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Philadelphia 76ers star big man Joel Embiid is the King of NBA Twitter, so it’s not a surprise his first-person essay on The Players’ Tribune was fantastic.
Embiid, who was the third overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Kansas, started playing basketball three months before he got an offer to come play high school ball in Florida. He says he wasn’t good at first and got made fun of by his teammates.
“I went to the practice on the first day, and I was so bad that the coach kicked me out of the gym,” Embiid wrote. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so skinny, so soft. But the worst part was that all my own teammates were seriously pointing and laughing at me. It was crazy. I’m looking at these dudes, not really understanding what they’re even saying, Man, I went back to my dorm and cried. I was like, ‘This is crazy. What am I even doing here? I can’t play. I’m going home.’ ”
Embiid says that experience motivated him to get better and unlocked his competitive side. He eventually got stronger and more skilled around the rim, but was still struggling in one aspect of the game: shooting.
So, what did Embiid do to become a better shooter?
“So I’m chilling one night, and I go on YouTube, and I’m thinking I’m about to figure this shooting thing out,” Embiid wrote. “I go to the search box like HOW TO SHOOT 3 POINTERS. Nah. HOW TO SHOOT GOOD FORM. Nah. Then the light bulb went off, man. I typed in the magic words. WHITE PEOPLE SHOOTING 3 POINTERS.
“Listen, I know it’s a stereotype, but have you ever seen a normal, 30-year-old white guy shoot a three-pointer? That elbow is tucked, man. The knees are bent. The follow-through is perfect. Always. You know how in America, there’s always an older guy wearing like EVERLAST sweat-shorts at the court? That guy is always a problem. His J is always wet.
“Those are the guys I learned from on YouTube. Just random people shooting threes with perfect form. Me and Michael would play after practice for hours, and I’d just try to imitate how they shot the ball, and I started being able to compete. It was crazy, because getting some range changed my whole game. Teams couldn’t play off me anymore, and I started doing a lot better.”
Embiid was finally healthy in 2017-18. The 24-year-old played in 63 games and didn’t disappoint, averaging 22.9 points and 11.0 rebounds while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from three. The 7-footer made the All-Star team, helped the Sixers clinch the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and advance to the second-round of the playoffs, and was also in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
“I pretended my way to the NBA,” wrote Embiid. “I seriously got to the league by watching YouTube and living in the gym. There’s no other way to explain it. Remember when KG [Kevin Garnett] won the title with the Celtics, and he was acting all crazy, screaming out, ‘ANYTHING IS POSSIBLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!!!!!!!!!!’ That speaks to me. That’s my life. It happened so fast that it doesn’t even make sense.”