Most Cameroonian children dream of becoming like Samuel Eto’obut now there are others who also want to follow in Joel Embiid’s footsteps.
Coming from those same West African streets and emerging in 2011, he is now a dominant player in the NBA.
Before his breakthrough, he was lucky enough to be at an NBA game in 2009, taking a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magicwhen he instantly fell in love with Kobe Bryant. From then on, every time he touched a ball on a field near his home, he tried to imitate the legend of the Lakers, knowing that his mother thought he was in his room studying.
“No one in Cameroon plays basketball” Embiid said, remembering that his only reason for playing basketball was to have fun, not to have a career in mind. Then he wanted to be a volleyball star.
Failure on his first trip
Embiid’s uncle Didier Yanga played an important role in his youth. He took a photo of Joel playing outside his house and got in touch with a childhood friend Joe Toumouthe first Cameroonian to have played in the NCAA.
“Didier told me that his nephew was getting into basketball and sent me a photo” Toumou MARCA said. “It was in 2011. Joël was 16 years old and was already over two meters tall.
This then led to Embiid takes his first steps, although his parents see no future in the game.
“They didn’t want him to play” Toumou noted. “I had to convince my wife to get me a plane ticket to go to Yaoundé. I did it with a bag of material and the argument was that a lot of young people had traveled to the United States to study and for basketball.
“His mum wasn’t very open to the idea and I left their house the first time thinking I had failed.”
Olajuwon: a mirror
Toumou was an international scout in Indiana Pacers then, and he didn’t give up.
“I put more emphasis on Cameroonians who had used basketball to get into the most prestigious universities in the United States”, Toumou noted. “That ended up convincing his mother to let him come.”
From there, Embiid was quick to show his skills and work ethic.
“He was not afraid of anything” Toumou remember. “He tried things that inexperienced players like him don’t try.”
Anxiety, however, quickly took hold of him.
Close to quitting due to bullying
At 16 years old, Embiid landed in the United States. There was no family and had problems with the language. He nearly gave up, as he was the butt of jokes when he was unable to catch passes from teammates or take easy risks.
“Now you laugh”, coach Kevin Boyle warned those who were joking. “But in five years you’ll be asking him for money because Joel is going to be rich.”
His physique has always been suspected
Embiid was selected as No. 3 in the 2014 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, who saw him as a pillar around which to build their franchise. He should have been the key. But then they lost him for two seasons due to a foot injury.
While out of action, he dedicated himself to working tirelessly to get back to his best, which made him the machine he is now.
Since then, he hasn’t been able to get rid of his physical problems completely, but he has established himself as one of the best players in the league. He was an All Star and his name will go down in NBA history.
Now Embiid is following in the footsteps of Kobe and Olajuwon. His dream has come true and he is giving hope to a new generation of Cameroonian children.