With Cameroonian top scorer Joel Embiid as the standard-bearer, the NBA wants to beat Africa

The NBA’s top scorer comes from Cameroon. Joel Embiid (28) Philadelphia 76ers, 2.13m He didn’t start playing basketball until he was 15, but he grew into an irresistible giant in eight seasons. The center represents a new influx of African basketball players.

On Tuesday evening, Embiid and 76 players play Game Two of the first round of playoffs, against Canada’s Toronto Raptors. Sunday’s first game won: 131-111.

Philadelphia relies heavily on the broad shoulders of Embiid, who has averaged 30.6 points this season. In the past forty years, no player in his position, the midfield, has been able to stay above the thirty point limit.

Embiid is one of the nominees for the so-called MVP Cup for the best player in the competition, which is awarded after the season. The other two candidates are Serbian Nikola Djokic and Greek Giannis Antikonmo.

His path to the NBA was extraordinary. In fact, Embiid wanted to become a professional volleyball player in Europe. “I wasn’t supposed to be here,” he spoke recently in a distinctive deep voice in a podcast from former player J.J. Riddick. “There are no basketball facilities,” he said of his native Cameroon. “We didn’t have any rooms, and the conditions weren’t great.”

Joel Embiid Center for Philadelphia 76ers.AFP photo

As a rookie, Embiid received an invitation to a basketball camp from former NBA player and compatriot Luc Mbah a Mute, who was discovered by scouts and brought to the United States. After a year at the University of Kansas, he transferred to the NBA, although it took more than two seasons due to constant injuries before he was able to make his Philadelphia debut. His body of 127 kilograms is often prone to injuries.

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Where Africans in the NBA used to be secluded, nowadays more basketball players from the continent know how to find competition. In addition to Embiid, more than a dozen other players now play in the NBA. Dozens of players also have at least one African father.

Giannis Antetokonmo (Milwaukee Bucks) is the best known example of them. The reigning champion, considered by many to be the best player in the world, was born in Athens, but his parents are from Nigeria, a country that offers African NBA players.

Hakim Aliwan

In Cameroon, young Embied (pronounced: Em-bied) spent hours watching video footage of Nigerian Hakim Aliouane, who was the first African to play in the NBA in 1984. “The Dream” excelled in footwork and creativity under the basket, and was an example of Embiid among others.

In 1994, Olajuwon was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the competition, a coveted award that Embiid now also wants.

Especially in recent years, many have followed the trail of Major Olajuwon in the NBA. The meeting between Philadelphia and Toronto, the team with the most international players, underscores the African influence in the current competition. Embiid faces compatriot Pascal Siakam and Nigeria’s Precious Achewa.

The Raptors Chairman and Technical Director will be led by Masai Ojiri, the first and only African driver to feature prominently in the major American sports leagues. Born in Bournemouth, England but raised in Nigeria, Ojiri started an organization of basketball camps across Africa in 2003. He promised to build a hundred fields on the continent.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has also set up clinics in Africa under the name Basketball Without Borders for twenty years (in which Embiid Shabab participated in 2011). Efforts were expanded last year with the creation of NBA Africa and the associated Basketball League of Africa (BAL).

The competition is a collaboration between the NBA and FIBA ​​with twelve teams from different African countries. In her debut season, BAL got attention mainly due to the choppy appearance of famous American rapper J. Cole.

“We believe that basketball can become a big sport in Africa in the next 10 years,” Adam Silver, president of the National Basketball Association, said in 2021. For example, the league has appointed former President Barack Obama, a basketball fanatic, as a strategic advisor to NBA Africa. According to Silver, the company is worth $1 billion.

Waiting for the next Joel Embiid. In the race for the Player of the Year trophy, the Cameroonian has been hanging around his neck all season with Serbian Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), who took the award last season. Embiid will be the first African player since Olajuwon in 1994 (not counting Antetokounmpo wins in 2019 and 2020).

It wouldn’t mean much to himself, Embiid said on Riddick’s podcast. “This will be for the whole continent.”

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