It came as a shock, for basketball novices, that Cameroonian born Joel Embiid last week pledged his allegiance to the USA basketball team last week ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The iota of shock, if any, linked to this move was probably triggered by the fact that for the past 3 years and of course recently, reports about Embiid opting to play for France over Cameroon, a country he isn’t connected to in any way, had garnered steam.
Since a tweet from French forward Nicolas Batum on September 6, 2014 inviting Embiid to come play for France, every pre-World cup or Olympics has come with it’s fair load of speculations whether or not Embiid will pledge with France or play for Cameroon. Afterall, in September 2014, Embiid in a tweet had hinted that he’ll play for Cameroon over France or USA.
It is thus laughable therefore that less than a decade after that tweet and being a more matured man, Embiid will opt to play for the United States of America over Cameroon.
Let’s get this clear, Embiid’s constant flirting with France has created some animosity within “Les Bleus” as the country’s basketball team is christened. Evan Fournier had voiced his concerns over this decision while Rudy Gobert had stated that he’ll welcome Embiid to France if and only if he did it “for the right reasons”. Talk about being politically correct!
A glance at team USA and one is immediately baffled by the myriad of stars within it. It’s frontcourt is stacked to the brim with elite defenders such as Bam Adebayo, the reigning defensive player of the year Jaren Jackson Jr, eight-time NBA Allstar Anthony Davis or 25-year old Robert Williams III.
The elite talent within the ranks of USAMNT means with or without Embiid, they have at least three renowned centers in Adebayo, Davis and Jackson Jr. In other words, they’re not in dire need of a center.
It is crystal clear, it’s always been, when the United States of America line up their best players, they’re the favorites to grab gold and this would’ve been the case anyway with or without Joel Embiid.
It thus beckons the question Why the USA and not Cameroon? The answer is evident. Silverware and self glory over common good. In other words patriotism be damned.
Let’s say things the way they’re, Embiid has taken the easiest way out, that which any self serving individual void of any iota of clairvoyance and leadership will make. The Philadelphia Sixers star has once again demonstrated if any need be, that he’s not one to lead a project or guide it to fruition.
Is it of any surprise that the reigning MVP in his 9th NBA season at Philadelphia hasn’t been able to buoy the Sixers to a Conference final talk less of a championship final. Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons have all come and gone yet Philly are still without a ring.
In a bogus release geared towards emotional coercing, Embiid says he wants to play for the USA for the fans and in honor of his son born in the country. How comical especially when one factors that Joel’s father, Thomas Embiid, a senior Cameroonian military official was captain of the country’s handball team, his maternal uncle Joseph Nane Eone of blessed memory was head coach of Cameroon’s Women’s volleyball team, his uncle Didier Yanga was a prolific baller FAP and Zenith while another Uncle Pierre Paul Ndjonga was a legend in Cameroonian handball. Pierce’s son Yanis Ndjonga a former player of FAP, is a teenage sensation now playing for Baylor Bears Men’s team in the NCAA and a full Cameroon international. How then can anyone come from such sporting royalty and sacrifice all of the thrills and honor that comes with representing Cameroon at the alter of a silverware.
What makes this move even more heart wrenching is the fact that Cameroon is still in contention for a spot at the Olympics, having sailed through to the last round of qualifiers. A stronger cast with Embiid, Siakam and Koloko would’ve edged Cameroon closer to Paris 2024.
Less I forget, there’s the nonsensical argument peddled with regards to the leadership of the Federation not doing enough to attract Embiid as well as complains revolving around the absence of facilities to host a player his calibre.
Those who say this are either new to Cameroon basketball or are of bad faith. The situation was the same when Luc Mbah à Mouté, Cameroon’s second Cameroonian at the NBA invested time and money to build or renovate some courts in Yaounde cognizant that he wasn’t amongst the big earners in the NBA.
Mbah à Mouté also invested himself in organizing basketball camps where Joel Embiid who has now opted to play for the USA over Cameroon & Pascal Siakam were discovered.
Just like Luc, other basketballers with lesser resources and standing have done more organizing camps, renovating courts and giving back to their community.
The angst and flurry of emotions following Embiid’s decision is a fallout of all these. Nine years after he was drafted as the third pick into the NBA, Embiid is yet to organize a basketball camp, build a court or do anything significant for Cameroonian basketball. From his end, charity doesn’t begin at home.
It is a practice at loggerheads with the current trend. Giannis Antetokoumpo though a Greek international has built courts in Nigeria, going back this summer to organize a camp. Serge Ibaka of DR Congo origins who plays for Spain is organizing camps back home and supporting projects. It’s the same for his country man Bismack Biyombo or Jonathan Kuminga who at 21 and already an NBA champion is a Congolese international.
How about Gorgui Dieng who is a hero in Senegal for his involvement in projects ranging from basketball to education. Perhaps the most cited example is Luol Deng who’s celebrated in the basketball world for abandoning lucrative front office NBA offers to go back home and build basketball. Within four years, Luol as president of South Sudan’s Basketball Association has now guided the men’s team to an Afrobasket, a World Cup and in a few months, they will be playing at the Paris Olympics.
This is what toiling for collective good ahead of individual silverware brings for the masses.
The opportunity was there for the taking. Embiid could’ve been the main protagonist for another basketball miracle story, but he’s gone for the easiest way out.
With Cameroon, Embiid undoubtedly would’ve been the hero, the leader, the boss. In the USA team, in the midst of a constellation of stars, he’ll just be another star, not the main deal.
The divorce is now consumed between Embiid and Cameroonian basketball fans. The social media reactions attest to this. In a few years from now when he retires, perhaps an olympic champion or may be not, he will end up being just any regular athlete in the streets of Yaounde or Douala. The utmost importance and devotion that the masses will normally accord to their stars would’ve evaporated, dashed to the winds by his interest to win a silverware rather than uplift an entire nation.
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