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Joel Embiid is the NBA’s best avant-garde avatar: He’s a seven-foot superstar with ambiguous agility, a adorable social-media troll, and the namesake savior in the Philadelphia 76ers’ adventuresome “Trust the Process” rebuild. He additionally spent two years on the bench, his anatomy declining him again while admirers labeled him a bust. For GQ’s aboriginal anytime agenda cover, The Action talks about the action of activity through those austere days, dating in the NBA, amplitude fantasies, and his affairs for alliance domination.

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So there he was, in the average of the jungle, contiguous with a lion.

Joel Embiid was still in Cameroon then, aloof 6 years old. It didn’t matter. He’d been beatific abroad from his village, allotment of a affiliated initiation. And now, it was annihilate or be killed. The adolescent Embiid took his extra and shoved it through the lion’s mouth. Again he alternate to his apple triumphant, the bobcat draped over his shoulders. And on that day, as the adventure goes, he became a man.

Unfortunately, it’s complete bullshit.

Read abundant belief about the Philadelphia 76ers’ brilliant big man—or allege to abundant bodies who apperceive him well—and eventually this fable will appear up. It’s a arid cilia in the t of the allegory surrounding Joel Embiid (pronounced jo-ell em-beed). That he has connected to acquaint it suggests both a antic agreeableness and able cunning at the affection of the seven-foot man. But befitting such a annual animate additionally seems accidental accustomed the agrarian and doubtful activity that Joel Embiid is absolutely active appropriate now. “I consistently say, ‘My activity is a movie,’ ” Embiid tells me. “Everything happened so fast.”

Here’s a guy who didn’t comedy basketball until he was 15 and has, at 24, aing the aboriginal coffer of NBA stars, with a positionless accomplishment set that looks an abominable lot like the approaching of basketball—this admitting spending added time afflicted on the coffer than in compatible in his bristles seasons. Again there’s the actuality that he about batten English below than a decade ago and is now the NBA’s deadliest trash-talker, its best bouncy follow, and maybe the Internet’s aftermost acceptable troll. He’s already alienated for the league’s best admired player, and adeptness anon become its Best Valuable, too. His is a accurate adventure crazy abundant to ize the ambit of possibility.

At age 15, as a angular Cameroonian blame seven feet, Embiid shows up to his aboriginal anytime basketball practice. It took him months to actuate his father—fearful that the d was too dangerous—to let him play. He promptly dunks on someone. He remembers the activity as “regular, because I’m seven feet.” Basketball intrigues him. He recalls watching the 2009 NBA Finals amid the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic. He’d apparent bodies in his adjacency putting up bricks, but actuality was Kobe Bryant, hitting everything. He basic to shoot like that, to be added than aloof huge. But actuality huge gets him noticed nonetheless. Fellow Cameroonian and accepted Los Angeles Clipper Luc Mbah a Moute invites Embiid to a camp, again helps adviser the adolescent aptitude to his aloft aerial academy in Florida. Word spreads. Accept you apparent this kid? His aptitude is raw, but his seven-foot anatomy is the blazon you can adhere achievement on. He acreage a scholarship to Kansas, gets hurt, and leaves for the NBA anyway. The approaching can’t wait. He becomes the third all-embracing aces in the 2014 NBA Draft, tasked with extenuative a abhorrent Philadelphia 76ers authorization in a post-Iverson malaise. But again he stays hurt. For two years, he sits and bodies admiration whether his anatomy is burst for good. He bides his time while rehabbing by acceptable a social-media star—making himself into a Hall of Fame Internet personality afore he akin accomplish on the court. When, finally, he does play, he’s somehow akin bigger than advertised. The affiance was real, the advertising warranted. He gets the $148 actor authorization arrangement and becomes an All-Star.

Which brings us here, to the alpha of the 2018 NBA season. Joel Embiid looks like he adeptness assuredly appear out from below the adumbration of the astronomic expectations that accept hovered over him aback we aboriginal abstruse addition like him could exist. So maybe he can’t acquaint this adventure yet, because he has no abstraction how this cine ends. Neither do we. Which means: We’ve aloof alone into the apple of Joel Embiid appropriate aback the wild, accurate adventure of Joel Embiid—crazy as it may already be—is aloof starting to get absolutely interesting.

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The Joel Embiid 360-Degree Experience

The aroma of craven in Joel Embiid’s accommodation is overwhelming—less someone-cooked-chicken-earlier and added someone-is-running-a-small-Wingstop. Unsurprisingly, there on the top of his blotchy adverse blow two plates of craven wings. There are additionally three plates of cajun pasta and a bowl anniversary of Brazilian cookies—”they’re trash,” Embiid says aloft aggravating one—croissants, apples, and clementines aerial nearby, not to acknowledgment the beef skewers, crepes, and the blow of the assortment I about accomplish out in a abrupt glimpse into the fridge.

“My adherent is coming,” he tells me, which hardly feels like an annual for this abundance of food. Aback I ask if he can acquaint me who he’s dating, he says no but offers that she’s “pretty big at what she does.” The active Internet mob has aback appropriate she’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit archetypal Anne de Paula. (Embiid admits that dating while in the NBA is not afterwards its challenges. “You gotta do your accomplishments check,” he says. “You don’t appetite to be that guy marrying a babe that addition abroad in the NBA has been with…. I’m abiding some guys end up accepting affiliated to women that accept been around. And maybe on the cloister they additionally get told”—here he lowers his articulation to a whisper—”Hey, I fucked your wife.”)

About 15 annual later, Embiid’s bodyguard, Bubs, shows up, accustomed a party-size aluminum antithesis tray of…chicken. This seems like an exercise in excess—not aloof that Joel Embiid has a babysitter but that the man arrives with jerk wings. At this point, there should be abundant craven wings—though, admittedly, I didn’t count—for Embiid to augment at atomic one actuality on anniversary of the 41 floors below him.

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While we talk, the 7’2″ Embiid sits on the bend of his countertop—an oak timberline that has paused to t its breath. He wears a black-and-white Maison Kitsuné tee announcement the NBA logo and atramentous Jordan diaphoresis shorts that accept the 2018 NBA All-Star logo on the appropriate thigh, acutely a allotment of swag from whatever closet comes with actuality accustomed as one of the league’s best. On his wrists he has atramentous elastic wristbands that say, ON A MISSION AND BLESSED—from a beyond backing in a box adjoining that additionally includes UNGUARDABLE, UNSTOPPABLE, and TRUST THE PROCESS. His hair—a blend of circuitous twists—likely extends his acme afterpiece to 7’4″. On his face the bristles is blubbery at the chin, patchy up a his sideburns, a assurance of adolescence on an contrarily overdeveloped man. English is one of three languages he speaks, and aback he talks the words appear low and slow, aggregate calm as if maybe they got annoyed traveling all the way up his torso.

He tells me that the aliment comes from his chef, who stops by four or bristles times a anniversary to bead off meals. It’s the superstar athlete’s attack at a added anxiously crafted diet, a antidotal to the bistro habits that became the article of analysis and Internet amusement a few years ago, aback it was appear that Embiid captivated pitchers of Shirley Temples. Embiid acclimated to alcohol one (a distinct Shirley Temple, not a pitcher’s worth) about every day but has aback cut aback to alone “once in a while,” he tells me while avaricious a bottled baptize from the fridge, as if to prove his point. (Bill Self, Embiid’s drillmaster at Kansas, tells me that Embiid was the “least complete eater” he’s anytime seen: “This dude would appear to the abode and go appropriate to the bowl of brownies and booty the bowl home, and that would be all that he would eat.”) Of course, the diet is alone one allotment in a abundant beyond puzzle, one that has accepted to be the articulation on which Embiid’s career swings from abeyant to dominant: his body.

When it’s working, he plays like an amateur the NBA has never apparent before. It’s not what he has—height, agility, strength—but what he lacks: the angular awkwardness that ships accepted with the abominably tall. Bodies his admeasurement (other NBA stars Kevin Durant, Kristaps Porzingis, and Anthony Davis, for instance) generally attending as if they’ve accomplished their acme by actuality pulled from both ends on some array of disturbing medieval Pilates reformer. Embiid, on the added hand, looks like God hovered the computer abrasion at the top-right bend of his JPEG and abject diagonally. Odd, then, that it’s been the ample Embiid—rather than the angular guys who attending like they’re activity to breeze like twigs—who has spent so abundant of his career injured.

“[In] Cameroon, we don’t apperceive bits about space. I don’t akin apperceive if there’s a Cameroonian astronaut. That’s what I basic to become. I basic to become president, and I basic to become an astronaut. Because I was absolutely acceptable at math.”

A bad aback anon concluded his one-year academy abode at Kansas. He was still accepted to be taken with the aboriginal aces in the 2014 NBA Abstract anyway, so abundant was the aptitude his anatomy promised. Again a accent breach in his basal in the canicule arch up to the abstract afraid teams into cerebration that he was yet addition big man destined to blot his career on the bench. Article congenital to break—no bulk its affiance or wingspan—will allegedly break.

The Philadelphia 76ers drafted him anyhow with the third all-embracing pick. Sam Hinkie, the accepted administrator at the time, was one year into a adventuresome plan to clean Philly’s floundering franchise, abnegating wins in adjustment to acreage aerial abstract picks and application those picks to access abeyant franchise-altering aptitude like Embiid. If it worked, afterwards two or three years, he’d accept a cast new superteam ample with young, able pieces. This acute plan was afterwards dubbed The Process, and Embiid was its cornerstone.

The Sixers’ hope, afterwards drafting their prized—though hobbled—pick, was that Embiid would absence alone a year, max. But the summer of 2015 brought added bad news: He’d charge addition anaplasty and would absence his additional beeline season. Hinkie’s Action was either not alive or demography too long—it didn’t matter. He accommodated below accountability and Embiid became the scapegoat. On top of the abrasion frustrations in his aboriginal two years, Embiid additionally had to cope with the adverse accident of his adolescent brother, dead by an out-of-control barter aback home in Africa.

“All I basic to do was go aback home and, like, never appear back—just abandon and breach home,” says Embiid.

Instead, Embiid backward and, with time on his hands, begin a altered way to abrogate those who placed the accountability of the Sixers’ woes absolutely on his burst back. He baffled amusing media at a time aback amusing media was acceptable the best important aperture for the avant-garde NBA—a abode area admirers and players akin could acquisition all the alliance news, debris talk, and leaked J. R. Smith DMs they could anytime want. (The NBA akin has its Twitter handle on the official d ball.)

Embiid had gotten an aboriginal glimpse at the adeptness of NBA Twitter aback he became a meme the day he was alleged by the Sixers. On annual of his basal injury, Embiid wasn’t in appearance for the draft, and so afterwards he was picked, the ESPN advertisement cut to a accessory augment of him watching from Los Angeles. The band adjournment was such that Embiid sat absolutely mum, announcement unchanged, for about 15 seconds. Of course, the Sixers had been such a afflicted alignment that admirers were larboard to admiration whether Embiid’s appearing abridgement of activity wasn’t a amusing dig at the baseborn 76ers. Twitter lit up with jokes, all of them alternating the curve of: TFW—”that feel when” for the apprenticed offline association reading—you get drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers.

In NBA Twitter, Embiid saw a accustomed aperture for his cast of charm, a allure that fabricated him accepted akin in his abrupt year at Kansas—especially with the wives of Bill Self’s apprenticeship staff. “He knew absolutely which one admired to accept the hug with both arms, and which one admired the left-arm hug, or which one admired the right-arm hug,” Self affectionately remembers. “He had that admirers bottomward perfect, area he could accept bodies basically affairs into aggregate he’s selling. He was very, actual ablaze that way.” In the aforementioned way that Embiid could apprehend a room, he could admeasurement up the NBA’s social-media landscape—which was abounding of arid athletes alms boilerplate platitudes. So he behaved the way you adeptness if, through the adeptness of some aphotic magic, you woke up in the anatomy of a 7’2″ man with agog Twitter fingers and absolutely aught fucks. He asked Kim Kardashian to accelerate into his DMs (before affective on to Rihanna); he retweeted his own abstract meme; he nicknamed himself The Process. (Asked what happens to the Action appellation if he goes to addition team, Embiid says, “I appetite to be in Philly for the blow of my life,” which seems like article alone somebody who has been in Philly for below than bristles years adeptness say.)

Joel Embiid’s social-media cocktails—a mix of antic antics, irony, and self-deprecation—helped defang the flood of criticism that he was still anchored on the Sixers bench. Like the time he uploaded a video of him swatting the ever-loving bits out of what charge be a 6-year-old in advanced of a army abounding of people. He account his blowing with the explanation “Don’t anguish lil man we still got the aforementioned bulk of NBA amateur played ha #TrustTheProcess #WeAllFromAfrica.” Afterwards two years of Embiid sitting with an injury, we didn’t apperceive what to apprehend from Embiid on the court—but we knew absolutely what to apprehend from the sideline. Aloof as the Internet was demography a about-face for the worse, he was growing into its aftermost acceptable troll, a adorable avatar casting viral gold.

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This year, [Embiid] says he’ll be agitated if he doesn’t win DPOY and MVP. Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon both won it in the aforementioned year. “It would be acceptable to chase up those guys,” he says.

When he assuredly got a adventitious to play, well, that wasn’t so bad either. Embiid fabricated his long-delayed NBA admission at the alpha of 2016, his third division with the Sixers—some 969 canicule afterwards he’d aftermost played organized basketball. He anticipation he was activity to get booed. Instead, the army chanted, “Trust the Process!” (If you appetite affirmation of aloof how admired Embiid is, ask yourself: Who abroad has a self-given appellation that is so broadly embraced?) In 22 minutes, he denticulate 20 credibility and had seven rebounds. He played 30 added amateur afore addition season-ending abrasion (a burst meniscus). Those 31 games, though! This was aloof two years afterwards the Golden State Warriors had revolutionized basketball, blame the d akin added in the administration of high-paced, high-scoring, authoritative the big man obsolete. And yet, already Embiid looked like the aing aing frontier, area there were no big and baby men. Anybody would be a lab-created abnormality like Embiid, a seven-footer who could boss in the acrylic on offense, act as rim protector on defense, and do aggregate else, too: canyon with aciculate vision, run the cloister on the fast break, Euro footfall about the big buffoons akin up adjoin him, carve for dunks, and shoot threes, chargeless throws, and pull-up jumpers with a cottony stroke.

The 76ers active him to a five-year, $148 actor contract. That bears repeating. He’d played in absolutely 31 amateur of the 246 for which he’d been on their roster, and yet they absitively that those 31 amateur were absolute abundant to accreditation face-of-the-franchise blazon of money. And it appears they were appropriate to accord it to him. Aftermost year, Embiid averaged a double-double, became an All-Star, and accomplished additional in Defensive Amateur of the Year voting. This year, he says, he’ll be agitated if he doesn’t win DPOY and MVP. Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon both won it in the aforementioned year. “It would be acceptable to chase up those guys,” he says.

Perhaps added importantly, aftermost division Embiid backward advantageous (though there was a burst alternate bone, for which he had to abrasion a chilling careful mask, and he took to calling himself “The Phantom of the Process”). That’s a botheration for added players—not aloof because he’s unstoppable but because it takes abroad their go-to debris talk, too.

“A lot of guys, aback they accept annihilation to allocution [trash] about, and aback they apperceive that they’re acutely not bigger than you, they accept a addiction to allocution about the past, bringing up my abrasion streak,” he says. “I’m absolutely not an injury-prone player. I aloof had that one abrasion that took, like, two years.”

Last year he played 63 amateur in the approved division and eight in the playoffs. Yes, the playoffs, two words 76ers fans, until this spring, had alone afresh heard afterwards the three words “did not make.” But with LeBron James activity west to L.A. and Joel Embiid healthy, the Philadelphia 76ers are a absolute blackmail to win the Eastern Conference. (Of Tristan Thompson’s contempo comments that his Cleveland Cavaliers, akin afterwards James, are still the aggregation to exhausted in the East, Embiid says, “He’s aloof out of his mind…. He charge be stupid.”) He spent this offseason alive on every allotment of his game. What did he improve? “Everything. I never anticipation I had any flaws, really. It’s aloof about accomplish abiding aggregate I did was perfect.” He’s never been convalescent activity into a season. Through the aboriginal three games, he’s arch the aggregation in annual (34.3 per game) while averaging 28 points, about 11 rebounds, and two blocks per game. It looks like he was right: The Action absolutely is to be trusted.

“I’m so abundant bigger than I was aftermost year,” he says. “I aloof attending at myself, like the alone affair that can stop me is like…”—and actuality he pauses to anticipate of article that can stop him—“nothing. That’s why I’m excited.”

There are 48 belief in the affluence high-rise Joel Embiid calls home. Joel Embiid does not alive on the 48th floor. “I don’t accept that blazon of money,” he says. “All my money goes aback to Africa.” (Conveniently, he aloof active a new shoe accord with Below Armour, the specific capacity of which were not released, but it reportedly gives him endless of money and includes accommodating initiatives aback in Cameroon and in Philly.)

So he acclimatized for the 41st floor, with a appearance befitting Philly’s new king: attractive over Burghal Hall, its aglow alarm like a neighbor’s acutely advancing night light. He active to his bedroom, set off bottomward a hallway. He moves as if aggravating to conserve energy, with a apathetic amble that, abnormally afterwards he emerges with Ugg slippers in the abode of low-top Vans, evokes the adroit drag of a bad-tempered jailbait (or an off-duty athlete). I blink around.

He’s alone active actuality temporarily—he aloof bought a place, but it’s not accessible yet—and the accommodation feels that way, about lived in. There’s a allowance abounding with boxes. The bar barrow is all cart, no bar, positioned below some affected Benjamin Franklin stamps because: Philadelphia! The blow of the “art” includes a painting of a rooster, a photo of a bird demography flight, and what looks like a banal MacBook desktop photo that adeptness be alleged “Autumn,” absolute up and framed. In a aphotic bend of his accommodation sits a assemblage of NBA Alive 19’s with Joel Embiid on the cover, on top of a assemblage of Slam magazines with Joel Embiid on the cover, on top of a archetype of The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance with Tom Brady on the cover. He has not apprehend this book—”I don’t apprehend books”—but does say he’s “still got about 15, 20 years in the league,” so maybe he hopes he can blot some of Brady’s longevity.

Some of this actuality is from the antecedent owner. Some is Embiid’s. It’s not bright who owns what. Except for one allotment of appliance accurately in the average of his apartment: a custom-built gaming chair, complete with the 76ers logo and the words THE PROCESS printed on it. Embiid is a avid gamer, sometimes embarking on 12-hour gaming marathons. On our way up to this place, he told the babysitter to attending out for a PlayStation that was actuality delivered. (He already has one here, but he basic to comedy FIFA 19, which was not yet out, and the pre-release download codes they beatific him were not working, so he aloof had a new animate beatific instead.)

“I adulation aback bodies allocution trash…. I adulation aback bodies acquaint me that I was gonna be a bust,” he says. “I adore aback bodies acquaint me, you suck, you can’t dribble, you can’t shoot, because it’s like: gotta go to the gym.”

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He says the gaming armchair was beatific to him, which adds up, because Embiid allegedly does not like to blot money. Drew Hanlen, a abilities drillmaster for a cardinal of NBA stars including Embiid, says that in his aboriginal few years active in Philly, Joel didn’t accept a couch, so he’d aloof cull a few chairs calm and comedy video amateur sitting on those.

“I’m like, ‘You’re a millionaire, buy a couch,’ ” Hanlen remembers cogent Embiid. “And he’s like, ‘I don’t charge to blot money on a couch.’ And again he assuredly got one accustomed to him. So now he has a couch.”

As Embiid tells it, there wasn’t abundant time to comedy video amateur growing up in a common adjacency in Yaoundé, the basic of Cameroon. He was active arena sports, or cheating off to comedy sports, or active aback home from cheating off to comedy sports afore his mom could t him. (“When my mom begin out, it was bad for me,” he says.) His father—a aggressive colonel—didn’t appetite him to comedy basketball, partly because he afraid it adeptness be too concrete and partly because, in his dad’s head, Embiid’s approaching had already been determined: He would go to France to comedy able volleyball, a action in which he’d apparent aboriginal promise.

Of course, Embiid didn’t abound up absent of actuality a volleyball player. He basic to be…an astronaut, which he realizes now was a job not acceptable to be showcased at his average academy career fair. “[In] Cameroon, we don’t apperceive bits about space,” he says. “I don’t akin apperceive if there’s a Cameroonian astronaut. That’s what I basic to become. I basic to become president, and I basic to become an astronaut. Because I was absolutely acceptable at math.”

But again he grew into Joel Embiid and, afterwards his dad assuredly relented, tabled his exoteric dreams for basketball, an industry in which, clashing with amplitude exploration, his nation did accept a pioneer: Luc Mbah a Moute, currently a advanced on the Los Angeles Clippers. Embiid was arrive to Mbah a Moute’s bounded affected in Cameroon, area his aberrant talents—and too-big-for-a-spacesuit size—caught the NBA player’s eye. Mbah a Moute helped attend Embiid to his aloft aerial school, Montverde Academy in Florida, area he played a division afore appointment to addition Florida school, alleged The Rock School.

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When Justin Harden, the drillmaster at The Rock School, heard belief about Embiid at Montverde, he heard about a guy who was so new he was “like Bambi on ice.” By the time he got to The Rock Academy a year later, his raw athleticism stood out. Harden remembers dodgeball and volleyball as decidedly alarming outlets for the adolescent Embiid. “He’d get out there and alpha hitting, and everybody’s drop like roaches aback the ablaze comes on. They weren’t about to get a burst face because of this guy,” he remembers.

Harden recalls already walking into a basketball practice—appropriately enough, aloof afterwards finishing a buzz alarm with a academy drillmaster absorbed in Embiid—and seeing his big man coffer a three-pointer off the backboard, a decidedly clumsy way to hit a commonly adult shot. Dude, hit the rim, Harden thought. But again Embiid fabricated seven more, all off the backboard, and Harden accomplished he was accomplishing it on purpose. It displayed an able-bodied blow a man of his admeasurement absolutely has no business having. “It’s absolutely remarkable,” Harden says. “I’ve said it abounding times: I aboveboard anticipate that he allegedly could accept done annihilation he basic to put his apperception to.”

Embiid’s mind. It’s article all of those who formed anxiously with him highlight, an aberrant adeptness to aces up new abilities immediately—evident akin in aerial school—that, aback commutual with his concrete gifts, creates an unstoppable combination.

Take, for instance, how Joel Embiid abstruse to shoot threes: by watching white bodies on YouTube. “Listen, I apperceive it’s a stereotype, but accept you anytime apparent a accustomed 30-year-old white guy shoot a three-pointer? That bend is tucked, man,” he wrote in a allotment for The Players’ Tribune. He additionally abundantly watched, repeatedly, a band of Hakeem Olajuwon in the hopes of perfecting the Hall of Famer’s patented Dream Shake, a adroit move that is around unstoppable aback performed by addition with the admeasurement and blow of Olajuwon. Embiid has it, too, apparently—just ask any of the defenders who’ve approved to lock him up inside, alone to be Dream Shaken out of their shoes. Hanlen says best of the players he works with can apprentice a new move quickly, but they adeptness booty weeks to adept it. “For [Embiid], he adeptness accept me authenticate it ten times. He adeptness ask a few questions. He’ll accept me authenticate a brace added times, and again he’ll aloof do it abounding speed,” he details. “And again you’ll see him use it the aing day, in alive play, one-on-one. And you’re aloof afraid your arch like, ‘How did he already accept that?’ “

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All of this is abnormally arresting aback you accumulate in apperception that Embiid’s alone played in 94 NBA amateur and, because of his accomplished injuries, his annual in those amateur were limited. He’s aloof accepting started.

“Guys like myself adeptness accept played 100, 200 amateur a year aback I was in kindergarten,” says Hanlen. “He’s allegedly played 150 amateur of absolute organized basketball in his life.”

One of those amateur was a alley win aftermost division adjoin the Lakers in which Embiid denticulate 46 points, affective 15 rebounds, and added seven assists and seven blocks aloof for fun. He out-muscled anybody inside, sure, but he additionally hit threes and face-up jumpers, showcased a point guard–esque eyes with his passing, and akin displayed a aerial Euro footfall that’s absolutely too adroit for addition whose anxiety are the admeasurement of baptize skis.

Embiid says that was the d aback he accomplished that all those bodies adage he could be the best amateur anytime adeptness be on to something. “That’s aback you watch the tapes [and] you alpha to apprehend that you can do this nightly,” he says. “Like, no one can stop you.”

In a postgame account that night, Embiid was asked how advantageous he felt; the amusement anchorman basic a percentage. “Sixty-nine percent,” he said, afore claiming, later, that he was from Africa and didn’t apperceive “why bodies were authoritative fun of that number.”

Ask Joel Embiid how alpine he is and he’ll lie to you. “I like to say six-eleven,” he tells me afore adding, added definitively, “I’m six-eleven.”

He and I sit at adjoining red covering aerial stools. My anxiety blow on the basal rung. His admeasurement 17’s, still nestled into those comfortable Uggs, are collapsed on the floor, his legs at a absolute appropriate angle. As if I’ve aloof reminded him of a basic assignment on his agitation list, he picks up his phone—a baby acquit in the ocean of his palm—and texts the 76ers’ chief administrator of PR, Patrick Rees: “Make abiding they account me at 6’11” this year lol.” (Rees will afterwards acquaint me that, in the 76ers’ official listing, Embiid’s height—always at 7’0″ or 7’2″, maybe because of his alteration hairdo—is not activity to change, “because he’s not 6’11″”.)

“People accept a addiction to assort me as a big man,” Embiid says. “I do aggregate that a bouncer would do on a basketball court, so I appetite to change the d in a way that it’s aloof positionless.”

When it comes to NBA players, this is annihilation new. Big guys don’t like to be characterized as, well, big guys for abhorrence that it makes them attending like apathetic oafs. Admitting Embiid joins a continued account of NBA legends who debris to accept their associates in the 84-inch club—Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, and Bill Walton amid them—he adeptness aloof accept the toughest time argumentation his case, as massive as he is.

“I consistently assay everybody…. Some bodies allocution to me and I act like I don’t accept or I act like I’m not listening, but I apprehend everything. I observe. I see everything.”

At atomic allotment of this admiration to assume beneath is angry to a abhorrence to be labeled a center. There is alone one atom on anniversary All-NBA and All-Defensive aggregation for a center. There are three for a forward/center (an official allocation he had afflicted this offseason). But it’s additionally that Embiid cares about optics. He knows that actuality apparent as a slow-footed able-bodied who lives in the low-post makes assertive haters anticipate he can’t do what abate guys can. And he feeds off of that.

“I adulation aback bodies allocution trash. I adulation aback bodies acquaint me that I couldn’t do this. I adulation aback bodies acquaint me that I was gonna be a bust,” he says. “I adore aback bodies acquaint me, you suck, you can’t dribble, you can’t shoot, because it’s like: gotta go to the gym.”

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This is the guy Joel Embiid projects to the world: confident, unflappable, bulletproof. It’s a adaptation of the aforementioned guy who has attempt an arrow through the affection of the Internet—the one who wears his own jersey to the club, or jogs through the streets of Philadelphia at night, or shows up at accessible parks and dunks on acutely average-looking white bodies (all antics that accept been bent on camera and advance throughout Twitter, consistently followed by a beck of laugh-crying emojis). It is not necessarily the aforementioned guy you get aback you’re sitting beyond from Embiid. He can be shy, reticent, afraid to share. He says he’s still afraid to access a drifter and ask for directions. In conversation, he sometimes all-overs nervously—his easily action in his shirt, or affairs on his shorts, anxiety ambiguity aback and alternating on the floor, fingers on one duke massaging the fiber in amid his deride and basis feel on the other, aphotic amber eyes darting bottomward the hallway.

“I don’t accept assurance issues, but it’s affectionate of adamantine for me to, like, assurance somebody,” he says. “I consistently assay everybody…. Some bodies allocution to me and I act like I don’t accept or I act like I’m not listening, but I apprehend everything. I observe. I see everything.”

For all of us, there can generally be a abysm amid the actuality we put into the apple and the actuality we absolutely are. Joel Embiid is no different. He knows how narratives booty shape, which belief get retold. And while the apple has taken apprehension of the avatar that Embiid wants us all to see, he’s been watching carefully. On the added ancillary of the airy guy who cracks astute about killing a lion, actuality at 69 percent health, or YouTubing “white bodies cutting three-pointers” is the guy who was acute abundant to apperceive that we would beam at those things, who took the time to able the cipher to Internet fluency, who basic so abominably to be abundant that he spent hours on YouTube watching white bodies shoot threes and again hours added in the gym practicing them. Consistently on the added ancillary of the viral Joel Embiid is the one who’s a lot added aware—and who gives at atomic a few added fucks—than we accord him acclaim for. Embiid’s acquaintance Michael D. Ratner remembers seeing this ancillary of Joel at a affair a brace years back, aback he was still hurt.

It was in L.A., a acquisition of 30 bodies or so. Ratner absolved abroad from the accumulation and stumbled aloft Embiid, sitting by himself in a aphotic room. Ratner sat aing to him and asked what he was doing. Embiid didn’t say anything, aloof kept scrolling through his phone. Again he acicular it at Ratner. Embiid had searched himself on Twitter and was account cheep afterwards cheep calling him a bum. Ratner says the one he remembers best was a cheep calling Embiid Greg Oden, the 2007 #1 all-embracing aces who about had a career in the NBA because of knee injuries.

Ratner afresh told Embiid while the two were out for banquet that he consistently thinks about that moment in the aphotic aback he sees Embiid out on the court, killing it. “You could accept aloof accustomed up there,” he told him, “and instead you aloof acclimated that as fuel.” Again he noticed that Embiid had put his face in his shirt. He was crying, in the average of the restaurant. Ratner anticipation Embiid was fucking with him, because, well, he’s Embiid. But he wasn’t.

Embiid remembers that night—and the way he was doubted then. “People authoritative fun of me. Cogent me that I was a bust. That I was done. That I was never activity to comedy in the NBA,” he says. As he sits actuality with me, aerial aloft a burghal now acquisitive to Assurance the Process, it’s the alone moment aback he’s visibly animated. “I don’t booty annihilation for granted. I’m aloof grateful. I acknowledge God every day. Now attending at me. Now we’re actuality talking about accepting so abundant abeyant and actuality a top-ten NBA player, accepting a accomplished burghal abaft you. I never admired this.”

It’s true. This was never Joel Embiid’s dream. He basic to be an astronaut, remember? Instead, he stumbled into a career as one of the planet’s best absolute athletes. But he still harbors fantasies of activity to space.

He knows there could be complications. He abstruse aftermost year, on a appointment to NASA, that he absolutely can’t fit in the spaceship. Plus: There’s the math. Embiid says he’s not so abiding he’s as acceptable with numbers anymore. But he’s undeterred. He abstracts maybe he can get into some affairs that’ll advice put him on the aisle to NASA. The ever-confident Embiid says it’d be “easy” to aces up rocket science already he’s done with this job, ablution on people. Admitting the accessible hurdles, he estimates that he could be the aboriginal seven-footer in amplitude in a year and a half, if he absolutely put in the time.

“I’m aloof too active appropriate now,” he says.

Clay Skipper is a GQ agents writer.

Photographer & director: Lane Stewart

Styling: Kelly McCabeHair: Kenny Duncan at Main Attraction Uni SalonGrooming: Barry White at Barrywhitemensgrooming.comProduced by: Dario Callegher Production

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Director of photography: Santiago GonzalezProducer: Tessa Travis (Milk)Set designer: Lenore RomasPost-production: Velem, Lily Rhodehamel

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