I think it would be a feel-good thing for the entire locker room.”
— Lauren Rosen (@LaurenMRosen) May 8, 2021
And he’s likely to miss out on MVP after a bone bruise on his knee caused him to miss one-quarter of the season. NBA Finals MVP? Well, that remains in his sights and the primary goal.
“This season Joel wanted a clean sweep of MVPs,” Hanlen told ESPN. “He wanted to win the regular-season MVP, he wanted to win the All-Star MVP, and he wanted to win the Finals MVP.”
The Sixers are one win away from claiming the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s a formality with three games left, just a matter of when. All roads to the NBA Finals will have to go through Philadelphia and Embiid likes those odds.
“We’ve got a chance to win a championship this year,” Embiid said. “We’ve got a chance.”
Big Man Questionable vs. Miami Heat
Embiid sat out Tuesday night’s loss due to an undisclosed illness (not COVID-19) and was listed questionable on Thursday’s injury report for the same reason. There’s a good chance the Sixers take on the Miami Heat without their All-Star big man, not the worst thing in the world for a team striving to win a title. Embiid needs to be 100% healthy for the playoffs so the extra rest is fine.
Philadelphia also listed second-year guard Matisse Thybulle as questionable with a left-hand injury sustained on May 8 versus the Detroit Pistons. It will be back-to-back absences for Thybulle if he doesn’t go.
Meanwhile, guards Furkan Korkmaz (ankle) and Shake Milton (knee) are “probable” to play in South Beach. Both players practiced on Thursday and gave themselves a clean bill of health. The Sixers have three more games on the schedule before wrapping up the regular season on May 16.
Game day in South Beach.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) May 13, 2021