LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Philadelphia 76ers forward Joel Embiid has positioned himself as the NBA’s most charming villain: trash-talking, tweeting, and smiling his way to his own brand of entertaining dominance.
The Cameroonian seven-footer is as fleet-footed as he is quick-witted, and the lethal combination is ruffling feathers of opponents as he brushes past them en route to claiming his superstar status.
“There’s a mischievous side in Joel, and there’s surely a competitive side in Joel. That’s who he is,” 76ers coach Brett Brown told Reuters on Wednesday after Philadelphia defeated the host Los Angeles Lakers behind Embiid’s brilliance.
“He brings a cocky side and a swagger to the rest of his team mates that is priceless.”
Embiid was at his best as a good-natured irritant on Wednesday when he destroyed the Lakers by scoring a career-high 46 points to go along with 15 rebounds, seven assists, and seven blocks. It was one of the more memorable nights of the young NBA season, but his statistics played only a small role.
Facing a Staples Center crowd that booed the 23-year-old passionately, Embiid embraced the venom. He danced after scores, chatted with courtside fans and Lakers coach Luke Walton, and generally punished the opposition at every turn.
“Too bad there wasn’t any trash-talker out there. But I still had fun,” Embiid said following the 115-109 victory. “When I got going I just wanted to be aggressive. That’s my new mentality.”
Embiid punctuated the night with a move that has become as signature as his turnaround jump shots in the post: he sent a social media jab. Embiid posted a photo to Instagram of him scoring over high profile Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.
Embiid had sparked a feud with Ball, and more specifically his bombastic father Lavar Ball, over the summer when he tweeted to team mate Ben Simmons and told him “Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.”
Lavar returned verbal fire and Embiid was later fined by the league for using inappropriate language on social media.
But Embiid’s brashness is no longer confined to the internet. As the 76ers (8-6) rise with Australian rookie sensation Simmons and second-year Embiid, who is now averaging 23 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, the big man has expanded his audience.
Embiid exchanged tense words with NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant during a matchup with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday, and two days later butted heads with the Los Angeles Clippers as he taunted and stared his way to 32 points and 16 boards.
“To me, he doesn’t cross the line,” Brown said. “If it got to the stage where I felt he is hurting the team I’ve got to do my job. But it’s really never been that. He is fun, he wears his heart on his sleeve.”
Embiid opened the season with a minutes restriction due to foot injuries that caused him to miss the first two seasons of his career. But the young man who calls himself “The Process” in reference to the franchise’s rebuilding process, appears to have removed all reins from his game.
“He’s a beast. I’m just throwing it to him and letting him do his thing,” said Simmons, of Embiid. “He’s getting better every game.”
Embiid is also getting louder, and more difficult to ignore as he instigates a unique kind of loveable hate.
Editing by Frank Pingue