Recruiting battles aren’t just for college basketball anymore. Now that Joel Embiid has become an American citizen, USA Basketball wants to lure Embiid to the national team – and away from France’s international powerhouse.
Embiid, who finished second in NBA MVP voting for the past two seasons, grew up in Yaoundé, Cameroon. He moved to the United States at age 16 to pursue his dream of playing professional basketball and was drafted by the 76ers third overall in the 2014 draft after a year at the University of Kansas.
Although still eligible for the Cameroon national basketball team, Embiid never played for his native country internationally, in part due to injuries early in his professional career. He missed his first two full seasons and most of his third and missed between 18 and 31 games the next four. Last year he played in a career-high 68 games, but he and the 76ers didn’t want him racking up more miles playing games over the summer.
Not only did Embiid become a US citizen this year, but he also quietly obtained French citizenship in July. In the past, Embiid has speculated about playing for France.
In 2018, he said: “You never know. I could play for the France team, but I could also play for Cameroon. I have a lot of relatives in France.”
France and the United States have developed a rivalry in international basketball in recent years. France handed the United States their first loss at the Olympics since 2004 last year and narrowly lost the gold medal game to the Americans, 87-82. The United States also lost to France in the quarter-finals of the Basketball World Cup in 2019. The French, who won silver at EuroBasket this summer, are a serious powerhouse in basketball , especially with teenage sensation Victor Wembanyama set to join the senior team.
With Embiid not linked to any national team so far, he is the international equivalent of LeBron James in free agency in 2010. Frenchman Nic Batum started signing him in 2014.
It’s “Come play with us”, to which Embiid replied, “I’m not French ha.”
For his part, Embiid doesn’t comment on international hoops, saying, “I just want to be healthy and win a championship and go from there.”
He still has nearly three years to go before the next Olympics, which is more than enough time to hire Jim Gray for a TV special and announce, “I’m taking my talents to the Côte d’Azur.” (I’m taking my talents to the Côte d’Azur.)