“This is bigger than basketball.”
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid signs a huge sneaker deal with Under Armour. Sources say the sizable offer already positions Embiid as the highest-paid player at his position. Embiid is making this deal much more about the communities of Philadelphia and Cameroon (his home country) than it is about basketball. Embiid recalls the pain and “daily struggles” he saw on his trip to South Africa this summer for the NBA Africa Games, and wanting to continue to give back to those kids who “got so much to give the world.”
“Ya’ll trusted The Process. Y’all have had my back,” Embiid writes. “Now I’m gonna do my best to have your back. I’m going to be working on some big things with Under Armour. I got a few surprises coming for the Philly community, and for the rest of the world.”
Embiid opened up about a subject that perhaps has been glossed over a bit too much locally: the tragedy of losing his brother, and the degree to which Arthur Embiid continues to inspire him.
In a personal typed letter, through his voice, Embiid remembers his improbable journey from a 16-year-old who never played ball to a NBA All-Star He accounts his upbringing in Cameroon and the memory of his late brother Arthur. Here’s Joel on the impact left by his brother:
“I left everything behind. And it’s funny because even as everything was happening for me, and I made it to Kansas, and then I got drafted by the 76ers, my family wasn’t really making a big deal about it. In Cameroon, it’s just different. My parents wanted me to be a doctor, you know? They were proud of me, but they don’t really care about the NBA like that. The one person who was so hyped was Arthur. He started following in my footsteps, playing ball, and he wanted to follow my path to America.
We grew up very lucky. We weren’t rich, but we had what we needed. But in the neighborhoods around us, a lot of the people were really struggling. Some of the kids we grew up with had nothing. When I used to call home, my dad would tell me how Arthur was taking stuff from our house and giving it to the kids around the neighborhood who needed help. Just small stuff, like food or clothes or whatever they needed. He looked at it like he was just sharing it, you know?
I mean, he was just 13. That’s the age when most kids are trying to flex on everybody and act cool. But he was different. He was trying to make sure everybody was good. How many kids would think like that? I was really, really proud of him. And I know he was proud of me.
Arthur was not here on Earth for long enough. A few months after I was drafted, he was killed in a car accident back home. It changed my life forever. That was a very, very hard time for me, especially because I had been gone for so long. After he passed, I kept telling myself that my life had to be about more than just basketball. I got this chance to come to America and play in the NBA and experience all these things, but what my brother was doing back home was actually helping people’s lives.
When I sat down with Under Armour, one of the first things we talked about was how this can be bigger than just shoes, bigger than just basketball. I want to help change people’s lives like Luc changed my life.”
Embiid’s chances of becoming one of the best and most well-known basketball players in history almost seemed near to impossible, considering his little skills and short time away from home in Cameroon. It’s not typically heard of for “big-men” in the industry to have this type of endorsement success– the ability to move sneakers the way he is doing. That’s a space usually reserved for guards and forwards, as you can tell by running through the list of athletes with the best-selling signature sneakers of the moment: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Curry, and James Harden. After averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds per game during his second season for a rising 76ers team that finished third in the Eastern Conference, Embiid emerged as the most sought after sneaker free agent of the fall.
Ultimately, Embiid wants to do something to make his brother proud. The impact he plans on making will no doubt be a huge success for Under Armour as well as the rest of the world. It wouldn’t be surprising to see an Embiid signature shoe soon enough.